Millenial Shifts, Diversity & Online Degrees Pose Challenges For Part-Time MBA Programs

Millennials now account for nearly 9 in 10 U.S. resident part-time MBA candidates, according to GMAC. GMAC photo


Perhaps the biggest challenge for part-time programs comes from the rise of other delivery formats. As Hazenbush writes, “The most notable change in the professional education landscape over the last decade has been advancement in the ability to effectively and efficiently deliver online coursework.” In other words, even as part-time programs have had the opportunity to blend course delivery formats, online MBA programs and MOOCs have emerged as threats to the part-time talent pipeline. More than 150 unique online MBA programs accept GMAT scores as a part of their admissions process and more than 250 U.S. online MBA programs appear in the U.S. News & World Report online MBA rankings. “It’s difficult to quantify the exact impact online MBA programs have had on overall part-time MBA demand,” Hazenbush writes, “but survey data shows notable overlap in candidates’ program types of consideration. Among 2016 registrants, one-third (34%) of candidates considering part-time MBA programs are also considering online MBA programs.”

Lockstep programs may be feeling the pressure less than so-called self-paced ones, in part, Hazenbush theorizes, “because the online MBA value proposition is closer to that of a self-paced program — offering an MBA with maximum scheduling independence — and therefore more likely draws in more of the same candidates. Looking to the future, the line between online MBA programs and part-time MBA programs will likely continue to blur as more programs adopt a blended learning model of courses delivered both online and in the classroom.”

MOOCs and other online learning alternatives have experienced growth among the same target demographic as part-time MBA programs, Hazenbush adds, though “MOOC hysteria has died down since its peak in 2012.” Still, he writes, 24 MOOCs have recently made inroads in the online degree and credentialing spaces, suggesting an increasing “encroachment” on part-time MBA programs. The most well-known example may be the case of major MOOC provider Coursera’s first degree program, the iMBA offered through the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which graduated its first cohort of 69 students last year. Now Coursera has announced two new MOOC-based degree programs in 2017 — a Master of Science in Accountancy from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Master in Innovation and Entrepreneurship from HEC Paris. Other advancements in the credentialing space include the MicroMasters programs offered by MOOC provider edX.

It’s all part of a major shift in the competitive landscape that “requires traditional on-campus part-time MBA programs to reevaluate the positioning of their value proposition,” Hazenbush writes.


GMAC included in its report a section dedicated to solutions for schools that want to bolster their part-time programs. First, in dealing with the burgeoning rivalry with online MBAs and MOOCs, Hazenbush recommends schools “Shift the positioning of your part-time program’s value proposition to emphasize what your program can deliver better than online alternatives.”

After all, he writes, “More important than what program type category these programs fall into is how programs strike the best balance between online and classroom coursework to best meet the needs of their candidate base.” Traditional part-time programs must recognize that the emergence of new competitors requires a reevaluation in “how they position their program’s value proposition.”

Specifically, Hazenbush adds, “part-time MBA programs should emphasize what they can deliver better than online alternatives can — aspects like community, personalized attention, accessible and responsive faculty, network, established track record, and employer connections” — and he calls for program marketing and communications that clearly mark and celebrate these differences.”


Online competition isn’t the only challenge facing part-time programs, according to GMAC. Here are three other solutions Hazenbush proposes that schools consider:

  1. “Engage with major employers in your area. Employers’ reduced willingness to help pay for the cost of employees’ part-time MBA education has had a detrimental effect on the value proposition of a part-time MBA for many candidates. Some programs have found success negotiating employer sponsorships through larger educational partnership agreements that include features like onsite course delivery and customized curriculums. Elements of such agreements vary, with some including reduced tuition rates, employer input on curriculum, coursework delivered on company premises, streamlined admissions processes, professional development opportunities, and integration with the on-campus community.”
  2. “Develop strategies to diversify your candidate pool that make sense for your local candidate market. Compared with their representation in the U.S. population and among bachelor’s degree earners, U.S. minority populations and women have been chronically underrepresented in the part-time MBA pipeline Demographic shifts in bachelor’s attainment and enrollment suggest future part-time MBA recruitment opportunity will be strong among these populations. Thoughtful, targeted marketing campaigns that highlight the aspects of the part-time MBA value proposition that particularly resonate with these populations may help schools diversify their applicant pools and grow demand. Marketing specifically targeting women candidates focused on the flexibility, convenience, and positive outcomes of a part-time MBA will likely resonate. Programs in the West and Southwest are in the best locations to tap into the growing Hispanic American population, who data show is particularly interested in programs close to their home.”
  3. While overall demand for part-time MBA programs has stagnated, lockstep cohort programs have seen growth, suggesting candidate preference for a group experience. Taken together with insights around millennial candidates’ expectations, needs, and goals, part-time MBA programs should strive to deliver the best benefits of a full-time program in a part-time format. Opportunities lie in developing a sense of community within your program, building out group learning opportunities, providing options for students to specialize, and delivering career services at the same level provided to full-time MBA students.”

(See the next page for key charts from the GMAC report.)

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