With New STEM MBA Path, Foster Puts Out Welcome Mat For Foreign Students

The University of Washington Foster School of Business is adding a STEM pathway to its MBA program. UW photo

Most top-25 schools that added or extended application rounds this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic saw big benefits in the form of increased MBA applications; many parlayed the deeper talent pool into bigger classes. Not so at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business in Seattle. Though the Foster School did add a fourth round this year extending more than two months from March 17 to May 19, the app windfall never arrived: Foster’s app total for the cycle was 833, three fewer than it received in 2018-2019.

The decline, minor though it was, continued a slump for Washington Foster that began in the 2017-2018 cycle, when the school saw its MBA applications drop from a record 1,038 to 934. Counting this year’s backward movement, the Foster School has lost 19.7% of its app volume in three cycles.

Perhaps even more alarming for a school that prides itself on its international diversity, Washington Foster lost nearly 20% of its foreign MBA student enrollment between fall 2017 and fall 2019, according to U.S. News data — and the school saw another decline this year, largely because of the 24 deferments it granted. According to Foster’s class data, its international student population declined 5 percentage points in one year, from 29% to 24%, a 17% drop.

Doubtless seeking to mitigate further losses, Foster has launched a new initiative this fall that will appeal to current and future foreign students: a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics pathway in its MBA. The Management Science Option, a 16-credit STEM credential, was unveiled Wednesday (October 7), and will be available immediately to current students in the full-time program.

“We are pleased to take another step in creating opportunities for Foster MBAs to elevate the impact of their ideas on the world,” Associate Dean Dan Turner said in a blog post. “The STEM-designated Management Science Degree Option will allow Foster MBAs to make more sustained impact in their organizations following graduation. Corporate partners will have access to students who not only share their values about fostering human progress but who also have the quantitative acumen needed to move ideas and organizations forward.”


Foster Dean Frank Hodge. UW Foster photo

As its app levels plateaued this year, Washington Foster opened the gate a bit more this cycle, granting admission to more candidates: 344, up from 301. That pushed the school’s acceptance rate to 41.3% from 36%. Foster’s average Graduate Management Admission Test score dipped to 692 from 695, and its undergraduate GPA slipped slightly to 3.37 from 3.39. The school cut its class size down to 11o from 117 in the previous cohort.

Ranked 21st in the United States by Poets&Quants and 2oth by U.S. News, Foster already had two STEM pathways: its Technology Management MBA and its MS in Business Analytics. But with tighter visa restrictions and an atmosphere antipathetic to immigration that some believe will persist even beyond the U.S. presidential election — not to mention coronavirus-related travel risks that also may persist into the new year — the time seemed ripe to Foster’s leadership to expand offerings that could contribute to a stronger case for a longer U.S. stay.

Noting that the Management Science Option is STEM-designated according to criteria from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the school adds: “International students who want authorization to work in the U.S. may qualify for a STEM OPT extension of an additional 24 months to obtain an employer sponsored visa. For international students interested in working in the United States after graduation, the new degree option may also improve chances of receiving an H-1B work visa.”

“With the STEM option, Foster international MBA students are given the opportunity to compete fairly with students of other majors on the same level when looking for jobs and will have the 2nd, even the 3rd chance to win the H-1B lottery draw,” Sihang (Stella) Chen, Foster MBA Class of 2021, is quoted saying in the school’s announcement. “It will also lead to a more diverse group of future Foster MBA students as the STEM option will attract more international talent.”


Foster MBA students who complete 16 credits from a defined list of management science elective courses and meet the degree requirements of the full-time MBA program will earn both the MBA parent degree and the STEM-designated MBA Management Science Option. Full-time Foster MBA students will be able to earn the 16 credits with elective courses in Accounting, Entrepreneurship, Finance, Marketing, Quantitative Analysis, and Operations Management “without having to lengthen their two-year program or incurring additional tuition expense,” the school says. The name of the degree: Master of Business Administration – Management Science.

It’s a move that makes sense not only to help international students but in keeping with Washington Foster’s role as one of the top feeders to the tech industry.

“Foster MBAs interested in furthering their expertise in quantitative approaches to management will be able to continue to tailor their programs of study with evidence-based tools,” Assistant Dean Wendy Guild said. “We are proud that Foster alumni, current students, faculty, and staff supported this initiative to focus student learning and growth.”

Added Dean Frank Hodge: “Our community believes that the MBA Management Science Degree Option is an important step forward in empowering students to elevate their impact on the world. The Foster alumni, staff, faculty, and stakeholder communities remain committed to a balanced approach to accelerating student personal, professional, and leadership development, and we are thrilled to offer the option to students with an analytical and quantitatively focused bent.”


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