It has certainly been a year. 2020 will go down in history as a momentous 366 days for many reasons, and the biggest — coronavirus; the U.S. presidential election; a crashing, then somewhat recovering economy, which seemingly now is again on the verge of collapse; cultural upheaval across the U.S. and elsewhere — converged on the world of graduate business education in consistently memorable and sometimes calamitous ways. Buffeted by these outside forces on top of the usual tribulations of academia, B-schools scrambled to navigate the treacherous unknown.
Reflecting the concerns of readers, Poets&Quants‘ most popular stories of 2020 run the gamut from tales of lost jobs to rebounding applications at MBA programs; from worrisome political developments to innovative evolutions; from bad behavior to good progress. The annual list (see last year’s story here and the 2018 version here) contains fewer data and rankings stories this year, not because those stories aren’t consistently among the most popular that we publish (they are), but because they speak less to the moment, and are therefore less interesting. So we’ve left many (though not all) of them out, even when they have the pageviews to qualify for inclusion.
Instead, this list seeks to capture, from the biz ed POV, the zeitgeist of 2020. And because it was such a chaotic, frightening, and inspiring year, we figured, Why stop at 10? So here are the 12 most popular — and dare we say, most interesting and important, too — P&Q stories of a wild 2020.
After months of speculation, U.S. President Donald Trump signed a much-dreaded executive order in June that suspended most visas for foreign workers through the end of 2020, but that left the Optional Practical Training program — through which international MBA graduates of U.S. B-schools can extend their stay in the U.S. for up to three years — intact. Among the suspended visas: the H-1B, which allows high-skilled, non-immigrant workers — particularly tech workers, and particularly through OPT — to stay and work in the U.S. With Trump’s defeat in November, this threat to a vital source of B-school talent will almost certainly be temporary.
It began early. One of our first stories on the inevitable impact to the job market of the sudden onset of coronavirus and subsequent lockdowns became one of our most viewed this year. In late March, Poets&Quants obtained a document showing a marked slowdown in the MBA job market as a result of Covid-19. As P&Q editor and writer Nathan Allen wrote, the document — dated March 26 from the Graduate Career Services office of a top U.S. business school — provided a sobering view of what was to come when MBA students ended their spring terms and poured into the job market. Among hiring updates for 116 major companies — many of them mainstream recruiters of MBAs — 40 had already reported some form of freeze, cancellation, or rescinding of internship or job offers.
As we’ve seen from our coverage this fall and winter of employment reports at the major B-schools, widespread fears of MBA unemployment were at least partly justified, as jobs offers and acceptances three months after graduation for the Class of 2020 are down 1-3 percentage points on average.
This one needs no explanation. It’s information you need to know! But it’s especially important this cycle, which looks to be one of the biggest ever and one of the most competitive. Why? “Applications to business schools generally go up when the economy goes down, so that’s one reason,” writes P&Q Editor-in-Chief John Byrne. “But the deep recession caused by the pandemic along with pent-up demand from young professionals who found plenty of opportunity in the past from a growing economy will likely cause a big spike for 2020-2021.”
That was in May. By September, we knew that applications in the previous cycle were so high, they reversed years-long declines at many B-schools and set records at others; in October, with a complete picture of the top 25, we officially called 2019-2020 one of the best app cycles of the last 10 years. Glimpses from select schools this cycle strongly suggest the wave has yet to crest.