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MBA Classes Return to In-Person Learning, but Students Find It Harder to Attend

Local Master of Business Administration programs have returned to in-person instruction following the disruption caused by Covid-19 —
a shift back to normality that is impacting MBA programs and their students.

During the pandemic, students and prospective students had more free time and a great deal of flexibility, what with remote work and the like, and many could take classes. But as life outside the classroom returns to normal, would-be students now are finding it more of a challenge to fit MBA class schedules into their more structured workdays.

“How people go about their daily activities for work, for their personal lives and travel — all of that is picking up, and so you start to see different competitive factors enter the decision to get an MBA,” said California State University – Northridge’s MBA director, Kristen Walker.

Free time was a significant factor in students pursuing an MBA in semesters prior, when the pandemic froze or disrupted pacing in business sectors and recreational activities. What’s more, universities gave prospective students more reason to apply for MBAs with the extension of admission rounds and lowering or removing standardized testing requirements. According to the business education news outlet Poets & Quants, there was an average increase of nearly 23% in application volume among most top schools near the start of the pandemic.

Now, according to Walker, limited free time and obligations have returned as more significant obstacles for students deciding to pursue an MBA. This resulted in fewer students enrolled following the program’s most recent application window. Walker said that after speaking with prospective students who decided to not enroll, their decisions were rooted mainly in whether they could fit in classes with their work schedules.

Students come out of the MBA program having conducted practical assignments such as a consulting final, in which they are tasked with consulting with small to medium-sized businesses in the San Fernando Valley. Some previous projects conducted by students included work with a local pharmacy, a catering company and a large nonprofit. 

Instruction for CSUN’s MBA is conducted on a part-time basis, with in-person classes held in the evenings. However, nudged by the pandemic toward virtual instruction, there is an increasing number of classes that operate as hybrid-flexible. Through this modality, students can video conference into the in-person classroom if necessary. 

According to a story in Poets & Quants, a survey released by the Graduate Management Admission Council this year found that while most students prefer in-person instruction, interest in hybrid programs had increased at all levels.

“Consistent with prior to the pandemic, interest in hybrid delivery is higher among candidates preferring professional MBA program types such as executive MBA, part-time MBA, and flexible MBA (44% in 2021) than candidates preferring full-time business master’s (20%) or MBA programs (13%), but interest increased significantly for all between 2019 and 2021,” the survey reported.

Majority women

Nazarian College at CSUN. (Photo by David Sprague)

The CSUN MBA program, which has an estimated 218 students currently enrolled, is primarily attended by women, who account for 59% of the program’s current students. Students of color account for approximately 60% of the program’s roster, an aspect Walker is proud of. 

“Cal State Northridge, the type of institution it is, I wouldn’t expect less. We have a high Hispanic population not only in the university, but also in the MBA program,” Walker said. “I think we’re seeing this semester, for the first time, just a little bit fewer women applying than previous semesters, but we have about 200 people enrolled at all times.”

Walker said the program’s curriculum is also evolving in light of changes in the business landscape. CSUN has a Master’s of Analytics degree coming that will have courses and electives that MBAs can take advantage of. 

“We also had an elective this summer that was new, and it was all about the strategic use of information and how that affects digital business models,” Walker said. “That’s exciting because that means that we’re being very responsive to the changes in the marketplace.”

Faculty numbers have fared well, according to Walker, with more MBA and MBA adjacent faculty set to arrive with the introduction of the analytics master degree next year or in 2024. 

Some of the things left for Walker and company to restore following Covid’s disruption are social opportunities and activities, such as mixers and guest speakers, which foster more connection among the student body. 

Mid-career professionals are the kind of people that typically enroll in the program, according to Walker.

“Most of our students are fully employed. Some of them come wanting to switch industries, and that makes total sense. Otherwise, we’re teaching students who in most cases want to work up the ladder of the organization that they’re in,” Walker said. “And the MBA offers them the opportunities to compete for those higher-level management and leadership positions.”

CLU’s program

Kyle McIntosh, CLU’s MBA program’s director.

California Lutheran University, another university in the Valley region with an MBA program, shares a similar target group with CSU Northridge.

Most students in CLU’s MBA program have two to three years of work experience. However, according to Kyle McIntosh, the program’s director, an increasing number of students have in recent years opted to transition directly from their undergraduate business programs into the MBA.

The program allows students to pursue a general MBA and MBA degrees with an emphasis in marketing, IT management, finance, international business and more. The program can be pursued on a full-time or part-time basis, and instruction can be fully online, fully in-person or hybrid.

CLU’s MBA offerings also include an executive MBA program, which is ideal for mid-career professionals with a minimum of five to seven years of work experience.

“Lately, we have seen explosive growth in the biotech industry in our area, and we have therefore observed an abundance of opportunities in that sector,” McIntosh said. “Recently, we’ve also seen heavy interest from financial services companies for our students.”

The MBA program has a $39,375 base cost, which is supplemented by a limited number of scholarships. 

“Considering the lifetime return on investment, at just under $40,000 the full-time MBA is actually more affordable than many people would think,” McIntosh said, adding that the program often hears from students that CLU is a great value.

CLU’s price is higher than CSUN’s, which ranges between $26,000 and $36,000, depending on what qualifications a student has going into the program. 

Other universities near or in the Valley region also have competitive MBA price points.

CSU Channel Islands, which was unavailable for comment, prices its MBA program between $19,800 and $28,800. Farther East in Burbank, Woodbury University’s MBA cost came in at about $50,000 for undergraduates with business degrees as of last year. Although higher in base price than its competition, Woodbury also offers GPA-predicated scholarships that can bring down the cost as much as $20,000. 

Something McIntosh considers to be an X-factor behind Cal Lutheran’s program is its instructors and how its students can tailor their degree to their interests. 

“We have flexible evening, online, and weekend options for all of our courses that make it really easy for our students to navigate between their busy careers and private lives,” McIntosh added. “Plus, we keep all of our classes small so that students get an intensive course experience that is made just for them.”

CLU, ranked No. 1 on the Business Journal’s list of MBA programs, has involved its students in internships with local and regional companies such as United Way of Ventura County, Procore Technologies, Citizen’s Business Bank, PennyMac Loan Services and Pure Spectrum Inc.

Hannah Madans Welk
Hannah Madans Welk
Hannah Madans Welk is a managing editor at the Los Angeles Business Journal and the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. She previously covered real estate for the Los Angeles Business Journal. She has done work with publications including The Orange County Register, The Real Deal and doityourself.com.

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