Not everyone in graduate business education is climbing on board the STEM train, at least at the MBA level.
Designating MBA concentrations, specialized master’s degrees, dual degrees, and entire MBA programs as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics programs carries certain benefits for B-schools — in particular, that STEM greatly appeals to international applicants who derive tangible career benefits from having a STEM degree from a U.S. school — and has been a popular approach to shore up that segment of schools’ student population. It’s often a significant segment.
However, a recent survey by educational services company Kaplan found that when it comes to STEM designations in MBA programs, only a sliver of programs have taken the plunge, and fewer than a third of those that have not plan to do so.
In Kaplan’s survey of admissions officers from 90 full-time B-schools across the U.S. — including 14 of the top 50 programs as ranked by U.S. News & World Report — just 13% said they already have a STEM-designated MBA, while 30% are considering it. However, Kaplan found that the vast majority — 57% — are not considering going STEM.
STEM APPEALS TO B-SCHOOLS LARGE & SMALL
STEM designation for MBA or other graduate business programs generally entails months of curricular review and overhaul; at public schools, which are answerable to authorities outside a university system, the process can be even more onerous. But increasingly since 2016, B-schools see the move as worth it. Because science, technology, engineering, and math fields are considered essential to U.S. economic competitiveness and growth, the U.S. government grants non-citizen graduates of programs with STEM designation a dispensation to work in the country longer without needing a visa, via the Optional Practical Training program. Offering a STEM degree is a way to appeal to overseas talent and gain an edge in recruitment by using the promise of longer work stays in the U.S. via OPT.
A new Poets&Quants analysis of the top 100 U.S. business schools finds that all but nine have some STEM pathway for their students, whether in the MBA or another degree program. Altogether, 18 of 100 B-schools offer completely STEM-designated MBA degrees. In the top 25, as P&Q has reported for the past four years, the move to STEM has become increasingly popular, with eight of those schools establishing all-STEM MBAs; last year alone, more than a dozen large and highly ranked U.S. B-schools designated all or part of their full-time MBAs as STEM. The list of schools with STEM pathways in their MBA now includes 22 of the top 25 MBA programs.
It also includes schools lower down the food chain, like Ohio State Fisher College of Business, ranked 35th by P&Q, which recently announced the move to an all-STEM MBA.
“STEM is something we’ve been talking about for some time,” Roger Bailey, director of Ohio State Fisher’s full-time MBA program, tells P&Q. “There are myriad reasons why it can benefit a program. It’s another one of the things that we’re trying to do for our students. Fisher, as often as we can, is leaning in to those decisions when we have the opportunity to improve our student experience — to offer those things that put flexibility in the program to meet individual student needs.”
‘IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO OUR INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS’
Kaplan, which offers educational services ranging from test preparation to university support services, conducted its poll by email in October 2020 and released the results later that year. In addition to asking admissions officers whether their B-school planned to “go STEM,” it asked why they planned to get the designation. Among the answers:
- “We do receive a large number of international students and would like to be able to equip them as much as possible for a competitive marketplace that is riddled with extra hoops to jump through because of their international status.”
- “Publicly, it is a good alignment with the university mission. Privately, it is a carrot for international students to get the three years of OPT.”
- “We have many international students and this designation will help with post-graduation options for students. It will also help domestic students with certain scholarship and employment opportunities.”
- “It is very important to our international students which is typically 60% of our enrollment.”
- “Better opportunities for our graduates and increase the concentration and courses for the new generation of business leaders.”
“Business schools going for STEM designation seems to be a trend that is catching on quickly,” Brian Carlidge, vice president of admissions programs for Kaplan, tells P&Q. “In just the past few years, almost every top-ranked program has made the leap for one group of its students or another. For MBA programs that have traditionally had a large international student population, this is becoming a must-have. For international students deciding upon which program to enroll in, it’s going to be a differentiator, since it helps determine how much extra time they can stay stateside while still looking for a job after graduation.
“For international students who plan to build their career in the United States, it’s a lifeline, especially in this current economy, with all its unpredictability.”