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MBA Programs in Demand Despite Economic Trends

Strength of Business Offerings Keeps Students Marketable

Heights Editor

Published: Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

Editor's Note: This is the first installment of a three-part series addressing the challenges and role of higher education in the post-recession economy.

It appears as if the academic prognosticators at Boston College may have correctly predicted the role of graduate professional degree programs, at least for business students. For BC, its graduate business programs appeared to have weathered trends in higher education influenced by economic factors, largely due to size and focus.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, applications for two-year, full-time MBA programs for this past fall dropped an average of 9.9 percent from a year earlier, based on data from the Graduate Management Admission Council. According to the same survey, one-third of full-time MBA programs reported drops of more than 10 percent, which included 649 MBA and other business programs at 331 schools internationally. The decline marks the third year in a row that applications have fallen. The trend has been contrary to the historical trends of increased interest in graduate school when the market soured.

The decline in applications can have a significant impact on the quality of admitted students and the stability of a program for any academic degree offering, but it can have an even greater impact on professional graduate degrees, such as business, where higher education institutions earn significant revenue and use student quality to attract renowned faculty.

BC's full-time MBA program appears to be part of the two-thirds unaffected by the trend – something Warren Zola, CSOM assistant dean for graduate programs, attributes to the small size of the program.

"Full-time MBA enrollment continues to be robust," Zola said. "Demand is consistent in comparison with previous years. The desire for a graduate degree from the Carroll School still appears to be strong. In large part, I believe due to not only the quality of the program, but also its size and intimate setting.

"The small, intimate size of our graduate programs has allowed us to adjust to changing times," Zola said. "It has allowed us to have stability in our staff and relations with employers. It has also allowed us to capitalize on capturing faculty that would have been a challenge to attract during normal times, adding to the strength of program."

BC drew 719 applications and accepted 236 for its full-time, two-year MBA program. One hundred and six students matriculated for the most recent year according to data from U.S. News & World Report. The number is consistent with previous years.

BC is experiencing a decline in applications with its part-time, evening MBA offering, however.

"There has been a decline in application for our part-time MBA program offering," Zola said. "I think a major factor is economic. Employers have tightened their tuition remission programs substantially."

Specialized masters programs, however, also remain largely unaffected nationally and at BC. Masters degrees such as in finance and accounting have appealed to graduates looking to boost their credentials. For individuals pursuing careers in accounting, enrollment in master degree programs in accounting have remained strong because of the 150-credit hour requirement to qualify for the CPA examination.

The prospect of the job market and outlook for employment after graduation has also affected MBA program enrollment.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, companies are shifting their hiring strategies, filling their ranks with more undergraduates instead of focusing efforts on recruiting MBAs. A number of companies in finance, consulting and consumer products are bypassing MBA candidates when recruiting new employees for management-track positions.

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