Are B-Schools Up or Down?

A Business Week study suggests MBA programs are in trouble, but another survey says that these are great times to be a new graduate.
April 13, 2005

It may never be this easy to get into a top MBA program, according to an article in the new issue of Business Week.

An analysis prepared for the magazine found that applications to the top 30 business schools are off 30 percent since 1998, with some experiencing declines of 50 percent. According to the magazine, some business schools are quietly reducing the size of their entering classes as a result.

The top 30 schools are defined by the magazine's annual survey. And while that survey -- like just about all college rankings -- is periodically questioned, it is also widely influential.

Business Week attributes the falling applications to several factors: Rising tuition, less than spectacular salaries for new MBA's, competition from European business schools for top American talent, and a drop in foreign students coming to the United States. The magazine said that the dean of one top school has even wondered recently whether all of the top business schools would survive.

Not everyone share's Business Week's pessimism. John Fernandes, president of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, said that there is no crisis afflicting business education -- just an economic cycle. "Applications are probably down because of an improving economy and people going directly from undergraduate programs into professional positions," he said.

Fernandes said that demand is especially high right now for accountants, and that many accounting majors who would have applied to business school a few years back no longer feel the need to do so. He also said that the quality of top business schools remains high -- they may be rejecting fewer students, he said, but those that they admit are as talented as ever.

Data released Tuesday by the Graduate Management Admission Council may encourage more students to consider business school. The figures show that corporate recruiters, who cut back on hiring and hiring bonuses in recent years, are turning around. Far fewer recruiters than in recent years say that the economy will hold back their efforts, and more are predicting hiring increases.

"All the signals are there for the best recruiting year since the irrational exuberance of the dot-com era. MBA's are back," said David A. Wilson, president of GMAC. "Recruiter optimism about the economy is translating into more openings, with larger numbers of companies coming back to more campuses than last year."


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