How times have changed. And oh, how they are about to change even more. But until the reverberations of the current moment are fully felt, we have a trove of data on applications and enrollment in MBA programs at the top business schools to give us perspective on the last three or four years — and to help us understand the direction things might have gone had a world-shaking pandemic not changed everything.
Because it has. All we can assume for now is that the global health crisis disrupting the admissions process at most B-schools will make the trends explored below, involving the enrollment of international students in full-time MBA programs in the United States, even worse.
It was not a pretty picture to begin with. Since 2017, 31 schools in the top 52 as ranked by Poets&Quants have seen declines in their foreign MBA student ranks, 21 by double digits. Seventeen schools have seen increases, with an average gain of 5 percentage points and 17.7%. Among the 31 decliners, the average loss is 4.5 percentage points and 16.6%, including 3.5 points and 10.9% among 16 schools in the top 25.
For the most part, the elite schools have not eluded others’ fate. Four of the top 10 saw increases in foreign student enrollment averaging 3.2 percentage points (8.35%), while six saw declines of 2.6 points (7.3%). The biggest change for a top-10 school came at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, which lost 14.6% of its international MBA student volume in three years. (See pages 2-5 for a complete breakdown of the data.)
ONE REGION IMPACTED MORE THAN MOST
The school with the largest overall percentage of international students in its full-time MBA program is, like last year, Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management, which even as it sank to No. 80 in the latest U.S. News ranking maintained its status as the only program in P&Q‘s top 50 to have more than 50% foreign students. Purdue’s 57.8% — up from 54.8% in 2018 — was followed by UC-Davis Graduate School of Management at 49.4%, Columbia Business School (47%), Stanford Graduate School of Business (43%), the University of Rochester Simon Business School (40.5%).
These five were the only schools at 40% or more.
Then there are the deficits. The biggest drop-offs in foreign MBA enrollment came at the University of Florida Warrington College of Business (-70%), the University of Tennessee-Knoxville Haslam College of Business (-46.5%), and Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management (-44.6%); In the top 25 the two biggest declines occurred at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler Business School (-25.6%) and Duke University Fuqua School of Business (-21.6%). What do all these schools have in common? They’re all in the South. In fact, of the 10 schools with the fewest international MBA students, seven are Southern, including the three with the smallest percentages overall: Florida (4.5%), Tennessee 4.6% (down from 5% last year), and Vanderbilt (12.9%).
“It is abnormally low,” John Gresley says of Florida Warrington’s international cohort. The school’s assistant dean and director of its full-time MBA says the college’s average is closer to 15% for the last decade. “We have a couple of partners that have consistently been a source of several students in staggered years, but last year’s geopolitical environment impacted their decision to send students,” he says. “We also attracted a much larger pool, as I previously mentioned, and this led to interest from students that were also considering other, higher-ranked schools that we admitted but were unable to ultimately convince to join our two-year cohort.”
Not all is darkness. Some schools saw turnarounds, among them NYU Stern School of Business, which had the largest international increase in the top 25 over the past three years: more than 20%, to stand at 26.8%. The biggest success stories are at University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business (up 36.8% to 33.6%), Wisconsin School of Business (up 36.6% to 27.6%), UC-Davis (up 31.7% to 49.4%), Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business (up 55% to 20.3%), and Boston University Questrom School of Business (up 24.3% to 37.3%).
THE MONEY SIDE
It’s not unusual for international MBAs’ starting salaries to lag behind their U.S. counterparts, and that holds true in the 2019 data. Only one school, Rutgers Business School (ranked 61st but included here because it is a former top-50 school for which P&Q has collected data for comparison in past), saw its U.S. salary decline at all over there past three years, in this case an 8.4% drop. Conversely, 11 schools saw their international MBA salaries lose ground, with an average decline of 6.6%; three schools — Rutgers, Penn State Smeal College of Business, and Vanderbilt Owen — lost only a few dollars, pocket change really, but one school, UC-Davis, had a calamitous drop-off of 27.7%, to a mere $70,429. But UC-Davis is a small program, so any change is likely to have major reverberations — likewise at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management (-14.9% to $88,167) and the University of Pittsburgh Katz Graduate School of Business (-8.2% to $89,787). Far bigger programs with significant declines were the University of Washington Foster School of Business (-7.6% to $112,186) and Emory University’s Goizueta Business School (-5.7% to $122,667).
The biggest average U.S. salaries were reported at the usual suspects: Stanford led all schools with $157,460, followed by HBS, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and Columbia Business School (click here, here, and here for more salary and other data for these schools). In terms of international salary, the biggest were reported at Wharton ($142,289), Columbia ($141,776), Stanford ($139,899), and Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business ($135,184). MIT Sloan School of Management reports only a mean score for the whole class: $138,461.
Overall, the smallest average U.S. salary was at Purdue: $91,808; the smallest international salary at UC-Davis: $70,429. The number of schools with a higher foreign average salary is 14, with USC Marshall School of Business the highest-ranked school where this is the case: U.S. MBAs graduating from No. 19-ranked Marshall last year made $125,808, while those from other shores pulled in a base of $133,193.
Over the last three years, the number of schools that saw double-digit percentage gains for their U.S. citizen MBAs was 18; for their international grads, 15. SMU Cox had the biggest U.S. gain at 19%, and the University of Maryland Smith School of Business had the smallest: 1.8%. The biggest gain for international MBAs between 2017 and 2019 was at the University of Texas-Dallas Jindal School of Management: 22.1%, to $105,667.
The average gain for U.S. salary in the top 10 was 9.2%, led by UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business (11.9%); in the top 25, U.S. salaries grew by an average of 8.7%, led by the Indiana Kelley’s 12.3%. The average salary gain for international MBAs in the top 10 was 5.8%, led by Columbia’s 11.6%; in the top 25, internationals’ salaries grew by an average of 7.7%, led by the Kelley School’s 20.4%.
OUTSIDE THE U.S., A HEAVIER RELIANCE ON FOREIGN STUDENTS
The average international student percentage for a top 10 MBA program in the U.S. is 35.5%. The average in the top 25: 31.6%. Overall, for the 52 schools examined by P&Q, the average is an even 30%.
Compare that to Europe and you will find that, as always, European schools rely much more on foreign students. At most of the five schools we have looked at over the years (see above), as well as at Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, little has changed in terms of international enrollment in the full-time MBA. One school is an exception: Since 2016, IESE of Spain grew its foreign enrollment by 4 percentage points, to 85%. That’s still less than most of its peers and considerably less than the 97% at France’s INSEAD.
Editor’s note: This story was corrected to amend the 2017 international student percentage for Northwestern Kellogg. P&Q had erroneously put the number at 40%, but it was 35%.
See the next pages for complete statistical breakdowns of the international student populations at each of the Poets&Quants top 50 U.S. business schools, including salary data.