The state of the MBA is strong, according to a massive annual poll by the nonprofit that administers the main test to get into business school.
The Graduate Management Admission Council’ 2022 Prospective Students Survey, released today (April 19), is focused on shifting perceptions of graduate business education during the coronavirus pandemic. The poll of thousands of candidates around the world found that while many are concerned about the impact to their higher education plans of inflation, the ever-rising cost of an MBA, and other factors like the strong job market, most continue to see B-schools as an established pathway to success — a tried-and-true way to achieve their professional and personal goals.
Globally, GMAC found, 4 in 5 candidates say that a graduate business degree allows them to stand out at work — a level of agreement consistent across the years, with the MBA the preferred degree: 1 in 4 candidates say they incline toward the two-year full-time MBA, and another 1 in 5 prefer the one-year full time MBA.
PUTTING TO REST CONCERNS ABOUT THE VALUE OF A BUSINESS DEGREE
“While the pandemic has altered aspects of the graduate management education landscape, the fundamental perceptions of the value of graduate management education generally and the MBA specifically continue to stay strong,” says Sangeet Chowfla, president and CEO of GMAC.
“While there continue to be evolutions in candidate’s preferred study destinations, delivery formats, career paths, and perceptions of admissions testing policies, if there were ever any concerns that the pandemic and its effects would diminish business school aspirants’ perceptions of the value of a degree, the latest GMAC findings of the Prospective Students Survey should help put them to rest.”
GMAC’s latest report was based on survey responses from 6,594 individuals in 156 countries worldwide who expressed interest in graduate business education in 2021. Most — 59% — were men; more than half — 51% — majored in a non-business field as undergraduates. More than a third said they prefer to enroll in business master’s programs.
Among the survey’s other findings:
- More candidates prefer to study closer to home while the U.S. and Europe intensify their competition for international candidates.
- Belief in the value of fully online education remains low while acceptance of hybrid formats increases
- Consulting continues to top prospective student interests, but tech is still on the rise
CANDIDATES PREFER LIVE CLASSES, BUT VIEWS ARE SOFTENING
GMAC is generally sanguine about the future of the MBA — as one might expect, given its role as the administrator of the GMAT, still the chief exam globally for gaining entry to business school. GMAC has found silver linings throughout the pandemic, though it hasn’t shied away from confronting complicated and even troubling developments, particularly the challenging landscape faced by minorities and women in graduate business education.
One complicated development accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic is the rise of online and hybrid formats for course content delivery. In its new survey, GMAC found that belief in the value of fully online education remains low while acceptance of hybrid formats has grown. Candidates value the in-person experience of B-school more, GMAC found, with the share of surveyed candidates who prefer fully online programs remaining flat. “Among global prospective students surveyed in 2021, most disagree that online degree programs offer the same value as on-campus programs (73%). Nearly 4 in 5 disagree that the networking opportunities are equivalent, and 2 in 3 disagree that the career opportunities are the same. However, these negative views softened slightly between 2020 and 2021.”
Conversely, preference for hybrid models has gone up significantly across candidate types, “especially those who prefer Executive, Part-time, and Flexible MBA programs (44%, from 30% in 2019),” GMAC says, “but also those who want to study full-time to earn a business master’s (20%, from 13% in 2019) or MBA (13%, from 7% in 2019). Globally, 20% of candidates surveyed in 2021 prefer hybrid program delivery, up from 14 percent pre-pandemic. U.S. underrepresented minority candidates (28%) also express interest in hybrid programs, up significantly from the pre- pandemic level.”
THE ‘UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES’ OF TEST-OPTIONAL POLICIES
It will come as no surprise that test-optional or test waiver policies — which have been on the rise since the onset of the pandemic — are not reflected positively in GMAC’s new report. The organization points out, however, that survey respondents agree that admissions exams “improve the fairness and transparency of business school admissions.” GMAC adds that most also agree that exams “improve schools’ reliability in evaluating applicants and demonstrate the importance they place on the quality of the students they admit.” International candidates, especially, view admissions testing favorably, with about half saying a school’s use of exams is an indicator of the quality of the program.
GMAC reports that about 2 in 5 prospective students agree that the criteria for test waivers are complex and do not apply to a large proportion of applicants, and about 1 in 3 say waivers disproportionately benefit candidates who are less prepared for a graduate business degree program.
“The data shows that prospective applicants have mixed feelings about test waiver and optional policies because of their complexity and perceptions of reduced transparency and fairness,” says Maite Salazar, chief marketing officer at GMAC. “This trend of perception is particularly acute amongst international students. The unintended consequences of test-optional and waiver policies might be that they may adversely affect the perception of the commitment to student quality of programs that offer them.”
See an infographic about GMAC’s new survey on the next page.