A Breakdown From the Application Trends Survey | RNL

The Business School Challenge: Defined by the Numbers

A new report from the Graduate Admissions Council: Application Trends Survey Report 2019 provides some critical insights into the state of business school admissions and enrollment.  Although business programs continue to lead master’s level enrollment, and MBA programs account for two-thirds of all applications, enrollment trend research – and the accumulated experience of business school leadership – demonstrate that it is a challenging time for business schools, but this report provides some clear trends:

  1. Business School Applications Declined…slightly: Overall, applications to business schools declined by 3.1%, with declines in MBA programs offset by increases (5.4%) in applications to other business master’s degrees.
  2. MBA Applications are Down: There was a 6.9% YoY decline in MBA applications with 52% of programs reporting declines. This compares with growth of 3.7% in 2018 and 9.5% in 2017. The steepest declines are among the highest ranked full-time programs, where 89% of programs ranked 1-50, 59% ranked 51-100, and 54% of unranked reported declines.
  3. Less Traditional MBAs are Doing Best: One-Year (30%), Flexible (38%), Part-Time (38%), and particularly Online (50%) MBAs reported more programs that saw application increases than did Full-Time 2-year programs (23% grew and 73% declined).
  4. International Students Are Going Elsewhere: Almost half of US business schools reported declines in international applications and 22% reported no change, leaving 30% reporting increases. 56% of European business schools reported increases in international and 53% reported increases in domestic applications. 48% of Asia Pacific business schools reported increases of domestic applicants (students are staying in their home country more and more frequently).
  5. Other Business Programs on the Rise: Total applications for other business master’s programs were up by 5.4%. This is great news, but these other programs only comprise about 30% of all business school apps. The most popular of these master’s programs were: Finance (24% of apps); Data Analytics (14%); and Management/Global Management (14%).
  6. A Word on Data Analytics: The healthy increases in Data Analytics apps actually represents a slowing from past years as competition increases due to a saturation of the market as more and more business schools add this program.

These data demonstrate a challenging outlook for American business schools. In nearly every Program Positioning study RNL+Converge conducts for business programs, we see that  business schools are producing considerably more MBA graduates than there are jobs that are typically filled by individuals with a master’s degree in business. While an MBA graduate can find employment in dozens of fields beyond those that the US Departments of Education and Labor have formally linked, it is an indicator that the “market” (prospective students seeking an advanced degree) may be seeing less value than in the past to enrolling in an MBA program.

What is perhaps most interesting is that although this possible saturation might be assumed to lead people to either the best MBAs in the country or some other degree, it is just these top programs (as ranked by US News and World Report) that are facing the greatest challenges, and it is the more flexible and convenient programs that are in the “least bad” position.

Scott Jeffe
Scott Jeffe
December 4, 2019