A new survey from the global accreditation agency Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business shows that fears expressed by business schools in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic largely didn’t pan out, with enrollment in graduate and undergraduate programs this fall robust or, at worst, unchanged across the globe.
The new survey, released today (November 12), shows that at most B-schools worldwide, enrollment for the 2020-2021 school year exceeded dour expectations in May, when the virus was still a relatively new phenomenon and its longevity and impact unknown. According to AACSB, 46% of responding schools in the spring expected a decrease, and only 13% believed they would see an enrollment increase — but in the new poll, conducted in October, 77% of master’s programs and 82% of undergraduate programs report either an increase or no change from the prior year.
“In 2008, with uncertain job markets in many countries due to the recession, business schools performed well in terms of enrollment, with many learners opting to pursue a business education to upskill and help ensure their ability to be hired, or delaying entrance into the workforce until the job market became more certain,” writes Elliot Davis, manager of research at AACSB International. “Similar responses may be occurring with Covid, as businesses freeze hiring due to uncertain conditions, sending prospective employees back to school. The increase in availability of online education may also have increased access for some students to gain a business degree, when geographic constraints may have previously kept the pursuit out of reach.”
PERCENTAGE CHANGE IN ENROLLMENT FROM PRIOR YEAR
22% OF B-SCHOOLS REPORT 20% OR GREATER MASTER’S ENROLLMENT
A total of 316 institutions participated in AACSB’s new quick-take survey, representing 52 countries — 186 in the Americas; 84 in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa; and 46 in Asia Pacific.
For master’s program enrollment, 43% of schools reported an increase of less than 10% or about the same. However, a greater percentage of schools reported significant gains for master’s program enrollment than undergraduate program enrollment. For 34% of schools, the master’s program enrollment increase was greater than 9%, and at 22% of schools, the increase was greater than 20%.
For undergraduate programs, AACSB found the greatest percentage of schools reporting an enrollment increase were in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. “Eighty-two percent of undergraduate programs in EMEA reported an increase (of any amount) in enrollment, as opposed to 65% in the Americas and 71% in Asia Pacific,” Davis writes. “Though many schools reported increases in enrollment, these increases were fairly small. Across all regions, 53% of reported increases were between 1% and 4%, and 65% were between 1% and 19%.
“Overall, the enrollment turnouts have been encouraging. Compared to earlier forecasts of how business schools would fare in attracting students, the survey results show a more positive picture.”
DELIVERY METHOD BY DEGREE LEVEL OF COURSES TYPICALLY OFFERED FACE-TO-FACE LAST YEAR
B-SCHOOLS IN THE AMERICAS LED THE WAY VIRTUALLY
Like the anticipated enrollment drop-off, expectations on course delivery were off, too. In May, 87% of respondents to AACSB’s survey were preparing to employ a hybrid system of content delivery, that is, a mix of virtual and in-person learning. Only 11% of schools surveyed six months ago were preparing to deliver their courses entirely online. However, this fall — with the pandemic still raging, and cases rising in many countries including the United States — most schools have switched to an entirely virtual format. For the terms beginning in September and October, 37% of master’s courses (and 31% of undergraduate courses) that were delivered face-to-face before the pandemic are now being delivered entirely online.
Regional differences are striking. Schools in the Americas opted to deliver their courses entirely online at the highest rate for master’s programs (41%), nearly doubling the rate for master’s courses in EMEA (27%). “It is worth noting,” Davis writes, “that the United States schools comprised most of the respondents for the Americas (with 167 out of 186 total responses in this region). For undergraduate courses, schools in EMEA and the Americas (at 29% and 33%, respectively) delivered entirely online education more often than in Asia Pacific (20%).
“While mostly or entirely face-to-face educational delivery was not quite as common, it was reported at a higher percentage for Asia Pacific undergraduate programs (40% of total) and Asia Pacific master’s programs (36% of total).