Evidence of the widespread application decline in full-time MBA programs in the United States continues to pour in. The latest to report a drop in interest in its full-time, two-year residential program: Duke University, where the Fuqua School of Business saw record numbers of apps just one year ago.
What goes up will come down — often, anyway — and Duke Fuqua’s applications declined this cycle by 223, or about 6%, to 3,539. That is, however, a milder drop-off than some of Duke’s peer schools have experienced: At Michigan Ross the loss was 9.3%; at NYU Stern, 10%; at the Wharton School, about 14%; and at UCLA Anderson, steepest among all schools that have so far reported, 20%. But Duke’s app decline was steeper than Virginia Darden’s, which was just 3.5% — and one B-school, Cornell Johnson, actually grew its apps by 21% this year.
Despite the decline in MBA applications, Duke admitted around the same number of applicants, leading to a slight uptick in acceptance rate to 20.5% (from 19.2%). But the Fuqua School also shrunk its class considerably, from a near-record 447 last fall to 399, a decrease of more than 10%. The result was a minor decline in yield, to about 55%, down from last year’s record 61% and slightly below the previous best mark of 56.8% set in 2019.
DIVERSITY: INTEGRAL TO TEAM FUQUA
Saving the day for Duke, application-wise, was the same group that has saved it at other U.S. B-schools this year: international students.
"A lot of schools saw declines in applications domestically, but internationally there was a nice bump in applications, and we were similar in terms of having extremely strong interest internationally," says Shari Hubert, Duke Fuqua’s associate dean for admissions. "We welcomed students from 55 different citizenships, and 18 of those citizenships were brand new for us."
Last year, Hubert called Duke's incoming MBA Class of 2023 "the most diverse ever," with significant growth in key areas: 47% of the class claimed international citizenship, up from 38% the previous year; 25% identified as underrepresented minorities, up from 23%; and 45% identified as minority, up from 38%. Fuqua continued its quest for gender parity, moving from 46% to 48% women in the class.
Fuqua can rightly claim to have stayed the diversity course with the Class of 2024. While its its minorities dipped slightly to 43%, the school maintained its gains with both underrepresented minorities (25%) and women (48%), while also boasting 7% with military experience. And in an effect mirrored at other top schools that have reported application declines, Fuqua's international cohort grew to 52% of the class, up 5 percentage points in one year.
"We're very proud and excited, given some of the headwinds, that we're able to maintain those levels of representation," Hubert tells Poets&Quants. "Our international yield was above average for this incoming class, and we were able to also maintain the 48% women in the class as well as comparable underrepresented statistics to last year overall. I think that is a testament to our commitment to maintain the diversity of representation in the class, despite the decline in applications.
"We were very intentional in not wanting to sacrifice the diversity that so importantly and prominently defines our culture and Team Fuqua. For us, this will continue to be an integral part of our institutional priorities."
GMAT CLIMBS 2.3% IN 2 YEARS
Notably, Fuqua's class average Graduate Management Admission Test score jumped once again this year, to 718 from 713, a school record for a second straight year. It has grown 16 points in the last two years.
"We are attributing that to the fact that we now offer the GMAT, the GRE, and the Executive Assessment," Hubert says. "And so with the ability to have three options, prospective students can really take the test where they feel that they're going to thrive and do the best in. And I think that's really shown to be a positive benefit for them, and we've seen it in our class statistics, so we're very proud of that."
The percentage of students submitting Graduate Record Exam tests rose again this year after dipping last year, up to 35%. It's still down from 38% in 2020, but up big overall from 23% in 2019. The average score this year was flat at 317. Undergraduate grade point average dipped slightly for a second year in a row to 3.46, down from 3.50 in 2020.
Last year, in terms of the new class’s career backgrounds, the biggest group came from financial services (14%), with consulting a close second (13%). Eight percent came to Fuqua with a focus in healthcare or health services, while 6% each came from nonprofit/education backgrounds, tech, or analytics backgrounds. This year, 18% hail from the halls of finance, 14% from consulting, and 11% from tech; healthcare jumped to 9%. See below for other industries represented in the class. Fuqua notes that 261 undergrad institutions are represented in the class.
'QUALITY IS THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR'
"We pride ourselves in being able to recruit and yield with the students who we feel will find the belonging at Fuqua and thrive," Hubert says. "I think we're fortunate to be able to be selective instead of having to meet the same enrollment number each year without regard to the trade-offs that are presented by that. And so for us, we do have some flexibility to flex higher or lower depending on what we're seeing. And quality, as you know, is the most important factor."
Might class size rebound in future, or was the pandemic bump in enrollment temporary? After all, Fuqua had nearly as many in its MBA Class of 2020 (440) as in the Class of 2023 (447).
"We have some capacity to increase the class size next year," Hubert says, "but we don't feel any pressure to increase the class size. From year to year, we tend to adjust our class size between 400 and 450, depending on what we see in the applications. And we felt great about the class we had this year with 400 students, and we chose to be extremely selective in our admissions. Some years, like 2021, we were able to stretch to 450 and still maintain a level of selectivity. Our selectivity now is comparable to the top five business schools — we have really competitive selectivity as compared to the top five business schools."