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Emory’s 2020 MBAs Plead For Retroactive STEM, But The School Isn’t Budging

Emory University Goizueta Business School

For international MBAs graduating from business school in the United States, STEM can make all the difference.

Class of 2020 MBAs graduated into a world upended by coronavirus. Now, as the health crisis reaches new levels of catastrophe around the world, having a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics degree could literally be what saves them from an uncertain fate.

That’s the case a group of MBAs from Emory University are now making: That after the Goizueta Business School established a STEM major in late 2020, its refusal to grant retroactive STEM designation to those who had just graduated in the midst of an unprecedented disruption to the economy means many will be forced to relocate this summer — losing their jobs, perhaps, and possibly returning to areas of the world overwhelmed by the ongoing pandemic.

“I had chosen Goizueta Business School over my other admits — UNC Kenan-Flagler, Georgetown McDonough, HKUSK, Rotman — because of the core values of Community, Diversity, and Accountability that I was able to clearly see when I spoke to many alums,” one Emory MBA tells Poets&Quants. “Another important factor for me to choose Goizueta was that I wanted to make a life for myself in the USA. I truly believed that Emory and its community would provide me every opportunity to achieve my goals.

“While I believe I got everything I could have asked for and more to develop my skill sets from the alums, professors, and my peers at Goizueta Business School, unfortunately the program office has failed me miserably in delivering on the core values that are pillars of our school and its community.”

Adds another: “I have over $120,000 in student debt which I took to sponsor my MBA and fulfill my dream of making a life for myself in USA, in an industry/career profile I like. With Emory’s decision to not implement STEM retroactively and me not being picked in the lottery system, I will have to move to India and go through huge financial distress as it will be near impossible for me to pay off my debt timely with Indian salary pay scales. Moreover, as you might have read in news, India is currently dealing with huge Covid upsurge, I hear in the news that young people dying every day due to lack of proper healthcare infrastructure. I am scared to move back in the middle of the pandemic and stressed about the crushing debt that I would take back with me.”

‘THEY ARE ALL IN THE SAME BOAT AS ME’

Edgar Leonard, senior associate dean of graduate education, Goizueta Business School: No provisions in rules to make retroactive STEM designation

Getting a STEM degree is essential to the job search for many international  B-school graduates. STEM degree holders qualify for an additional 24 months in the federal Optional Practical Training program on top of the 12 they are allotted by virtue of graduating from a U.S. school. Altogether that’s three years to work inside the United States, and more importantly, three tries at the H-1B visa lottery that would allow them to stay longer. Employers — even those with international offices — also tend to be reluctant to hire applicants who face imminent relocation.

Poets&Quants was recently contacted by 10 MBAs from the Emory Goizueta Class of 2020. Most but not all of them are from India, currently and for the near future one of the world’s worst coronavirus hotspots. P&Q has agreed to quote them all anonymously to prevent reprisals or recriminations for speaking candidly. The Emory MBAs say that since 2018 they have petitioned, lobbied, and pleaded with the school — first to make the Goizueta full-time MBA a STEM program in its entirety, as many of Goizueta’s peer schools (as well as many smaller programs) have done over the last half-decade; and then, after Emory announced a STEM major in Business Analysis last December, to make the designation retroactive to include their class. The school, they say, gave them “false hope” by suggesting STEM designation for the Class of 2020 was likely.

“Emory is not a huge class anyways,” one graduate says. “It’s a class of 160, 170 folks, out of which about 20 to 24 folks would be the people from the international cohort who look for recruitment in the U.S. In our class there were about 17 or 18 of us who were looking for jobs, and out of that, about 12 of us are in this current situation. So it’s a huge number from a proportion point of view — probably more than 60%, 70%. This is something which we have pointed out to the school: These students will basically have to pull everything out of the U.S. and then figure out already sort of a difficult environment, with relocations being virtually impossible.”

“Graduating into a pandemic and finding a job as an international student was certainly not easy as one would expect,” another 2020 Emory MBA says. “When I did land a job, the offer was soon revoked by the organization stating the reason that since I don’t have a STEM OPT extension this makes future very unclear with me having only a single chance at the H-1B lottery. Thinking back, they were not wrong, since I didn’t get the lottery and I face a tough situation ahead.

“This after all the hard work of getting into a school that at the time of my admission was ranked 19th and then finding a job in the middle of a pandemic again even after a revoked offer, doesn’t sound fair. Knowing 90% of the international students from Goizueta applying for H-1B lottery this year did not get it makes me only sad, as they all are in the same boat as me.”

