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Women & Millennials Are More Likely To View Online & Hybrid Business Programs Favorably

New research published by GMAC shows women and millennials are more likely than their counterparts to view online and hybrid programs favorably

Thu Oct 12 2023

Women are more likely than men and non-binary candidates to favor online and hybrid graduate management education (GME) programs, according to a Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) report

According to GMAC in its Online and Hybrid Learning briefing, 27% of women express a preference for hybrid/online programs, versus 19% of men. 

However, it's important to consider that age might play a bigger role in determining program preferences. For instance, Gen Z women (born in 1996 or later) favor in-person study over millennial men. 

The study shows that, alongside women, first-generation candidates and millennials are the most open to hybrid or online study. 

Among all surveyed candidates, millennial women top the list of those interested in hybrid (23%) and online (14%) business programs, closely followed by millennial men.

This generational gap might be attributed to the pandemic, which disrupted Gen Z candidates’ education most. 

The pandemic caused most institutions to introduce online working out of necessity. Now, more than three years since the initial lockdowns, numerous business schools, including prestigious institutions such as Wharton and NYU Stern, have introduced flexible program options.

Background and regional influences on program preferences

The report shows, how a candidate's background and geographical region  undoubtedly influences their views on online and hybrid programs. 

Students from underrepresented backgrounds in the US, and first-generation students worldwide, are more likely to value of online and hybrid degrees.

For first-generation candidates, 20% favor hybrid program delivery, and 11% prefer online delivery, whereas only 14% and 4% of non-first-generation candidates share these preferences, respectively. 

This possibly reflects the flexibility that these formats offer, allowing students to balance their studies with work and family responsibilities.

In the US, 27% of candidates from underrepresented backgrounds agree that on-campus graduate management study offers the same value as an online degree. This is 10% higher than their counterparts.

The appeal of online and hybrid programs is strongest among Canadian candidates (49%), followed by those in Africa (41%), and the US (31%). 

Canada has witnessed rapid growth in interest in online, nearly doubling from 23% before the pandemic to 49% in 2022.

Prospective students say lack of networking is an issue for online study

Among candidates surveyed worldwide for the 2023 GMAC Prospective Students Survey, 22% expressed a preference for hybrid or online options. 

While still a minority, this figure represents a noteworthy increase from the 19% recorded in the 2019 survey.

However, when asked whether online study offers the same value as in-person programs, only 13% agreed. This is, nevertheless, an upward trend from pre-pandemic levels, where the equal value perception rate stood at 9%.

The most pronounced gap between hybrid/online and in-person options is in the ability to network effectively. Even candidates who prefer online study are skeptical about the networking opportunities it offers compared to in-person programs. 

Nearly half of prospective online students believe online programs fall short in providing the same networking opportunities as in-person degrees. 

In 2022, only 9% of all prospective students surveyed agreed that in-person and online programs offered equivalent networking opportunities.

What do employers think about hybrid/online qualifications? 

Despite candidates' reservations, however, the research indicates that more than half (54%) of employers view graduates of hybrid and online programs on par with graduates from in-person programs, according to GMAC’s 2023 Corporate Recruiters Survey.

This is a slight dip from last years survey where 60% of global recruiters agreed the degrees were equivalent. 

While most employers view online and in-person degrees equally, 64% believe employees from in-person programs have stronger leadership, communication, and technical skills.

Sectors vary in opinions of hybrid/online degrees. 

Employers in the products/services, manufacturing, health care/pharmaceutical, and technology sectors are most likely to value online degrees equally to in-person programs. While employers in the consulting and finance/accounting industries are least likely to value online degrees. 

The consulting industry places the least faith in online programs, with just 32% of recruiters saying they value online degrees on a par with in-person formats.

US employers are the most critical about online degrees—only 27% agree they value online and in-person degrees equally. However, employers in Central and South Asia have a favorable view of online programs with 90% of employers agreeing they value online and in-person degrees equally.