The numbers are stark. Just 79% of Class of 2020 MBA graduates of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business had job offers within three months of graduation, down from 92.1% in 2019, and only 78% had accepted, down from 89.5%. Average starting salary plus bonus for the 123 members of the class dropped 5.5% to $136,500, the first decline in four years.
“This has been a very challenging year,” says John Rooney, Mendoza’s director of graduate business career development.
Especially for international graduates, who took the brunt of coronavirus’ impact.
“The vast majority of our domestic students are fine,” Rooney tells Poets&Quants. “I think they’re all in a good place right now, and a lot of them got really good jobs.
“But we had 39 international students that were looking for work. And 25 of them had offers, and 25 of them accepted, that put us at 64%. These are small numbers at Notre Dame. That left us with 14 international students that were still looking.
“We’re still working with some of our international students. And we worked with them throughout the summer, we had webinars, we had meetings with the dean, we had connections with our corporate advisory board. And I think that number went from 14 down probably to the five or six range right now.”
CORONAVIRUS WASN’T THE ONLY FORCE DRIVING DOWN NUMBERS
Placement rates were down across the board in 2020. Coronavirus hit in March 2020, the height of recruiting season, and many jobs already offered were rescinded or scaled back so much as to make them unpalatable to MBAs.
With a year to adapt, Rooney says he expects the Class of 2021 employment report to look very different.
“We definitely hope to bounce back,” he says. “We’re already ahead of last year right now, so we definitely expect to bounce back.”
Not all the bad news could be attributed to the pandemic, Rooney adds.
“From the salary standpoint, we had more students that weren’t focused on finance, so that was a big switch for us, but I think we’re back to our normal percent of class going into finance, so I think that was part of the salary piece,” he says.
In 2019, Mendoza MBAs reported the highest average salary plus bonus in school history. Though the 2020 class dropped significantly from that high-water mark, they didn’t sink below the 2018 average of $133,797.
“And that 2019 number, that put us, if not at the very top, it was in the very top percentile of return on investment,” Rooney says. “If you look at our incoming salary versus our outgoing salary, we’re traditionally one of the very best, if not the best, in that, and that was a really good year.
“Last year we went from 133 up to 136 based on 2018, and we’re optimistic about moving forward with an increased focus on finance, consulting, and technology. We feel like we’re building out some real strong areas in those. And if we can have a more consistent demand from year to year in those three industries, I think the outcomes, both from an accepted and a salary number, will get up into the range where we want. We definitely want to be as competitive as anybody.”
STEM CHANGES THE FORECAST
One big way to stay more competitive is to appeal to, and help, non-citizen MBAs. International MBAs who graduate from U.S. B-schools and seek to stay in the country always have more hurdles to overcome, chief among them the need to secure a visa to remain long-term. Employers are hesitant to hire MBAs who might be forced to leave the country, which is why so many B-schools have made their MBAs STEM programs — the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics imprimatur gives graduates three years under the federal Optional Practical Training program to work in the U.S. — and, therefore, three cracks at securing an H-1B visa via lottery.
Notre Dame Mendoza Class of 2020 MBAs who are non-citizens missed out on STEM but future classes won’t. Five of the college’s nine MBA concentrations are now STEM-designated.
“The thing that we feel good about this year is we do have STEM designation for this year, and we didn’t have it last year,” Rooney says. “And we tried really hard to get it. And I think that’ll help the international students. If you’re an MBA and you don’t have that STEM piece of your MBA, there’s a lot of companies that aren’t going that way.
“Even right now with STEM, the international hiring is way down. I was just talking to an international student, and he was roughly saying, in typical years, when you get into the lottery, you have a 60% chance of getting through the lottery. That number is at 80% right now because of how few of internationals are actually submitting H-1B. The international market’s down still, but hopefully, strength in consulting and technology, which are the two biggest areas for hiring international students, hopefully that’ll help us.
STEM helps B-schools, too, especially in the area of international applications.
“I think it’ll help some,” Rooney says, “but I don’t think a lot of schools are hurting for international applications. And I don’t know how much the STEM will help the domestic applications. I don’t think it’ll help a lot.
“We had our largest international group this year that we’ve had. Of the total MBA population, they were 37%, which is high for us, and high for schools that are in the 20 to 30 range. And then we didn’t have a STEM designation, which some other places had.”
ALUMNI HELP & THE WAY FORWARD
As elsewhere, alumni pitched in at Notre Dame last year to help job-seeking MBAs. In his introduction to the 2020 employment report, Rooney cited the school’s “dedicated alumni base,” saying past graduates are “always instrumental in helping our students obtain careers that allow them to grow the good in business.”
“We do a pretty aggressive outreach to all of our alumni,” he tells P&Q, “and we have a lot of good advisory boards. We have a pretty robust Fellows program. Alumni were helpful. We didn’t get the results we wanted, but we felt the alumni were very helpful.”
Rooney also wrote in that introduction about his optimism for the future of the MBA marketplace “and Notre Dame’s historical success in achieving strong outcomes.” It was a challenging year, but one that brought out the resilience of the community — and already, he adds, positive (as yet unofficial) job results and application trends are apparent.
“Last year, we had a big jump in applications, so we have a whole new marketing and admissions team that’s doing a great job, and so we saw a significant increase in apps last year,” Rooney says. “From what I understand, we’re above last year, but not by much. But the middle of the funnel, which has always been one of our specialties. Our overall applications are slightly up, but started apps and finished apps are up even more, so we’re feeling pretty good about where we are.
“It’s a tough year. I think we’re looking to bounce back this year and then pick up steam as we go along.”