Across the world, fewer people are showing a willingness to set aside their careers to work full time on a Master of Business Administration degree.
Kansas University’s School of Business defied that trend in 2012, at least, but it’s forging ahead with an overhaul of its two-year full-time MBA program as competition grows fiercer for the best students.
“We are looking ahead proactively and making some changes,” said KU Business Dean Neeli Bendapudi.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that applications for two-year full-time MBA programs tumbled worldwide for the fourth straight year for the class of students beginning programs this fall. The median number of applications fell by 22 percent from 2011.
In the United States, 62 percent of such programs experienced a decline in applications in 2012, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council study cited by the Journal. In the Midwest, the numbers were even worse; 71 percent of programs reported a decline.
At KU, applications for its full-time program increased slightly in 2012, from 102 to 107. Though that followed a decline from 127 applications in 2010.
Much of the worldwide decline in applications is likely related to economic trends, Bendapudi said.
“These cycles happen in graduate education,” Bendapudi said.
The declines follow highs set shortly after the economic downturn late in the previous decade. As more people find jobs, fewer are willing to attend graduate school — especially for full-time MBA programs, Bendapudi said, which require students to set aside their careers for two years. (KU also has a part-time MBA program for working professionals, based at the Edwards Campus in Overland Park.)
Of course, if a program could pack its education into a shorter period, that would allow students to re-enter the job market sooner. And that’s exactly what the KU Business School will do, starting with full-time MBA students beginning in 2013.
The program’s new track will run only 16 months, and it will also include more hands-on business experience.
“All of these are ways to combat that trend,” Bendapudi said.
The shorter timeline could better appeal to prospective students who have already racked up a good deal of undergraduate student-loan debt, said Catherine Shenoy, the director of the Business School’s MBA programs.
“Students are coming out with quite a bit of debt now, so we have to be very sensitive to making sure they receive a lot of value for the educational dollar,” Shenoy said.
The new curriculum will require fewer credit hours, which means less tuition. And students can spend the spring of their second year working and earning money, rather than sitting in classes.
The full-time MBA students will also be required to find an internship during the summer following their first year. Semesters will include a weeklong break from classes for special projects. And a new program called the Kansas Issues Project will pair first-year students with Kansas businesses and nonprofit groups to help solve problems. One team this year will help Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center in Lawrence try to reduce “no-show” rates among people receiving help there.
“We want them to have opportunities to work on business problems beginning on day one,” Shenoy said.
Students will also have the option to stay for a fourth semester that would include more specialized hands-on experience.
The overhaul is the first the program has received in about 10 years, Shenoy said.
The full-time MBA class beginning this year contains 42 students. The program is not as financially important as the school’s larger undergraduate programs, Bendapudi said, but it’s a big part of the school’s reputation.
“We want a great MBA program, not necessarily the largest MBA program,” Bendapudi said.
And the quality of the applicants for 2012 did improve, Shenoy said. In general, applicants had higher undergraduate grade-point averages, better Graduate Management Admission Test scores and more work experience.
And a long-awaited potential new building for the school definitely would not hurt recruitment efforts, Bendapudi said — for the full-time MBA program and others.
“It’s going to definitely have an impact in terms of attracting a higher-quality student and faculty,” she said.