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Is The One-Year MBA On The Rise In The USA?

With applicants looking to shorter MBA programs, schools say the US could follow Europe’s lead towards the one-year MBA format

Tue Apr 18 2017

When INSEAD topped the Financial Times Global MBA Rankings for the first time in 2016, it put the one-year MBA on the map. This year, it retained its position. INSEAD – with campuses in Europe and Asia – is leading the rise of the one-year MBA internationally.

Within the United States, the traditional, two-year full-time MBA program still reigns supreme. Five out of the Financial Times’ global top 10 are two-year MBA programs from the US – including Harvard Business School, where the MBA was first introduced over a century ago.

However, according to GMAC, applications to two-year MBA programs fell in 53% of US business schools in 2016. At the same time, 55% of one-year MBA programs reported an increase in domestic applicants.

Are we seeing the beginnings of a demand-driven shift to the one-year MBA in the US, as we see in Europe and Asia?

“I do see future growth prospects in the one-year MBA,” says Vishal Gaur, associate dean for MBA programs at Johnson at Cornell University, the only Ivy League school to offer a one-year MBA program.

“There may be a gradual shift happening - such programs are doing extremely well. It’s hard for me to say why other schools don’t offer them.”

While applications to the Johnson at Cornell’s two-year MBA remain stable, applications to the one-year MBA have increased steadily, with the program upping its intake from 40 to over 70 students in a matter of years.

53% of students enrolled on Johnson at Cornell’s one-year MBA are international, compared to 33% on the two-year program – the one-year MBA is still more accepted internationally than it is in the US.

The one-year MBA program is marketed at the more experienced professionals; those looking to advance their careers in the same industry rather than switch career track. The current class has an average age of 29, and an average of five years’ work experience between them.

Although Vishal has discussed the possibility with his senior colleagues, the program doesn’t currently offer an internship. In fact, the importance of the MBA internship – traditionally taken in the summer between an MBA program’s first and second years – may hamper the rise of the one-year MBA in the US.

Shashi Matta, MBA program director at The Ohio State University’s Max M Fisher College of Business, says around 60% of the school’s MBA students get jobs out of their internships. He’s not convinced by the one-year MBA format.

“We’ve looked into the possibility in depth,” he says. “We’ve looked at some of our peer schools. I’ve spoken with people at those schools. They themselves are not sure how robust the demand is for something like a one-year MBA,” he continues.

“Employers are interested in hiring someone who they can be confident about; who not only has immersed themselves in learning about business over a two-year period, but who also has that clear evidence shown by the internship.”

Still, Shashi admits that increasing applications to the school’s two-year MBA program has been a challenge: “The two-year, full-time MBA plateau is a result of a lot of things,” he says. “People are looking at other formats and fewer people are wanting to take the two-year career break.”

Matt Merrick, associate dean of degree operations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, is confident that the one-year MBA has value in the US.

“In our increasingly fast-paced world, it is easy to see why many students choose a one-year MBA program as opposed to a traditional two-year MBA program,” he says.

“Our one-year MBA is not an accelerated program. It carries all the benefits of our traditional two-year MBA. From June to June, students have the access to the same on-campus recruiting, the same global and travel opportunities, and the same selection of electives,” Matt continues.

“Students can skip over core courses that feel redundant with their pre-existing skill set, and choose electives that align with their personal career goals.”

While some US business schools are still getting to grips with the one-year MBA, in Europe the shorter MBA format has brought schools significant success. According to GMAC, a massive 74% of full-time one-year MBA programs in Europe reported growing application volumes in 2016.

Michelle Sisto, MBA program director at France’s EDHEC Business School, says she’s seen a sharp increase in MBA applicants from the US in particular.

“In Europe, the opportunity cost is significantly lower,” Michelle explains. “The two-year investment in the US can cost upwards of $300-to-400,000 dollars including opportunity cost. And people are more sensitive to the MBA’s return on investment now than they may have been a few years ago”

Could the one-year MBA in the US match the rise of the one-year MBA in Europe?

“There may be more of a move in that direction,” Michelle continues. “I think that now, particularly with a one-year MBA at the top of the Financial Times rankings, the interest in one-year MBA programs in the US is definitely growing.”