ARE ONLINE MBAs EATING INTO THE EMBA MARKET?
One trend hastened by the pandemic was the proliferation of online MBA programs. In the 2020-2021 academic year, more than 45,000 students were enrolled in online options in the U.S., compared to 43,700 in full-time programs, according to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Meanwhile, big brand business schools Berkeley Haas and NYU Stern tiptoed into the online market for the first time this year, and a recent survey of B-school deans found that 89% of them predict that a top-five business school will launch a fully online MBA within the next three to five years.
In January, the Executive MBA Council noted that increased competition from online MBA programs, along with a relatively robust economy, helped drive down average EMBA class sizes across its 200-plus member schools from 47 in 2020 to 44 in 2021 even as applications increased by 17%. Inquiries also rose 3% in the same period. That means that while more people are interested in the degree, somewhat fewer executives are following through.
However, it doesn’t appear to be the case for the top schools in the market. Indeed, higher-ranked schools with elite EMBA programs will be more insulated from online competition because these students generally believe they prefer face-to-face learning at more established business schools with strong reputational capital.
“We haven’t seen it impacting the EMBA that much. They could be gunning for us, but my sense is that our students at the executive MBA level want something that has a strong synchronous component,” says Haas’ Breen. “They’re at the point in their careers where they are looking for that deep discussion with their peers. They’re dealing with more ambiguity and uncertainty at their level in their organizations, and having access to that kind of in-person discussion is really an important part of their learning.”
Similarly, Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Business, continues to see strong demand for its in-person programs in New York City and Beijing. The school also offers a distance program that utilizes synchronous, immersive technology to reach students where they are. “We believe our portfolio of programs is very well positioned to meet the educational goals of our students,” the school said in a statement to P&Q.
Cornell Johnson admits about 400 students a year to its four executive MBA programs – EMBA Americas, EMBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership, EMBA Metro NY, and Cornell-Tsinghua Finance MBA. It has mostly resumed normal in-person operations. The cost of its NYC metro program is $209,828,
“Our EMBA programs rely on our signature team-based learning pedagogy. Our Executive MBA students learn from leading faculty and then complement that instruction with insights from their amazing group of peers, perceiving problems through different worldviews and soaking in their rich experiences. In-person interaction during the residential sessions is crucial for this team-based pedagogical approach,” according to the statement. “Now that the intensity of the pandemic has waned, students and faculty are reveling in the in-person interactions offered by class weekends and residential sessions. It has become clear to us that in-person interaction has, and will always have, an important role in our pedagogy.”
EMBA TRENDS PRESENT & FUTURE
One market trend NYU Stern is watching closely is the future of work and how work environments are changing. Their executive students are keenly interested in leadership and management lessons that will help them manage remote workforces, Singhal tells P&Q. FinTech is also a topic NYU’s target students are very interested in, and faculty are always looking for ways to integrate new cases and discussions in its program.
A positive trend worth noting is that the percentage of female enrollment in EMBA programs is at its highest ever, according to EMBAC’s latest survey, hitting 33% in 2021 compared to 30% in 2017.
At Haas, “We’re not quite at 50/50, but we’re getting closer. I think we’re over 40% this year which is the highest we’ve ever been,” Breen says.
Cornell’s Johnson, meanwhile, is seeing a growing demand for soft skills required in a global business landscape. Their executives also expect discussions about responsible and ethical leadership in classrooms, along with coursework in sustainability, innovation, global business, and business analytics.
“Our pedagogical tools have changed with technology. Many of our faculty have started developing high-quality videos to replace homework assignments that used to be communicated through handouts and readings. The curriculum is largely paperless; most of the reading materials are now in electronic form,” the school says. “All these changes maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of student effort and improve the quality of in-class discussions.”
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