In one key way, night-time MBA classes are a uniquely big-city problem. Meeting in the evening means commuting in the dark, and that means concerns around student safety.
Safety is foremost among the issues raised by MBA students in New York University’s full-time program at the Stern School of Business who, as they look ahead to the fall and their second year in the program, are protesting a lack of daytime classes on offer. According to one student who analyzed the Stern School’s Fall 2022 schedule, only 30% of second-year MBA courses are scheduled during the daytime hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the other 70% of classes offered in a 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. evening time slot — meaning they will adjourn in darkness.
For many Stern students, that means taking the subway home at night — not the most ideal situation, especially for women. Mark Ryan, a rising second-year MBA student at Stern who analyzed the school’s Fall 2022 slate of courses, says safety is a big concern — but it’s not the only one. The high volume of evening classes “wreaks havoc on students’ ability to assemble a reasonable schedule,” he says. “The impacts to socialization, attendance at recruiting events, safety for commuters, and family life for student-parents are just some of disruptions that are of concern.”
The school says it is listening. Student feedback led to an increase in daytime electives for fall 2022, a top official says, “with more likely to be added this summer, which is part of the normal academic planning process.”
IN COMPARISON, COLUMBIA OFFERS 80% OF MBA COURSES DURING THE DAY
Ryan, a certified flight instructor and veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, says in reference to the availability of daytime classes for Stern’s full-time MBA program that he feels “strongly that NYU’s leadership led students astray with misleading information and expectations about their program.” He says not only is safety during a night-time commute an issue, but the high volume of night-time classes means students miss out on all-important networking events that often are scheduled at the same time, during what should be social hours.
“NYU leadership has not been transparent with their intentions nor have they been communicated how they plan to go forward with course offerings,” Ryan tells Poets&Quants. “It has been difficult and unsupportive. Students are both frustrated and stonewalled. This is not an experience that I would advise anyone to pay $200K for and relinquish their full-time career.”
He says in comparison, the other major New York MBA program at Columbia Business School offers 80% of their classes during the day.
Ryan is not alone. Two other full-time MBA students spoke to Poets&Quants, and a petition to school leadership about the issue was signed by about two-thirds of the Class of 2023.
STERN INCREASED FALL 2022 DAYTIME ELECTIVES TO 41 FROM 38 IN FALL 2021
Ryan says school leadership has acknowledged the problem and cited two main reasons for night-time classes: that roughly half are taught by adjunct professors with full-time jobs; and that many are specialized classes where a daytime section “would not generate sufficient enrollment” — in other words, that the school needs part-time students to reach an average student-per-class target, making smaller full-time classes financially unattractive.
Vice Dean for MBA Programs JP Eggers, responding to a request for comment from Poets&Quants, notes that all of the Stern School’s full-time MBA core classes are offered during the day, “and given the size of Stern’s faculty, the school offers one of the largest menu of electives among top B-schools.
“For electives, one needs to compare fall to fall for an apples-to-apples comparison, as there are always more electives offered in spring because first-year MBA students and focused MBA students (in the Stern School’s tech and fashion MBAs) also take electives at this time.”
Eggers adds that in response to student input and the recommendation of a faculty committee over the winter, Stern increased its number of daytime electives in the academic calendar for Fall 2022 compared to Fall 2021: 41 electives, up from 38, “with more likely to be added this summer, which is part of the normal academic planning process.”
Evening electives primarily enroll Stern’s large part-time MBA student population, Eggers acknowledges, “though full-time MBA students have the option to take advantage of evening electives for additional variety if they choose.” He adds that more than 75% of evening electives are either sections of the same classes offered during the day, or taught by practitioners — including CEOs — with full-time jobs “who cannot feasibly teach during the day, which may be particularly appealing to all students.”
“It’s important to note that in a typical academic year, 100 sections of electives are offered during the day; a full-time MBA student can feasibly take all of their electives during the day,” Eggers says, noting for context that a typical MBA takes roughly 13 electives during their second year over two semesters.
“We will continue to strive to strike the optimal balance between breadth of elective offerings and student preferences.”
