Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business is the latest top school in the United States to designate its MBA program STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math. Duke joins at least a dozen other top-25 U.S. B-schools in making its entire MBA a STEM program; all the others have some form of pathway to a STEM degree.
As at the other B-schools, the move is an effort to both entice international applicants and make graduates of the program more appealing to employers. The former is accomplished by qualifying graduates for two extra years of visa-free work in the U.S. upon graduation, known as Optional Practical Training; the latter is achieved because recruiters, particularly in the tech industry, increasingly value the skills associated with STEM degrees.
“We had been one of the first schools to offer STEM second major or second degree for a certain series of courses that a student would take,” says Shari Hubert, Duke Fuqua’s associate dean for admissions. “But now the entire MBA program is STEM-qualifying, which for our students is really game-changing because it gives them that additional two years of OPT, depending on the job that they take.”
DUKE FUQUA LEANS INTO INTERNATIONALIZATION OF ITS MBA
Duke Fuqua previously had offered an MBA With Track Credential in Management Science and Technology Management (MSTeM), not a concentration or focus but a second major that promised to prepare students “to both lead and direct analysis, and to get deeply involved with and understand the tools and models that should be utilized to inform and improve decisions.” The program was especially geared toward students looking for management and leadership roles in health, consulting, tech, and several other fields.
Now, Hubert says, anyone earning an MBA at Duke will have a STEM degree. But the Fuqua School’s commitment to its international students goes deeper than simply qualifying them to stay in the U.S. longer once they leave Durham, she says.
“We also have members who are dedicated in both the Student Life Department as well as our Career Management staff to support our international students exclusively and help them prepare for career searches,” Hubert says. “We help them identify the jobs that sponsor as well as help them maneuver through the CPT (Curricular Practical Training) and the OPT process. And so we’re in it to win it for our international students over the long haul.”
In 2021, she notes, Duke Fuqua created a new International Symposium for applicants; this fall the school will host its third annual event. The symposium “focuses exclusively on the international experience that someone would have at Fuqua, so we introduce prospective students to our students, our alumni, our staff, our faculty, visa services colleagues, as well as financial aid colleagues. It’s virtual, it’s a full day of activities, and we’ll continue to host that.
“We’ve seen huge interest and appreciation for that kind of a symposium. And we’ll continue to value admitting internationally diverse classes of students, but also being mindful that we need to ensure that all of our students are successful in their program as well as professional pursuits.”
CLASS OF 2024: 52% FOREIGN STUDENTS
Duke’s embrace of STEM is understandable — along with just about every other leading MBA program in the U.S. this year, the school has seen a decline in MBA applications, largely because of sagging domestic interest amid a strong economy. When jobs are plenty and wages are good, fewer people consider returning to school for a graduate degree.
Amid its 6% decline in MBA apps, Duke saw a big jump in international students in the newly enrolled Class of 2o24 — to 52% of the class (including dual citizens), up from 47% one year ago.
“I know that a lot of the schools saw applications dip domestically, but internationally there was a nice bump in applications, and we were similar in terms of having extremely strong interest internationally,” Hubert says. “We welcomed students from 55 different citizenships, and 18 of those citizenship were brand new for us. So we saw a lot of diversification across the different international interest.
“I think it underscores the strong demand that still exists in the U.S. for graduate management education, and the growth in younger populations around the world seeking professional and economic prosperity and opportunities. We’ve also been very open about the importance of having a diverse international student body, and so we continued to actively recruit across countries and regions during the height of the pandemic, and we’ve continued that even beyond the main years of the pandemic.”
OPTIMISM ‘DESPITE HEADWINDS’
Hubert says as classes get underway this fall that the school couldn’t be more pleased with the quality of the incoming MBA class. And she’s optimistic that the decline in applications, at Duke Fuqua and elsewhere, is temporary and that regardless, schools will adjust.
“We’re very pleased with how the students are progressing and acclimating and they just finished their summer term and so they’re now moving into their core classes. The level of engagement’s been high and it’s really validated the admissions decisions that we’ve made,” she says. “And over the coming weeks, the new class will start to elect their student government associations representatives, and from what we see, there’s a great deal of interest in that. And so that really bodes well as well in terms of this class really being actively engaged and being able to really contribute to their own transformation. So we’re very excited.
“When it comes to the state of the MBA, I am still quite optimistic. Despite some of the headwinds in the industry, the degree is still very much valued, respected, and truly needed. Now more than ever, the world needs business leaders who can understand and manage through pressing issues like climate change, making sense of huge amounts of data to make informed decisions, developing technological innovations, and who can lead teams to find common purpose in an extremely polarized world.” She adds that one of the school’s newest concentrations focuses on all of those characteristics : Fuqua’s DEI Concentration “is meant for any student who aspires to lead diverse teams towards common purpose and drive meaningful results in their organizations.
“At Fuqua, we are equipping our students to lead with intelligence, emotional fluency, and decency.”
See the Duke Fuqua Daytime MBA home page to learn more about its new STEM designation.