Part-Time MBA Market Perceptions: The Latest Data

AdjunctsThe latest trends affecting the part-time MBA market were the focus of the opening session of the 22nd annual MBA for Working Professionals Conference, which attracted representatives from more than 70 business schools to Baruch College in New York City last week.

The session’s three speakers— Alex Chisolm, senior research director at the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC); Rob Ryan, assistant dean at the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business, DePaul University; and Marci Armstrong, associate dean of graduate programs at Cox School of Business, Southern Methodist University, shared insights gleaned from recent GMAC and AACSB surveys.

The Challenging Environment for Part-Time MBA Programs Continues

Prospective students perceive the value of part-time MBA programs as weaker in the areas of educational experience, prestige and respect from employers, Chisolm reported, citing data from a new GMAC survey of more than 5,600 prospective students that was crowd-funded by business schools in 13 major metropolitan areas across the country.

Asked to rate the value of business programs, 83 percent of respondents gave full-time programs top ratings, followed by 53 percent for part-time MBA programs, 43 percent for the executive MBA and 16 percent for online MBA programs.

For alumni, 68 percent of part-time MBA graduates perceived the value of their program as outstanding or excellent, compared to 82 percent of full-time MBA grads surveyed, according to GMAC’s 2015 Alumni Perspectives Survey.

Top motivators for prospective students to pursue a part-time MBA were:

  • an investment in myself and my career (95 percent)
  • a way to increase my business knowledge and skills (94 percent)
  • a step in broadening my exposure (90 percent)
  • a step to expanding my professional network (90 percent)

The things prospective part-time MBA students value most in choosing a program were reputation, flexible scheduling, dedicated career management and the ability to take electives.

Not surprisingly, the top barriers for prospective part-time MBA students were demands on time, inability to leave work early to attend weekday evening classes and program cost. Employer support also remains low. Among those who prefer part-time MBA programs, 63 percent expect employer financial assistance, but most (61 percent) expect to receive less than $10,000 for tuition.

The data indicates, Chisolm concluded, that business schools need to improve the part-time MBA brand, more clearly define their programs and gain employer buy-in.

The Enrollment and Pricing See-Saw

Business schools have been experiencing a “see-saw effect, with enrollments and pricing not matching up” over most of the past decade, Ryan observed, citing data submitted by 358 AACSB-accredited full- and part-MBA programs.

From the 2005-2006 to 2013-2014 academic years, tuition rose about 8 percent for in-state schools versus 7.4 percent for out-of-state schools compounded annually, while enrollments only increased by 3.5 percent compounded annually.  The instability reflects job growth trends during the period, Ryan said, adding that “we’re seeing some stability return in 2014 on price and enrollment.”

International student enrollments, especially in specialized masters, are making the difference for many institutions, he said.  Enrollments in specialized master’s programs grew by 8.1 percent compounded annually during the period.

Could Today’s MS Students be Tomorrow’s MBA Students?

Armstrong noted a key stat that could represent an opportunity in GMAC’s survey of 3,800 prospective students conducted January 2013 to December 2014.

More than three-quarters of prospective MS students said they are also considering a part-time MBA degree.  This could represent a potential MBA program pipeline, Armstrong said, for business schools that cultivate top MS alumni for future MBA enrollment after these alumni gain post-graduation work experience.

“The question is, after they earn their MS, will they be satisfied enough that they feel they no longer need the MBA, or will they return?” Armstrong said, adding: “Only time will tell.”

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