Master of business administration programs are back in session after more than a year of remote learning induced by the COVID-19 pandemic. And following years of significant declines, the number of applications for MBA programs has grown during the pandemic.
For example, the MBA program at California State University – Northridge’s David Nazarian College of Business and Economics has more than doubled in size since spring 2020, the semester when the pandemic first struck, according to Kristen Walker, professor and interim director of CSUN’s MBA program and Graduate Certificate in Business Administration program.
Walker said one reason for the increase may be due to MBA programs’ waiving of the GMAT or GRE exams.
“I also attribute much of the increased interest in MBA degrees during the pandemic to shifts in business ecosystems and some industries performing better than others,” Walker wrote in an email. “When a company or organization needs to adjust to the circumstances forced upon them due to the pandemic, then the need to understand functional areas of business becomes critical.”
The numbers also increased at California State University – Channel Islands, the other state university with an MBA program in the Valley region.
Business education news outlet Poets & Quants reported that top schools extended admission rounds or added new ones last year in addition to lowering or outright removing standardized testing requirements. The changes that were made to adapt to the pandemic opened the floodgates for record-setting application numbers.
Poets and Quants wrote that there was an average increase of 22.6 percent in app volume. The numbers marked both increased and record-setting class sizes at many schools.
For example, USC Marshall Business School in Los Angeles reported a 66.4 percent increase in MBA applications, which was an increase of 1,260 from the previous cycle. The application influx grew Marshall’s admittance pool in 2020 by 200, to a total of 768, while still decreasing its acceptance rate by nearly 20 percent.
In contrast to the national trend, Woodbury Universiy, a small private school in Burbank, has seen a slight decrease in applications.
Joan Marques, dean and professor of management at Woodbury University’s School of Business, attributed the decrease to a drop in the international student population, the dwindling California college age population and the pandemic’s impact on job security and income generation, which according to Marques, affected private colleges more than state schools. Woodbury doesn’t require standardized tests with MBA applications.
“We have on average anywhere between 80 and 100 students in the program. We’re pretty small and our classes are small too,” said Marques. “That’s probably what our population likes most.”
Marques, who is an alumnus of the program, said the school primarily focuses on working adults but noted that there is not a work experience requirement for acceptance.
“Over the years, we found that a balance between younger fresh graduates and seasoned working adults works very well for a reciprocal mentoring bond,” she said.
Woodbury, which ranks No. 3 on the Business Journal’s list of MBA Programs, focuses on the tenets of responsible leadership, sustainable business and self-empowerment.
Marques said that Woodbury’s x-factor is it’s the focus on conscious business behavior.
“We really want to redefine the narrative of business,” she said. “It’s not all about money, it is also about making conscious decisions. It’s about sustainable practices, it’s about corporate social responsibility. Those are the things that we really focus on.”
Concentrations in accounting-finance, global strategy-leadership and sustainable practices are offered by the program.
Courses are conducted in seven-week sessions with two sessions per semester and can be completed in two years or one year if students have an undergraduate business degree and study full-time. In addition to in-person, the program offers a hybrid option as well. A majority of classes, which usually have anywhere between 14 to 18 students, are administered Monday through Thursday in the evenings.
For students with undergraduate business degrees, tuition and fees clock in at around $50,000. For those without business degrees, who must take three additional courses, the total cost is near $60,000.
Also, the program has scholarships. The MBA program’s merit awards are based on undergraduate GPA from a student’s degree awarding university.
Marques said that the program would not be a great fit for those seeking profit-centric curriculum.
“Whenever somebody comes to the program with an excessive focus on profits at any cost, without thinking what they have to do for it, this program may not be for them because of our heavy ethics and sustainability focus,” she said.
Marques added that the program may not be ideal for those who want or need to take an extended amount of time to complete the degree, as most students finish in one to two years.
The CSUN Nazarian MBA program, No. 4 on the Business Journal’s list, is conducted in the evenings on a part-time basis. It specifically caters to mid-career professionals but has a varied demographic in terms of students’ professional years of experience. Mid-career professionals in the program can enroll in one to two courses each semester, have up to seven years to complete the degree and can take up to two semesters off without any penalty.
