The coronavirus pandemic is disrupting business schools and MBA programs globally. We spoke to industry experts who consider three ways COVID-19 could impact MBA programs and your MBA experience.
1. The attractiveness of the MBA
Coronavirus could impact how many people are willing to pursue MBA programs.
MBA applications tend to move counter to the markets. Historically, demand has risen in times of turmoil, including during the financial crisis of 2007-08, as workers facing redundancy sought to upskill, ready to hit the labor market for when the recovery kicked in.
With America shedding 701,000 jobs in early March and unemployment spiraling, the economic outlook looks dismal. However, the COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented, and the full extent of the economic damage is unknown, making decisions difficult for prospective students.
It’s also unclear whether business school campuses will be open for the start of the fall semester. With questions over whether online instruction can match the quality of in person education, and concerns about MBA jobs prospects, some may consider the MBA a devalued asset.
Schools are already reporting requests for tuition fee refunds and application deferrals to 2021 when prospects hope for a clearer picture of the situation.
Nevertheless, David White, founding partner of Menlo Coaching, an admissions consulting firm in the Netherlands, expects MBA applications to increase. Menlo Coaching has seen more inquiries than usual lately, he says.
“Although applicants have legitimate concerns about fall 2020 programming being held virtually, they also recognize that Covid-19 is causing major disruptions in the job market.
“The MBA remains equally attractive, maybe even more attractive, if compared to an economic scenario where bonuses, promotions and job switching is much less likely. Students may also estimate that a recovery would begin by the time they graduate in 2022.”
2. MBA student diversity
Schools are expecting a less diverse class for the fall semester. Embassies and consulates are closed, so visa processing has ground to a halt. Airplanes remain grounded across the globe, meaning study trips, a major component of an MBA, are also cancelled.
Eric Cornuel, president of the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) in Brussels, says: “Many schools will turn back to national and regional students to compensate for the disruption to global mobility.”
However, schools are taking action to hedge their bets. Harvard Business School has a longer wait-list this year, a list of applicants who may be offered a place in future if space in the class becomes available. The idea is to keep a larger number of domestic applicants available to enroll if overseas students cannot get visas to come to Boston in the fall.
Business schools face the challenge of adapting their admissions policy to account for the coronavirus crisis while striving to maintain entrance standards.
Many have launched an extra admissions round or are extending current rounds by two or three months to give themselves and students more time to complete the admissions process. Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business launched a one-off fourth round of applications, adding an extra 60 days to the cycle.
With admissions test centers temporarily closed around the world, several schools are being more flexible in their admissions policy and accepting applicants without standardized test scores, including INSEAD, London Business School and the Rotterdam School of Management in Europe.
3. A shift online
Will Dawes, research and insight manager at the Association of MBAs (AMBA) in London, expects a rise in applications for online courses as more people are forced to work from home because of COVID-19. They may therefore feel more confident in studying virtually.
“Business schools, like all organizations, are having to find innovative ways to adapt,” he says.
Eric too says the accelerated switch to online instruction after years of slow uptake among schools and students is a “silver living in [a] dire situation”.
However, the crisis has raised questions over whether online instruction can match the in-person experience. Cultivating a professional network, sitting cheek by jowl with classmates from around the world, is a hallmark of an MBA. The consensus is that online learning has not replicated this.
“Schools are eager to return to in-person programming, and I expect them to do so as soon as this is a responsible option,” says David from Menlo Coaching. “Schools know that full-time students prefer in-person experiences.”
Short-term, much will depend on whether schools can successfully adapt teaching and operations online. Already, the whole MBA application process has gone digital, with schools conducting video interviews and virtual campus tours.
Looking forward, the coronavirus crisis will stretch the finances of some business schools, with job losses and even closures being predicted. However, Eric from EFMD says that if business schools are flexible and innovative with their MBA programs, they will survive.
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