How Business Education Can Create A Better Post-Pandemic World

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a struggle for so many, for so long — a truly unprecedented period of uncertainty. But as we close Women’s History Month and look to a post-pandemic future, I’m encouraged by one thought: this challenging period has provided us with an opportunity to reimagine our society and create a bold, more-inclusive future.

That may sound unrealistic, but believe me, we can do it if we’re brave enough to act decisively and remove the barriers that have kept many people down, particularly women, while giving others an advantage. And education can help us get there.

Women’s History Month has given us the opportunity to reflect on the fact that gender continues to have a profound impact in determining a person’s career prospects.


Take the “Great Resignation,” for example — a widely discussed phenomenon that supposedly found millions of Americans leaving their unfulfilling jobs for more rewarding work.

There’s just one problem: This trend seems to largely have benefited men, not women. It turns out male workers have regained all the jobs they had lost since February 2020; meanwhile, 1.1 million women who left the labor force have yet to return.

In other words, it was predominately men — not women — who were able to re-enter the workforce. School closures and other personal obligations forced many women to stay home to take care of their families, only exacerbating these inequalities.

If we’re going to create a more equitable world, we need to offer more equitable opportunities. Higher education presents a perfect place to start, as we can offer greater educational opportunities and help a wider range of people achieve their professional goals.


It’s safe to say we have our work cut out for us — Bloomberg Businessweek’s 2021 Diversity Index assessed diversity in 84 MBA programs in the U.S. and found women had achieved parity at only five of those schools.

Thankfully, there are signs of progress. Recently, several colleges — including Johns Hopkins University, Amherst College, and public universities in Colorado — ended the practice of legacy admissions, which gave preference to children of alumni. This is a step in the right direction, as the practice reinforces class and racial inequities and perpetuates an uneven playing field.

We also need to examine our attitudes toward accessibility in higher education, an environment that can encourage rejection. The percentage of acceptance at Ivy League schools is in the low single digits, for instance, which is a sad commentary.


If the “Great Resignation” has shown us anything, it’s that people are now prioritizing fulfillment and quality of life over a stable job. The real value of an education isn’t just in salary and an impressive title; rather, it’s in the opportunity to be introduced to new ideas, new ways of thinking, and a broader world view. With this in mind, we as higher education professionals need to do a better job of providing accessible and inclusive education to everyone — not just the chosen few.

At University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business, we believe in providing an affordable and accessible skill-based graduate education. We eliminated the GMAT as an application requirement in many of our programs because of its inherent cultural and socioeconomic bias. We’ve also created a fully online MBA (iMBA) and Master of Science in Management (iMSM). The iMBA costs less than $23,000, a small fraction of the cost of a typical MBA.

This work has paid off in real-life results: Over the past six years in our online degree programs, we’ve helped nearly 3,000 women work toward — or earn — their degree, and we’ve been able to serve nearly 1,200 underrepresented minority students. To put this in perspective, almost one-third of our iMBA students are from underrepresented populations within the United States.


In short, we’re helping women of all ages reach their goals. “I was 50 when I decided to go back to school, and the application process was a little discouraging. Studying for the GMAT after years of being out of school made it difficult. I found myself questioning my decision,” shared Jackie Price Osafo, executive director of the Society of American Archivists and a recent Gies alumna.

“Then I came across the iMBA and I was drawn to the program. The online aspect not only allowed me to complete my program while I was travelling on a tight schedule, but it also allowed me to create connections with and learn from individuals from all over the world. I would not have been able to do this if this program was not online.”

The pandemic has been one of the most challenging eras in American history, and we educators can learn some profound lessons from it. If this period pushes away from our old way of thinking and toward delivering accessible, equitable education, then we can proudly look back and say that we’ve made something positive from a truly difficult time.

Brooke Elliott is the EY Distinguished professor in accounting and executive associate dean of academic programs at the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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