P&Q: What trends have you noticed among the applicant pool and those who actually enroll?
Gallagher: The effect of companies not sponsoring students as broadly is the biggest trend I have seen. There was a day when 90% were fully sponsored. When that shifted, students paid a lot if not all for the degree. That switch was pretty rapid but it seems to have stabilized. We have about a third of our students who are fully sponsored. And a third get some amount from their employers. Others receive time off but no financial support. There is also a trend of younger students attending. There was always a market for people in their late 20’s who wanted an MBA degree but didn’t want to move to North Carolina for two years. They are choosing the EMBA route more and more. These individuals want to accelerate their careers.
A number of years ago, people had an unstated or social contract with their employers that included something like, ‘I am going to do my part and you do your part’ and there was greater career stability. In certain industries, that contract was rewritten. Young people have become less trusting or dependent upon a company to be a partner on the other side of that agreement. It is in their interest to be in control. About 10 or 15 years ago, it was the larger corporations that were more in control. Now there is also more interest in entrepreneurship. The younger generation wants a career with an option to make their own personal choices and personal decisions, instead of ceding that control to a corporation. I think a lot of the attraction for the traditional full-time program is a career shift with some sort of target in mind. There are other people who don’t have a goal. They are relatively OK with the area they are working in and they don’t want to give up two years, but they do want their MBA degree and they want to tailor that to a specific interest. That is what the EMBA program is designed to do.
P&Q: Do you think that MOOCs and online MBA degree programs have impacted the EMBA market? If not, do you foresee some disruption in the future?
Gallagher: It hasn’t had an impact on us yet. There still seems to be a correlation between the purely online format program and the cache of the institution. You don’t see a strong move in the online direction from top-tier schools because they don’t have to move in that direction. There seems to be a somewhat negative connection in the minds of top candidates toward purely online programs. That being said, I think we do have a lot to learn about the efficiencies of delivering education from those purely online programs.
I don’t think it will ever fully move to online only. One of the things I absolutely know is the value of the EMBA experience comes from the networking as well as the quality and nature of conversations with classmates inside and outside of the classroom. I am not sure how you would replicate that online. Yet. Technology could catch up and provide that richness. But for now, the core amount of our time together is doing team building and interacting in-person. And I don’t see us reducing that significantly in the future.
Another reason is the importance of this education goes beyond mastering the information in a textbook. If that was all it was about – mastery of knowledge – then, yes it could all be online. But there is a lot more value to the students when they have interactions with faculty and other students. The networks and relations created give a life-long return on the educational experience.
P&Q: Have applications and enrollment increased, decreased or remained flat at Duke?
Gallagher: Applications have been decreasing over the past couple years. They are generally cyclical with the economy and seem to be counter-cyclical with the full-time program. When EMBA interest goes down, the MBA interest goes up. The U.S. economy has been better, but the U.S. economy isn’t the only driver—the global economy influences the EMBA market as well. But we don’t emphasize enrollment numbers so it always fluctuates. If we have a section with 45 seats, it might be easier or harder to fill all of the seats but we are more concerned about accepting students who are qualified. We might have one section of 45 seats or three sections of 45 seats. We don’t have a fixed target and we don’t turn away students who are qualified, so of course there will be fluctuation. That being said, over the past couple years they are down from peaks in 2008 and 2009.
I think it goes beyond company sponsorship. When times are tough, most employees don’t want to ask for time off. When everyone is circling the wagons and working their way through tough times, most people don’t want to ask for something extra, especially if it is purely individual-focused. This can create pent-up demand for the EMBA. When the economy takes more of an upswing, people who might have been waiting will come forward and there might be a surge in enrollments.
The reason why it is counter-cyclical with the full-time program is frustration can also come from not getting the advances people think they deserve. And if they are already not content at work, they might say the heck with it and take two years off to get an MBA, develop skills and talents, wait out the economy and then come back and take advantage of the new skill set.
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