Business Schools Are Adapting to the Needs of Students and Employers
Contrary to recent opinions on the decline and "crisis" of the MBA, business schools are on the forefront of innovation, generating creative opportunities to deliver the education both students and employers want.
John Byrne's recent article in Forbes, “It’s Official: The MBA Degree Is In Crisis," misleads readers about the state of the MBA for a number of reasons. The title itself is misrepresentative of the business education industry, as the article focuses on the top 10 business schools and the decline in applications—not enrollments—in full-time programs MBA over the past two years. It also neglects to mention some of the larger trends happening as a result of business schools innovating and adapting to the needs of students and employers.
First, even though Byrne highlights several positive aspects of business education, he still implies a state of “crisis” in the title to attract readers. For example, he acknowledges that MBAs are in high demand, and that the return on investment for students attending top schools is strong: “Graduating MBA students this year have had no trouble landing very good jobs. In most cases, starting pay has hit record levels and placement rates for schools are at or near records as well.”
Second, while Byrne indicates a decline in demand for the MBA, the reality is more nuanced. AACSB data shows a 5 percent increase in enrollments in generalist master’s degrees at U.S. AACSB-accredited business schools from 2013–14 to 2017–18. In fact, overall enrollments in business master’s degrees, including specialized programs, have grown 11 percent during that period. Business schools are not losing students; they are distributing them across a broader range of graduate degree types and delivery modes. While there has been a reduction in the number of full-time MBA programs being offered, the number of MBA programs being delivered online and in one-year formats has substantially increased in recent years. The ability for business schools to be agile and offer new programs that increase student marketability is noteworthy and good business practice.
Finally, Byrne’s reference to application data for top schools over a two-year period is just one indicator of the pipeline for business schools and a small sample size when you consider that the top 10 schools represent a small percent of the total enrollment population. Other data, such as enrollments and number of degreed programs offered, are also critical factors in measuring the growth and demand within business education. In fact, 43 percent of U.S. AACSB-accredited schools offered more master's programs in 2017–18 than they did five years prior, including 24 percent that added at least one MBA program, and 35 percent that have added at least one specialized master’s program.
There’s no question that the economy, the job market, and mobility of students globally are all significant factors impacting the bottom line of business schools. But we also need to acknowledge that change creates new market opportunities, as we are seeing in key market shifts for specialty programs, online, part-time, and hybrid degrees. There is a top-quality school and program to meet the needs of all students.
This is not a time of crisis; this is a time of opportunity and creativity. AACSB-accredited schools are collaborating with business to develop the leaders of the future through lifelong learning. Educators are embracing experiential learning and disruptive technologies such as AI, virtual and augmented reality, and microlearning to create a student learning experience that is hyper-personalized. Cross-disciplinary activities help provide the diverse perspectives and communications skills to prepare students for a global workplace. All of this adds up to business school alumni who are highly employable and will contribute to society in numerous ways.
Within higher education, the top business schools along with so many more excellent schools accredited by AACSB, are leading the way in innovation, and that’s an exciting point that should be recognized.
This piece was originally submitted to Forbes as a letter to the editor in response to the article "It’s Official: The MBA Degree Is in Crisis."
Tom Robinson is president and CEO of AACSB International. Follow him on Twitter @TomRobinsonPhd.