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Reading The (Class) Room: How Engaged Are MBA Students This Fall?

It has been a wild couple of years. Coronavirus has led to massive, world-shaking disruptions in graduate business education, accelerating the move toward online learning that business schools had been slow to embrace. Because B-schools had little choice in the matter — travel restrictions created major hurdles for international students and hiccups, to the say the least, for heavily experiential programs — the changes have been swift, and not always smooth.

We talk a lot about how schools are adapting, but how are MBA and other students handling their class loads this fall? A new survey by a global graduate business school association offers a window into the mindsets of the most important players in the MBA game who are forced to do the most adapting to the siege of novelty and change.

The MBA Career Services & Employer Alliance polled some of its more than 250 global business school members and found that engagement levels for second-year MBA students — who, after all, have been in the thick of the Covid-19 drama almost since it started — may be slipping in one key area: getting a job with schools’ help. Second-years’ involvement in schools’ career services is flat or somewhat lower for more than to-thirds of students, the poll found.

B-SCHOOL: ‘STILL A ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME OPPORTUNITY’

In August, a resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic caused by the Delta variant sparked concern in MBA CSEA member schools, with nearly one-fifth saying they planned for a hybrid approach to instruction. Most did not go down that road, though some schools in the U.S. South — where mask and vaccine mandates are rarer — were forced to adjust their plans.

In October, MBA CSEA found that in one key way, MBA students were adapting to the expansion of remote life: job recruitment. In that poll, while nearly one-fifth of respondents from B-schools indicated that their students preferred face-to-face meetings, about 15% reported that students like the flexibility of remote or hybrid models — and that students prefer live to pre-recorded virtual recruiting activities. However, the poll also found that virtual fatigue was on the rise.

Last February, when the prognosis for fall classes was still unclear, Al Dea, an industry analyst, author, and consultant covering business education and hiring and recruiting industries, wrote that while MBA students should temper their expectations for in-person instruction and events, they still had ample opportunities to make the most of the B-school experience.

“The good news,” Dea wrote for Poets&Quants, “is that what you have in front of you, while not ideal, and still a far cry from what you may have imagined, is still a great opportunity. The MBA experience is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and the value and ROI of a degree over the course of your career is still very high.”

69% OF SCHOOLS SAY 2ND-YEAR CAREER SERVICES ENGAGEMENT IS SAME OR HIGHER

A global association for employers and individuals in graduate business career services, MBA CSEA conducted its latest survey at the end of October and beginning of November, with 84% of its 82 responses coming from North American B-schools. It found that the engagement level of second-year MBA students in career services program offerings versus last year was flat or slightly waning, with 37% characterizing student engagement as “about the same” and another 32% as “somewhat lower.” Three percent each responded that engagement was “significantly” higher or lower; 24% said “somewhat higher.”

For first-year MBA students and those in one-year programs, MBA CSEA found career services engagement somewhat lower (29%) or about the same for half of students, and somewhat higher (33%) or significantly higher (15%) for nearly as many. Only 2% reported that it was significantly lower. However, the poll found that the engagement level of specialty master’s program students was, in general versus last year, much more likely to be positive: about the same (42%) or somewhat higher (30%), as contrasted with somewhat lower (23%).

And how did schools categorize student engagement in recruiting activities versus last year? More than a third (36%) said things were the same, while 29% said lower and 23% higher. Nearly 10%, however, said activity was significantly lower — suggesting that the effects of the great disruption are still being felt.

DON’T MISS ARE MBA STUDENTS GETTING MORE COMFORTABLE WITH REMOTE JOB RECRUITING? and EMPLOYERS SAY THE MBA NEEDS A REFRESH, SURVEY FINDS