Similar to Woodbury, the program’s cost is dependent on whether or not students are enrolling with the right prerequisites to bypass foundational classes. The average cost sits somewhere between $26,000 and $36,000 depending on what equivalent coursework students have, according to Walker.
The MBA program, which has class sizes around 35 students, admitted 55 students this fall with five having deferred to the spring semester. Walker said the newest class comes from industries such as banking, entertainment, law enforcement, health care, technology, transportation, education, engineering and more.
“Typically, we see engineering and business sort of leading to a lot of MBAs, but I think we’re starting to see a lot of people come from varying undergraduate experiences,” Walker said. “What that’s indicating to me is that these are folks who are moving their way up in where they work and now need what an MBA offers, which is a lot of a lot of management tools and leadership.”
Walker believes the program’s uniqueness comes in the form of diversity, but not just regarding the racial demographics of students. To her, the diversity of thought and lived personal and professional experiences among its students is vital to the program’s identity.
Walker used the MBA culminating project as an example where that diversity of experience shines. The culminating project involves students working directly with small to mid-size businesses in the San Fernando Valley.
“The ability for our teams to be able to connect with those clients, but at the same time, offer advice that really is dynamic (is important),” she said. “You can’t copy and paste something that you learn from class to those kinds of unique environments and situations.”
Remote or in-class?
COVID’s impact on those in the program, including professors such as Walker, has challenged CSUN in the same ways it has other educational institutions, putting added pressure on students who are tasked with balancing education and home life. For CSUN’s MBA program in particular, students are also juggling their careers and sometimes children with their time in the classroom.
The MBA program offers HyFlex classes for its students, which gives them the decision between attending class in-person or remotely. Walker recently taught her first set of HyFlex classes as one of the faculty’s testers for the structure.
“It was exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time but the students responded really well,” she said. “I’m honestly excited about what this means for the future.”
Navigating the new balance between in-person and remote learning is something that California State University – Channel Islands’ MBA program is also doing.
Susan Andrzejewski, the interim dean of CSUCI’s Martin V. Smith Business & Economics School, said there is a mix of MBA courses that are online and face-to-face. Now only a few weeks into the academic year, the program is currently gauging student interest in continuing to have some courses stay online or in-person. CSUCI’s two-year MBA program is adapted for working adults seeking a flexible curriculum and has a focus on international business and entrepreneurial innovation. Courses are taken on evenings and weekends by about 140 students. CSUCI’s spring 2021 cohort was larger than in past years. Andrzejewski said that the program stands out when it comes to students taking classes that are not one-offs and instead build off each other.
“(The program) focuses on a synthesis of how marketing decisions drive what you examine in finance, and how the finances ultimately drive what happens in marketing,” she said. “So, (the program) really focuses all of the courses to intentionally encourage students to draw together that experience.”
The smallest course an MBA student could take has around eight to 10 students while the largest class has about 25 to 30, which is something Andrzejewski said gives students a high level of access and interaction with faculty.
The MBA core curriculum clocks in at about $19,800, while students that need foundational classes in addition to the core could pay up to $28,000. In addition to generic graduate scholarships offered by the university, the MBA program offers a scholarship to students who completed their undergraduate degree at CSUCI, started their careers and then came back to complete the MBA.
The curriculum, Andrzejewski said, is broad. “There’s not one particular industry that the program is geared towards,” she said “It’s really based on preparing students, not only to succeed in today’s industry industries, but we’re also hoping that the students will be able to lead the future of industries, especially in our pandemic world.”
CSUCI’s MBA program ranks No. 5 on the list. The region’s largest MBA program is California Lutheran University, No. 1 with 118 graduates this year. Also on the list are Pepperdine Graziadio Business School, No. 2 with 71 graduates; University of La Verne, No. 6 with 22 graduates; and DeVry University’s Keller Graduate School of Management, No. 7 with 15 graduates.