It seems like everywhere you look in graduate business education these days, you find STEM.
For the last six years, but especially since 2019, business schools from the upper tier of the rankings to the unranked have galloped to establish STEM tracks, concentrations, pathways, and more in their MBA and other graduate degree programs. The University of Wisconsin Business School was the first school to “go STEM” — to designate part of its MBA a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math degree, with implications not only for visa eligibility but for long-term employability, too — and dozens of B-schools have followed (for a complete list, see the next pages). Yet according to a major new survey, we may be only at the beginning of the STEM movement.
In its annual business school admissions officers survey released Thursday (January 20), global educational services company Kaplan and its sister company Manhattan Prep find an increasing percentage of full-time MBA programs across the U.S. securing STEM designation — but it also finds that universal adoption appears to be a long way off. According to nearly 100 admissions officers surveyed last fall, 22% say their programs are currently designated as STEM programs, a significant increase from the 2020 survey, which found only 13% were designated as STEM programs.
Meanwhile, 23% say that while their programs aren’t currently STEM, they plan to go through the curriculum overhaul and rigorous approval process to secure that designation. However, the remaining 55% say they are not STEM-designated and have no plans to pursue it.
SOME BACKGROUND ON THE STEM MOVEMENT
Kaplan’s previous survey of admissions officers from 90 full-time B-schools across the U.S., in late 2020, included 14 of the top 50 programs as ranked by U.S. News & World Report. While just 13% said they already have a STEM-designated MBA, 30% were considering it, but the vast majority — 57% — said they were not considering going STEM.
Will that change? Will business schools continue to STEM-ify their MBA programs? Probably — because there’s just too much to be lost by not doing so.
To understand the appeal of STEM, you need to look at the current U.S. immigration system as it pertains to highly skilled workers. International graduates of U.S. business schools may hold U.S. jobs for only 12 months before needing an H1-B visa. But there’s a workaround. In 2016, the federal government created the STEM Designated Degree Program, which makes it possible for international graduates to remain stateside for an additional 24 months after graduation and receive training through work experience.
Students with STEM-designated master’s degrees can work in the U.S. for up to three years after graduation without a H1-B visa through the Optional Practical Training program, or OPT. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for STEM jobs will grow by 13% by 2027, with higher wages than non-STEM jobs: The national average for STEM salaries is $87,570, while non-STEM jobs earn roughly half as much, with an annual average of $45,700; and of course MBAs from top schools make a great deal more.
Reading the lay of the land, schools quickly began designing and offering STEM programs to take advantage of the new rules and attract new interest from foreign applicants. The University of Wisconsin-Madison was the first top-50 school, receiving STEM designation from the Department of Homeland Security for its concentration in Operations & Technology Management in 2016. The next year, Duke University added a STEM Management Science and Technology Management track to the Fuqua School of Business MBA program. And in 2018, the University of Rochester became the first school to have its entire MBA program designated as STEM. That December, Poets&Quants named the Rochester Simon MBA our Program of the Year.
‘IT WILL BE THE DIFFERENTIATOR’
Like many schools, Simon tested the waters before plunging in with its MBA. The school gained STEM designation for its MS in Marketing Analytics and MS in Business Analytics in September 2016. Simon added STEM designation to its MS in Finance in December 2016 and to its MS in Accountancy in July 2018. Applications surged by more than 40% for all four programs, to 4,104 in 2017-2018 from 2,903 in 2013-2014.
Then: disaster. Apps at Rochester and just about everywhere else in graduate business education began a years-long nosedive — spooking B-schools worried about the bottom line and fueling the STEM movement even more. (Read here for more details.) Now, as coronavirus and other factors have reversed the decline, B-schools are positioned to reap the benefits: All of the top 25 schools and dozens of others have established STEM in their MBA curricula; 10 schools in the top 25, and five in the top 10, have made their entire MBA program STEM.
“Non-citizen graduates of top-ranked American MBA programs are almost always going to quickly find a job stateside, but it may take longer for graduates of less competitive programs, especially given how unpredictable the job market and economy have been since the start of the pandemic,” Brian Carlidge, Kaplan vice president, says. “This additional time would extend to the graduates a lifeline, showing prospective employers that investing in them could provide a strong ROI.
“While the process for business schools to secure STEM designation is not a quick or easy one, and perhaps many smaller programs don’t have the bandwidth to do so, not being STEM-designated may put them at a distinct recruitment disadvantage. For many applicants outside the United States, it will be the differentiator.”
BIDEN ADMINISTRATION PUSHES STEM IN NEW INITIATIVE
STEM became a target under the last U.S. president, who sought to curtail immigration to the U.S. in all forms. But the Biden administration has changed course announcing a series of moves on Friday (January 21) to attract more international students and researchers in STEM fields by identifying 22 new fields of study eligible for the STEM optional practical training program. "The expansion," according to a report in Inside Higher Ed, "will newly allow international students in a range of fields—including climate science, cloud computing, data analytics, economics and computer science, geobiology, geography and environmental studies, financial analytics, and industrial and organizational psychology — to gain additional work experience in the U.S. while remaining on a student visa."
For its 2021 survey, Kaplan/Manhattan Prep polled admissions officers from 91 full-time business schools across the United States by email between September 2021 and October 2021. Among those polled were 24 of the top 100 programs as ranked by U.S. News & World Report. The bottom line is that STEM is here to stay.
“Earning a STEM designation is a trend that is catching on quickly, especially among the top-ranked MBA programs," Kaplan's Brian Carlidge says. "For less competitive programs, the adoption has been steady, but a lot slower. And not having that designation could significantly hamstring their efforts to recruit international students, many of whom want to build a life and career in the United States after graduation.”
Across the top 100, the move to STEM continues apace. As if on cue, the same day as Kaplan's latest survey, Syracuse University's Whitman School of Management announced that it has designated its MBA STEM.
'IT'S A NO-BRAINER'
About two years before Kaplan's latest poll was conducted, in the whirlwind of the "STEM-pede" that saw dozens of B-schools rush to establish STEM pathways in their MBA and other degree programs, the former dean of the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University summarized the landscape succinctly:
“For us, it’s really about making sure that we correctly position the school as management science," Robert Dammon said in November 2019. "The Tepper School is really the place where management science was developed, and we have been doing management science for a very long time. The commitment to intellectual rigor runs deep. The change dovetails nicely with the reputation and the brand of the university as a technology university.
“The STEM designation is obviously going to be attractive to international students,” Dammon continued, noting that at the time, 35% of Tepper’s existing MBA enrollment came from outside the U.S. “Our current international students have asked us why isn’t this school STEM-designated given the approach we take. I suspect this will be a strong positive for international students looking to get an MBA in the U.S. We are hopeful that we become a school that international students want to come to.”
Brad Staats, associate dean of MBA programs and professor of operations, added his take in December 2019: “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.”
And Ash Soni, executive associate dean for academic programs at Indiana Kelley, told P&Q in March 2020: “STEM helps with international students finding jobs in the U.S., helps bring them to Kelley, helps Kelley attract corporate partners who haven’t worked with us before. It’s a no-brainer.”
See the next pages for a complete list of STEM programs at U.S. business schools, listed alphabetically, along with course descriptions and links.
AND SEE OUR COVERAGE OF THE TOP SCHOOLS' MOVE TO STEM:
Is your school's STEM graduate program not included in the pages below? Let us know! Email Marc Ethier at Marc@poetsandquants.com and we will add you to the story.