UNC Makes All Of Its MBA Programs STEM

The four MBA programs at the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School have been awarded STEM designation. File photo

Business schools big and not-so-big have spent the past four years designating their MBA programs as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics programs. Some have even gone back to the well for a deeper drink.

One such school is the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School, which established a STEM pathway in its full-time MBA back in early 2020, offering students a concentration in business analytics and management science. On Wednesday (February 24), UNC announced a bigger STEM plunge: All MBA students in all four programs — Full-Time MBA, Evening MBA, Weekend Executive MBA and online MBA@UNC — will graduate with a STEM-designated degree.

“This change reflects the analytical rigor of our MBA programs, which have long developed business leaders and today — more than ever before — need to be ready to apply their analytics skills to make data-driven strategic decisions,” says Brad Staats, associate dean of MBA programs and professor of operations and faculty director of UNC’s Center for the Business of Health.


University of North Carolina’s Brad Staats. Courtesy photo

It’s one thing to “go STEM” by adding a concentration or other pathway within the MBA, as UNC Kenan-Flagler did in 2020; but in making the entire MBA STEM, UNC joins a smaller, more rarefied movement-within-a-movement whose members include five of the top-10 B-schools in the U.S. — Stanford, MIT Sloan, Chicago Booth, Columbia Business School, and UC-Berkeley Haas all have completely STEM MBA programs — and 11 schools ranked 26th to 100th by Poets&Quants. With the move, UNC, ranked 19th, becomes the ninth top-25 school with an entirely STEM MBA.

Kenan-Flagler’s four MBA programs received the STEM designation after the UNC System reviewed and approved the B-school’s request to change the program’s classification using the Instructional Program code of the National Education Statistics, according to the school’s latest announcement. But STEM-worthy concentrations in the Full-Time MBA program aren’t new. They have included the STEM concentrations in Business Analytics and Management Science as well as another Technology and Innovation Management. UNC also offers concentrations in Capital Markets and Investments, Consulting, Corporate Finance, Marketing, Operations Management, Real Estate, Energy, Entrepreneurship, Healthcare, and Sustainable Enterprise.

“In recent years, we have significantly enhanced our analytical offerings, from innovative new courses to weaving the related knowledge and skills throughout the curriculum. Our students graduate with the skills valued by employers and needed for long-term career success,” Staats says in the school news release.

Staats’ words echo his sentiment from late 2019, when UNC Kenan-Flagler first joined the STEM movement: “At UNC Kenan-Flagler we continue to innovate so we can prepare students not only for today’s job market, but also for the future. With our new STEM-certified concentration we draw on the rich analytical skills across the school and apply them to diverse industries to create unique learning opportunities for our students.”

Rajdeep Grewal, the Townsend Family distinguished professor of marketing and a concentration leader, added in 2019: “Our focus is on strategic decision-making to prepare our graduates to use analytics to lead companies. Today managers are inundated with data that comes in large volume at immense velocity and in diverse, structured and unstructured forms. Through the concentration, our students will develop a deep understanding of business problems and the analytics skills to make informed, data-driven strategic decisions.”


The STEM movement was sparked in 2016 and really took off in 2017 as U.S. B-schools began to bleed international enrollment. For international students, a STEM-designated MBA offers a two-year extension of the Optional Practical Training, which can mean an extra two years working in the U.S. while trying to obtain a H-1B visa. Asked by P&Q whether the new STEM designation will be applied retroactively to the MBA Class of 2020, Staats responds, “We hope it will be, but we are working through university processes now to see if it can be retroactive.”

By 2019, UNC had plunged worse than most of its peer schools, with apps dropping nearly 25% in the 2018-2019 application season to 1,323 from 1,758. In the three application cycles from 2016 to 2019, UNC’s apps tumbled 38.5%, second-worst in the top-25 after only Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.  

At UNC, as elsewhere, overall applications have rebounded amid coronavirus — UNC’s numbers bounced back in a big way in 2019-2020, rising nearly 44% to more than 1,900 from 1,323, and all but erasing the years of decline. But the school’s international numbers have continued to nosedive, down to just 8% in the most recent intake from 20% last year and 29% in 2016. That’s a 72.5% loss in four years. With the move to STEM, Kenan-Flagler clearly hopes to reverse that troubling trend.


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