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N.C. MBA programs shift strategies

The state’s MBA programs see a future of more specialized programs and digital learning.


North Carolina business schools are adapting to survive, just like their professors preach in the strategic planning courses. It’s not easy, because traditional full-time MBA programs aren’t capturing the attention of a new generation of master’s students, many of whom prefer to take online courses at their own pace. About 80% of the nation’s top 50 business schools reported receiving fewer applications in 2018 than in the previous year, prompting even the most selective schools to increase acceptance rates to keep their classes full.

The MBA value proposition waxes and wanes with economic changes, generational preferences and demand from international students. Fortunately, the degree remains appealing to many career-switchers who want less expensive, more specialized degrees in their field of interest, according to our survey of 23 schools in North Carolina. Many schools have found a healthy balance, offering certificates that serve as a sort of “mini MBA,” but with a sharper focus on subjects such as finance, supply chain, health care or hospitality.

Other schools are emphasizing online courses that serve busy working adults who want to learn at their own pace. Most schools also offer a hybrid format, with a combination of in-person and online instruction. Traditional face-to-face programs for students who prefer small class sizes continue but show limited growth.

The coronavirus pandemic presents a mix of challenges and opportunities, MBA officials say. At press time, many schools were mulling their plans for the fall, though most expect students to return to campus in August after the dramatic shutdowns that occurred in March. The economic downturn could lead to strong demand from idled workers, as often occurs during recessions, the officials say.

Still, half of the respondents to a survey by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business in May say they expect enrollment declines over the next six months. Even those expecting gains predicted only modest growth, at best. One big impediment is declining demand from international students because of virus-related travel restrictions, political rhetoric and tightening restrictions on work permits for noncitizens. The schools provided varying degrees of information for this report. 

 

 

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