With higher education evolving to meet students’ needs, institutions are looking to reduce their program offerings and focus on offering the most in-demand programs. While the MBA has historically been a top educational goal for many business leaders, enrollment rates have declined in recent years. Though there are many reasons for shifts in higher education demand, there are a few that stand out and may illuminate options for institutions to remain relevant in the minds of prospective learners. 

Schools focusing on Online Options 

Institutions are facing the challenge of having full-time MBA programs on campus. Application rates are decreasing because most students going back to school are also working adults, have families, and have a hard time implementing school into their schedules.  

Several well-known business schools are having to drop their full-time MBA programs, including University of Iowa, Wake Forest University, Thunderbird School of Management, Virginia Teach, and others. Still more institutions are putting their resources into online programs. Almost 32,000 students are studying their MBA online at some of the most influential programs in the U.S.  

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Photo via Pixabay

though some institutions may see their MBA programs transitioning to online as a huge shift, it allows the universities to target students who need more flexibility in their lives. Many online MBA programs are asynchronous, meaning students can login whenever it fits into their schedule. Taking courses online is still as rigorous as earning the degree at a physical campus. The coursework is the same, though there are different forms of interaction online including discussion boards and video communication. 

Online programs also have the ability to waive GMAT or GRE scores. This attracts students who already have a few years of work under their belt and will be more experienced in the classroom. Some of the best online MBA programs don’t require this type of testing. As of 2018, only 54.6 percent require the GMAT or GRE as part of admission. Schools that waive the tests don’t want to focus on the score earned, but instead on how the student will succeed in the program.  

The Rising Cost of MBA Programs  

It’s no secret that the cost of higher education has inflated. MBA’s can be especially expensive if one goes to a private school, accumulating almost 100,000 to 200,000 dollars in debt. As program costs continue to increase, this causes a decrease in enrollment and in some cases, students even drop out of the program altogether. 

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Photo by Emil Bruckner

In the last year, student faith in being able to pay their tuition in full has decreased from 42% to 38%. The strong economy is having an effect on MBA programs as well. Students who can’t work during school is facing the loss of income with their time in the program. This is especially difficult for young professionals living in expensive parts of the country. 

Business schools market their programs at competitive prices in order to secure higher rankings. Schools attract students by promoting their academic profile and other amenities, as well as price. Schools ranked at the top do not necessitate more expensive programs, though price is one of many factors considered. Rankings organizations compile information from all these areas in order to create their official lists. However, prospective students are more concerned about tuition and fees when considering schools. Business schools must address their programs beyond tuition so students can understand the additional cost that goes into earning the degree.  

Alternative Business Programs 

Earning an MBA can advance your career, though there are alternative options to growing your career as well. 

An MBA covers a broad range of topics, and students choose a specialization that allows them to focus on a particular field ranging from finance, marketing, management, and more. Specialized degrees tend to be more affordable than an MBA and focuses on an academic achievement that will directly apply to your career goals.  

Another alternative is earning graduate certificates in a shorter and more specialized subject area. Earning a certificate is much faster than an MBA and allows students to enhance their skillsets to move up in their careers. Graduate certificates are low-cost and more attentive to the working adults seeking to advance in existing skills.  

Before jumping into another business degree, put yourself out into the working world. Learn how to network, connect with leaders, attend volunteering events, and grow professionally and personally. This is effective to find the career path you want to pursue and stay open to opportunities before diving back to school.  

Enrolling into an entrepreneurship development program can help guide you to be your own leader. Entrepreneurship development programs is set up for a person to gain entrepreneurial skills and learn how to establish and successfully run their own business. A few objectives of the program include; acquiring managerial skills, what resources go into an enterprise, pros and cons of becoming an entrepreneur, and other procedures on running a business.  

These programs are expensive, but do not include the fees of an MBA. MIT’s Entrepreneurship Development Program cost around $11,900, not including accommodations. However, the program increases opportunities and develops ideas for those who want to set up successful businesses. This path is a great way to develop your plan and turn it into an action.  

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Photo by Evangeline Shaw

What’s Next for MBA Programs? 

Although a lot of institutions are stepping away from their full-time MBA programs, their focus is to keep the business school running.  

Business schools are still prosperous and converting from full-time to online is helpful for targeting learners above the age of 25 who make up over half of the student population. Online programs better fit students’ busy schedules and have the option to go part-time and focus on work and school. 

CalSouthern also offers an online MBA program to set up students for success and to build valuable skills in the work place.  Our program offers a range from finance, marketing, management, human resources, and other business disciplines for students to learn and grow in business.  

MBA programs are still a viable option for business leaders who are looking to face the next step in their careers. Despite programmatic changes, an MBA still offers significant ROI for students seeking leadership positions in business. The changes that have occurred have only worked to update a system that did not accommodate learners. 


About Dr. Donald “Doc” Hecht — Doc is an Educator, University Founder, and President Emeritus writing and discussing the trends and challenges facing higher, online, and distance education, among other topics. Please feel free to comment, make suggestions, or ask any questions! You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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