Add another top school to the list of those setting records with their 2021 employment reports. The latest, Duke University Fuqua School of Business, released its report today (October 21) showing big improvements in placement and average salary from last year.
Last year, of course, was the depth of the coronavirus pandemic, when jobs were (generally) harder to come by and lower-paying, particularly for international students. With 2021 comes the big comeback — because while the pandemic is still with us, schools are seeing a major rebound in their MBAs’ prospects.
The latest to reflect this improved reality is Duke Fuqua, where MBA placement in the Class of 2021 was up to 98% receiving offers and 96% accepting three months after graduation. Both are school records, eclipsing even Fuqua’s 2019 pre-pandemic levels; so is the school’s reported 4% increase in average salary to $141,109. The new benchmarks all but erase memories of last year’s trough, when the school reported 93% of graduates with offers and 91% who accepted after 90 days.
KEY TO THE BOUNCE-BACK: INTERNS SECURING JOBS
The MBA employment bounce-back has been clear from the first preliminary numbers released by Chicago Booth School of Business and Virginia Darden School of Business. Its clarity increased with the final numbers at NYU Stern and Emory Goizueta, and became crystalline with reports out of Rice, Georgia Tech, and Vanderbilt. Employment numbers for the MBA Class of 2021 show salaries up, placement rates up, and other markers improving dramatically after the pandemic year. All of which portends well for the appeal and viability — once doubted — of the degree.
Also notable: B-schools are releasing their reports much earlier than last year, and in some cases earlier even than 2019. Moving on from 2020 is a top priority.
Duke Fuqua, which released its 2020 report in December (and its 2019 report in November of that year), has much to be excited about in 2021, especially its one-year increase in job acceptances from 91% in 2020 to 96% in 2021, which Sheryle Dirks, associate dean of Fuqua's Career Management Center, says "is the highest in all my years at Fuqua." Dirks, who has been with the school since 2004, credits the jump to the fact that more graduates accepted full-time offers from their intern employer, with those jobs up 5 percentage points from 2020, to 58% of the class.
"We're just thrilled," Dirks tells Poets&Quants. "I think one of the things we really try to focus on is that for every percentage and every 10th of a percentage, there's a student behind that, and we want them to be happy with that acceptance and to really feel good about the trajectory of their career. And so I think that's the part that our coaches get really excited about. And we're just glad it added up for those numbers to all look so good."
KEY TO INTERNATIONAL WORK SUCCESS: STEM
International students bore the brunt of the pandemic at many schools. As Dirks herself has noted, navigating employer visa sponsorship and cultural differences adds an extra layer of complexity for international students seeking post-graduation jobs in the United States. Here again, the Fuqua School has much to be proud of: 96% of its international students had job offers after 90 days, and 94% were employed when the school collected data three months after graduation; the latter number is an improvement on 87% in 2020.
Dirks attributes the jump to the increased popularity of Fuqua’s Management Science and Technology Management (MSTeM) second major, which like all STEM degrees offers two additional years of U.S. work authorization to eligible students for a total of three years of work eligibility in the U.S.
"That's one of those numbers that when we look at, we just can't help but smile and feel really good about," she says of international job placement. "I think it helps that tech as an industry has really flourished at Fuqua and that many of our international students come in with some level of technical background anyway, and then they're looking to maybe reposition or re-pivot a little bit, but enhance that technical knowledge. And then our STEM certification within the MBA has been an enormous benefit as well. And so I think it's really kind of a combination of all of those factors and that they did really well this year."
CONSULTING & TECH STILL RULE AT FUQUA
Consulting remains the top industry at Fuqua, this year receiving 32% of the MBA class, up from 31% in 2020. Technology remains a strong second at 27%. Dirks says the real shifts this year occurred in the roles and functions performed by MBAs under those larger umbrellas. The careers team saw an uptick in the operations function as pandemic-caused supply-chain bottlenecks impacted the retail and manufacturing industries: "While still small at 6% of our graduates’ jobs, operations has tripled in the past two years, up from 2% in 2019," she writes in a new blog post about the employment report.
Consulting, tech, and financial services account for 76% of acceptances in both 2021 and 2020, "yet the types of roles are evolving with business needs," Dirks writes. "For example, with increased reliance on online shopping, the percentage of technology jobs in e-commerce jumped by 30% in just one year, from 40% of all tech in 2020 to 52% in 2021."
Amazon became the top employer of Duke MBAs in 2020, surpassing the consulting bigwigs; in 2021, Amazon retained the title of top employer of Fuqua grads. However, between Deloitte and two other industry giants, McKinsey and BCG, consulting is still Duke grads' industry of choice.
Fuqua MBAs accepted jobs in 25 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, with New York City the top single destination, as it has been for years. However, 28% of the class went West for work, to California, Washington, and Oregon; Seattle and San Francisco were two of the top five metro locations.
HARD WORK PAYS OFF
Credit for the rise in MBA fortunes at Duke Fuqua certainly goes to improved circumstances — but it also belongs to the school itself, which "was committed to playing a central role in student employment," Dirks writes in the new blog post. In 2020-2021, she says, four-fifths of Fuqua graduates and interns "attribute their accepted role to a school-facilitated opportunity or event, a number which has held steady in recent years.
"What shifted," Dirks writes, "are the channels through which students and recruiters engaged. As campus interviews went online, they became more decentralized and accounted for less acceptances than in recent years.
"Conversely, Fuqua job postings increased in volume and importance. These trends are especially notable when comparing internship recruiting over the past two years — job postings increased by 216% from 12% of the 2021 intern class finding opportunities through listings to 26% for internships in 2022."
Dirks tells Poets&Quants that she and her team have endured many sleepless nights in the past 18 months as they work to help launch hundreds of MBA careers.
"We all took a sigh of relief, obviously, when things looked like they were turning out as well as they were," she says. "And one of the things that for us that is always particularly gratifying is when you look at that number of students who get jobs between graduation and that three month post-graduation mark in the year before, when we were truly in the heart of the pandemic and the lockdown point, that number was slow. And that time period was just painful for everyone. Our team, I think above all they care, and because they care and because they're competent, they are willing to do whatever they see or whatever we hear from our companies and students needs to be done. And I think that there's no secret. I think it's really just that we're lucky to have a great team. We have a great team who cares and who knows what they're doing, and one step at a time we figured it out and we flexed where we needed to. And we're in the middle of doing it again this year."
She credits students, alumni, and recruiters in addition to the careers team for the commitment to overcome challenges and return to form. The end result is the product of countless people's hard and smart work, Dirks says.
"It's been an interesting couple of years and I think this year, some things have gotten easier, some things have gotten harder," Dirks says. "We're back to in-person classes, but companies aren't really coming back on campus too much yet. But I think there's been this sense like we're all in this together."