‘NO PROVISIONS’ FOR RETROACTIVE STEM 

To qualify for the STEM major, Emory Goizueta’s two-year MBA students in the Class of 2021 and going forward must complete three electives out of a group of options in accounting, finance, marketing, information systems, and organization/management — electives like Advanced Econ & Data Analysis, Data Visualization, Forecasting & Predictive Analytics, Coding for Business Insight. One Class of 2020 MBA tells P&Q that there should be few curricular hurdles to retroactive STEM for most Emory Class of 2020 MBAs.

“The curriculum hasn’t changed,” the graduate says. “The only curricular hurdle might be that they selected a bunch of electives and kept those aside in a bucket which basically says, ‘This bucket qualifies for the STEM courses, and then you need to have X number of courses you should have taken to be able to qualify for that STEM designation.’ Maybe not 100%, but a lot of our international students do qualify for that requirement, number one. And number two, they have been making exceptions for the Class of 2021, helping them qualify for that designation by either including a couple of other courses or just giving them an exception.”

But Emory is not budging. In a message to P&Q, Goizueta’s senior associate dean of graduate education says the school’s hands are tied.

“Emory’s Office of the Provost approved and implemented Goizueta’s STEM-designated Business Analysis major in the MBA program in alignment with the governmental definitions and the requirements of the National Center for Education Statistics,” Edgar Leonard tells P&Q. “NCES does not have provisions for retroactive designation of the STEM provisions for graduates of our program prior to the implementation of the STEM designation.

“I understand the frustration this has caused for our recent graduates on an F-1 visa who will not benefit from the extended 24 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT) that enables them to stay in the United States post-graduation. For many, this may mean a return to home countries that have been severally impacted by Covid-19.”

He adds that Goizueta, which had 28% international students in its MBA Class of 2020, “provides lifetime career services for our alumni, and we are actively working with many alumni whose careers have been affected by the economic impacts of Covid-19.”

ACCOUNTABILITY & COMMUNITY

That explanation is insufficient for the Emory MBAs from the Class of 2020. One of them points out that while some top B-schools have refused their graduates’ requests to make STEM retroactive, others have been persuaded, while several made the move without prompting, including UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business and the first U.S. B-school to make its MBA STEM, the University of Rochester Simon Business School. The MBA adds that over years of campaigning for the designation, the Class of 2020 was led to believe they would be included when it finally happened.

“If NCES did not have provisions for retroactive designation of the STEM provisions, then why did the MBA program office keep giving us false hope?” the graduate says. “I would imagine they knew this at an earlier stage. At various stages, we have been told how ‘hopeful’ they have been of getting us STEM.” The graduate mentions an email from Brian Mitchell, Goizueta’s associate dean for MBA programs, in which he said graduates would have an opportunity to request retroactive STEM again at a later stage. “So this is contradictory. They could have been up-front with us instead of misleading us. Also, is (Leonard) saying that the schools who have introduced retroactive STEM are not in compliance with the NCES provisions? Emory being a private school could have been more autonomous, I feel.

“None of alumni (I personally checked) who have been impacted by either STEM or the pandemic or both have been reached out to by the school or career services. In fact, they did not even bother to check if we got through the lottery or not, let alone offering support. However, they have been very ‘proactive’ in reaching out to students if a loan repayment was delayed even if that was due to system updates from the lender.”

Several Emory MBAs say the school is failing them. They point out that two years of the full-time MBA program at Emory Goizueta costs nearly $190,000.

“I didn’t expect this situation when I joined Goizueta and expected the school to be more proactive in its steps towards making the MBA course STEM certified as we talked on this topic with the school on the first day back in July 2018,” one Emory MBA says. “Just hoping things get better from here for Goizueta and us.”

Adds another graduate: “Even though the school/administration does not owe us a retroactive STEM, they did offer an in-principle nod to the cause. Despite numerous cases of peer schools being able to convert their program into STEM retroactively, the school seemingly did the bare minimum in terms of transparency.”

And another: “Even though GBS was able to get STEM for the class of 2021, this is not turning retroactive, leaving 50% of international students from Class of 2020 with no chances to remain in the U.S. because they were not picked in the H-1B lottery. What I know from previous classes, is thatGoizueta started exploring STEM designation back in 2018, and my feeling is that it took much more time than expected to get this. Although I got lucky to be picked on the H-1B lottery, it is my duty to keep helping my friends on this effort since two core values I learnt during my MBA at Goizueta were accountability and community.”

And a fourth: “There were many promises from the program office, and we were assured every month that progress was being made. But, at the end, after three years, nothing materialized. All we were told by the university was: ‘We will have opportunities to request retroactivity again in the future but there is no pathway to approval at this time,’ which is very disheartening as it would have no use to us after a couple of months.

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