STUDENTS FACE SERIOUS SCHEDULING ISSUES
Nathan Pfaff, another Stern full-time MBA student who is active-duty Army, says Eggers’ response does not account for the disparity in offerings between day and evening classes, though he acknowledges that CEOs and other “practitioners” or adjunct faculty have day jobs and are only available in the evening. “When the experience these individuals bring is unavailable from or better than that of full-time or other faculty available during the day, this makes total sense,” Pfaff says. “I am, however, not convinced that this is always the case.”
Pfaff disagrees that full-time Stern MBA students can feasibly take all of their electives during the day. “This statement, while not blatantly false, discounts practical reality and the needs of students,” he says. “If I choose my courses based only on the time they are offered, I could take all day classes. But that is no way to build an educational curriculum. Most of us have found that in order to pursue our specialties and build a curriculum that meets our needs, we have to take evening classes, usually multiple ones in a single semester (outside of the first semester when mostly core courses are taken).”
He adds that serious scheduling issues arise from so many evening classes, pointing out that there are only four slots for evening classes 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, while there are around eight slots for day classes. “This number is actually a little more complicated, but eight is a fair compromise,” Pfaff says. “When 65-70% of available classes are offered in only 33% of available slots, there are far more conflicts between classes, making it harder to construct a schedule based on a student’s educational needs instead of time of day.
“They say, ‘Yeah, we’ll look into it, we will fix it’ — but it took us a year to really realize this was a problem, and then we’re gone in a year. That’s just the way things go. There’s no longevity there on the student side to push for the change.”
‘WE DO CARE ABOUT THIS SCHOOL’
A third full-time MBA student who spoke with P&Q asked to remain anonymous. That student, who “was deciding between top-10 schools with 750 people in the class” but who “wanted the smaller learning environment” offered at the Stern School, says that given the high tuition at Stern — at just under $200K last year, highest of any top-25 school including the Ivy League Schools and the M7 — students in the Class of 2023 are feeling short-changed.
“I think a lot of people have the feeling, when they say that there’s a financial side of this, like, ‘Well, what is our tuition going towards then?’ the student says. “Because it’s not going to our clubs, it’s not going to our extracurriculars. Those are all student-run. It’s not going to events and stuff because we haven’t had those in two years. Really the only thing it could be going to, in our minds, is academics. And to say, ‘Sorry, for financial reasons, you can only have 30 classes to choose from when our catalog says there’s over 200 electives,’ feels very frustrating.”
The student adds that students are speaking up because of a love of the school and a desire to help it change for the better.
“This is something all of us have thought of a lot, that we’re not complaining to complain,” the student says. “What really matters to us is driving change at Stern, which is the tagline that we’re told on day one of orientation. If you see change that needs to happen, make it happen. Because we do care about this school, we do love all of our fellows’ journeys and our classmates, and the students are the best part about the program. We’d hate the quality of that to go down over an issue like this. We’re pushing for change to make Stern even better than it already is.”
STUDENT PARENTS BEAR BRUNT OF NIGHT-HEAVY SLATE
Mark Ryan, the father of three young children, and Nathan Pfaff, the father of two, say the night-heavy schedule takes an especial toll on student parents.
“My wife’s a champion,” Ryan says with a laugh. “I knew going to the program, being a parent, and also commuting on top of that, was going to make it challenging. And my wife and I were on the same page, and we expected to have happy hours and social events. Of course, those are going to be in the evenings, but I didn’t expect to be in class two to three times a week until 9 p.m. And then I’m home at 10:30.
“So it’s a challenge for sure. And what I don’t want to have to do is believe that in the next year, having to find that balance between skipping enough classes versus skipping enough social events. The networking is so important. And the way I had to find the balance was my Thursday evening class, I probably skipped a third of the classes to attend the social events. I did fine in the class anyway, but I would’ve rather been present at both.”
Pfaff says his wife works, and he has a long commute, making evening classes especially onerous.
“Part of the reason I commute is that I got kids,” he says. “It’s hard to balance that life and take my classes.
“My complaints are, between the commute and my family schedule, if I take an evening class, I don’t see my family that whole day.”
Adds Ryan: “It’s not even something that I would have thought about coming to a full-time program like Stern. I kind of just assumed that classes would be during the day. Definitely a bit of a shock.
“It feels like the students just yelling into the void about how this affects us doesn’t really bother the administration. They’re only going to react if there’s a threat to the bottom line.”