Getting more women into full-time MBA programs is a problem that has bedeviled admissions offices around the world for many years. Progress has been slow: Until 2018, no major U.S. MBA program could claim to have women as more than half its enrollees, and only this fall did women break the parity threshold at a top-10 program.
Two major hurdles continue to stymie traditional MBA programs in their quest to lure more women applicants. The first is a requirement that candidates submit a Graduate Management Admission Test or Graduate Record Exam score; this is becoming less of an issue as more schools up and down the rankings — spurred by the coronavirus pandemic — drop test requirements or offer broad waiver policies. The second hurdle is more significant: trying to appeal to women during the exact years when their priorities are likelier to shift to starting a family. New mothers are understandably less inclined to move across countries or continents, no matter how prestigious the MBA program that admits them.
That — and the fact that they are generally of shorter duration than traditional two-year programs — are big reasons why so many OMBA programs in our fifth annual ranking, released this week, report percentages of women that traditional programs can only envy. Of the 52 schools in this year’s ranking, 15 report enrolling 50% or more women this year. Interestingly, the lower-ranked schools were far more likely to boast higher percentages, with one of the tiniest leading the way: Rogers State, a public university located in Claremore, Oklahoma and the No. 52 school overall in our ranking, which reports 70% of the students in its MBA@RSU program, up from 62% last year.
SMALL ONLINE MBA PROGRAMS DRAW BIG INTEREST FROM WOMEN
At traditional MBA programs, higher-ranked schools tend to attract more women as applicants, and therefore enroll more as students. This year, 15 of top 25 ranked full-time MBA programs report 40% or more women’s enrollment, up from 13 schools last year, led by Wharton’s historic 52% but including 49% at Northwestern Kellogg and 48% at Duke Fuqua. The acceleration toward parity is a positive shift after what appeared to be slowing momentum amid the coronavirus pandemic, which inordinately impacted women: Eleven top-25 schools lost ground between 2019 and 2020, including three that had reached 40% but slipped below that level.
According to data from the Graduate Management Admission Council, seven of the top-ranked schools lost ground in women’s MBA enrollment over the last five years. In November 2020, the global Forté Foundation reported that 22 of its member schools with full-time MBA programs had cohorts of at least 40% women, Forté’s highest number ever, up from 19 schools in 2019, 12 schools in 2015, and just one school a decade ago. New data released November 12 shows even greater progress; however, it is noteworthy that so much is made of three Forte schools achieving parity, when parity is almost commonplace for MBAs’ digital cousins.
For online MBAs, you could make a “mirror image” case that roles are reversed: The lower-ranked B-schools have had no trouble drawing women applicants and enrolling them. In P&Q‘s new ranking, only one of the top 10 schools for percentage of women is a top-10 in the overall ranking: No. 3 Santa Clara University Leavey School of Business, which enrolled 54.5% women this year.
WHAT’S THE APPEAL OF NO. 52 ROGERS STATE?
What does little Rogers State University have going for it that attracts such a big percentage of women? (The school’s mark of 62% last year also led all B-schools that provided P&Q with data on women’s enrollment.) For one thing, it is only an 18-month program, more than many OMBAs but less than the 24 months of most residential programs in the U.S. Additionally, such a small school costs much less: As we wrote in 2020, Rogers State’s customizable, accredited online MBA costs just $10,880, a price that has not increased a year later.
“Our motto at RSU,” Dean Susan Willis says on the school website, “is Students First. One way we put students first is by offering an MBA program designed to fit your schedule. RSU is an accredited public university with an affordable, flexible, and achievable MBA degree program.”
Rogers State ranks low not just in our overall list but also in academic and other categories. But the school has an ace in the hole in appealing to women: It does not require a GMAT to apply. That’s something highly-ranked Indiana Kelley (31% women) and CMU Tepper (39%) can’t boast to would-be applicants.
Of course there’s also the question of volume. Seventy percent of women in the Rogers State program sounds like a lot, but with 85 total students currently enrolled, that works out to about 59 or 60 students. By comparison, Indiana’s Kelley Direct has 1,438 total students — 31% of which would be nearly 450.
See the next page for a table showing all the available data on women’s enrollment at the online MBA programs in Poets&Quants’ 2022 ranking.
AND CHECK OUT OUR 2022 ONLINE MBA RANKING & THE REST OF OUR COVERAGE OF THE TOP ONLINE MBA PROGRAMS: AVERAGE GMAT, GRE & GPAs FOR THE 2022 TOP ONLINE MBA PROGRAMS and ACCEPTANCE RATES AT THE TOP ONLINE MBA PROGRAMS OF 2022