Right now, this fall, graduate business education looks to be in the midst of an historic demographic shift.
The new MBA class profile at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, released today (September 7), is the latest evidence that leading B-schools are enrolling more women than ever before — and that the steady progression toward the long-sought-yet-elusive goal of gender parity may finally be reaching its conclusion.
Michigan Ross reports a school-record 46% of its MBA Class of 2023 will be women, up from 43% last year and better by a point than its previous record of 45%, which was set by the just-graduated Class of 2021. Ross is the latest highly ranked B-school to join what appears to be a seismic collective shift toward parity after a few years of slight — even stagnant — improvement.
‘WE HOPE TO ACHIEVE PARITY IN OUR FTMBA’
Parity. Wharton made it. Northwestern Kellogg is on the verge. Dartmouth Tuck came close last year and remains within striking distance. Other leading schools, like UCLA Anderson and Cornell Johnson, are making strides; Duke Fuqua is just 2 percentage points away; even finance hub Columbia is over the 40% threshold in the last two years, sitting at 41% in the current class.
The first major MBA program to reach parity was USC Marshall in 2018, and the achievement was hailed as a precursor to widespread parity across the top programs. However, coronavirus slowed progress for women in B-school, which has long lagged its peers in law and medicine; but in the few high-profile class announcements so far this fall, women appear to be roaring into a state of equality with their male counterparts (in terms of numbers, at least).
The new school record “was achieved by continuing to execute on our strategy of focused recruiting efforts for different groups of candidates, and in particular, leveraging our students and alumni from different affinity groups,” says Soojin Kwon, managing director of full-time MBA admissions and program at Michigan Ross. “More and more, candidates want to talk with students and alums who “look like them” and/or are doing things that they aspire to do.”
She adds that parity is indeed one of Michigan Ross’s top goals.
“We hope to achieve parity in our FTMBA program,” Kwon says. “It’s great that MBA programs continue to increase the number of women in their programs, because it means more women will be in positions to lead organizations.”
Larger forces may boost Michigan’s mission: According to a report this week from The Wall Street Journal, women made up nearly 60% of all U.S. college students (undergraduate and graduate) at the close of the 2020-21 academic year, an all-time high. National Student Clearinghouse enrollment data shows that U.S. colleges and universities lost 1.5 million students between 2016 and 2021, with men accounting for 71% of the decline.
Just this week, USC Marshall School of Business announced that its undergraduate business administration degree program has reached gender parity in its first-year class, with the Class of 2025 comprised of 52% women. Whether we are seeing an epic shift in gender demographics in leading MBA programs will be clear with the release in coming weeks of class profiles from Stanford GSB, Chicago Booth, MIT Sloan, and Berkeley Haas.
APPS SKYROCKET AFTER ROSS MAKES TESTS OPTIONAL
In the meantime, Michigan is reveling in the good news for women — and in other good news from a strong app cycle, especially the massive increase in applications to the program that made it possible to enroll so many women. Ross had been among a very few schools that did not get a boost in apps during the 2019-2020 cycle when schools extended deadlines and liberally granted waivers and deferments; but the school would not miss the boat in 2020-2021, when Ross conceded to reality to offer a standardized test waiver for the first time.
Most applicants to Ross — more than 80% — still submitted test scores, Kwon says. But the waiver policy’s affirmative impact on interest in the MBA program can’t be denied. After four years of declines, apps at Ross jumped to 4,003, up more than 1,400 from 2,567 — a one-year gain of 56%. That’s more apps than Yale SOM, NYU Stern, or Berkeley Haas received in 2019-2020, despite extended deadlines and other enticements. Ross’s app total this year was greater by 15% than its 2016-2017 mark of 3,485, and the 800 admits it granted were 150 fewer than last year — translating to an acceptance rate that dropped from 37% in 2020 to about 20% in 2021 — another school record. No wonder the school has already announced that it will continue to offer the waiver option for the coming cycle.
One obvious benefit of a greater pool of talent to choose from is improvements to key metrics. Ross saw its average Graduate Management Admission Test score jump from 710 to 722, a new school record, after it had collapsed from a previous high of 720 in 2018. The school also set a new record in average GPA (3.53). And while class size is just shy of 400, down from a high of 422 in 2019, it has rebounded from the crater (358) it fell into last year.
“The Class of 2023 has broken nearly all our admissions records after being selected from what was our most competitive applicant pool ever,” Kwon says in a blog post announcing the new class. “We are incredibly excited to have these accomplished and talented students a part of our full-time MBA program in our Michigan Ross community.”
She acknowledges to P&Q that the test waiver likely played a role in the application increase, and “we anticipate that the current class size of 400 will be the goal for next year.”
MOST HAVE BIZ DEGREES & CONSULTING EXPERIENCE
"The most diverse cohort of full-time MBA students to join Michigan Ross" includes 36% U.S. students of color, which ties the school record from last year, and the largest class of students in the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management of any business school this fall (66). Additionally, 11% are first-generation students, and 5% are veterans. International student numbers, which had understandably cratered last year, rebounded to surpass their 2019 levels (see table above) — though they still lag many of their peer schools. In another bright spot, the number of countries represented in Ross's new class grew to 42 from 29 last year.
Ross's appeal to women gores hand in hand with its appeal to minorities, Kwon says.
"Women candidates are also attracted to our community where women students serve as leaders in the biggest leadership roles," she says, pointing out that the school's last four student body presidents were Black women, and that 65% of our professional clubs — including the largest professional clubs in consulting, tech, and marketing — have been led or co-led by women. Moreover, Kwon continues, all five of the school's current section presidents are women, four out of five were women last year, and five of five were women the year prior.
"In addition, we have a strong culture of allyship — for women as well as other underrepresented groups," she says. "Students came together individually and through student clubs to support our Black Business Students Association and Asian American Business Students Association last year during a year of increased violence against those and other racial groups. Allyship and related training has been part of our orientation program for the past several years and more in-depth allyship training was offered to our community last year."
Members of the Ross Class of 2023 have attended over 200 universities, with majors ranging from aeronautical engineering to journalism, musical theater, and zoology, among more than 100 others. There are 48 students who have already earned graduate degrees, and another 65 have started dual degrees at the University of Michigan. These include dual-degree programs with the School for Environment and Sustainability, School of Law, School of Medicine, School of Public Health, Ford School of Public Policy, and School of Information.
This class has worked at over 300 organizations that span a wide range of industries from consulting to finance, tech, the military, healthcare, education and nonprofit, media and entertainment, and professional sports and fitness. Like previous classes, the vast majority have a consulting background (23%) and a business degree (42%).