Wake Forest Schools of Business Applications Grow, Despite Nationwide Decline

9.15.2011 Article, General, School News

Reposted from Inside Higher Ed | by Kevin Kiley
Originally published Sept. 13, 2011

Two-thirds of full-time, two-year programs offering the master's in business administration saw a decrease from last year in the number of applications they received for the 2011 academic year, reversing several years of growth in application numbers, according to an annual survey released today by the Graduate Management Admission Council.

The declines are not limited to two-year programs. Almost 60 percent of business schools said they saw a drop in the number of applications for executive M.B.A. programs as well. For every category of M.B.A. program surveyed, less than half of business schools reported that they saw growth.

While some programs saw increases in the number of students applying, the sector as a whole did not fare well for the academic year. The average number of students applying to M.B.A. programs declined for all types of programs except the 82 one-year, full-time M.B.A. programs surveyed.

Admissions deans and GMAC officials attribute the decline in applications for these programs to economic uncertainty that is making people reluctant to leave jobs to pursue an education. While application and enrollment numbers have been buoyed over the past two years, officials said the boom in enrollments from people getting laid off and choosing to go back to school is likely at an end.

But GMAC officials said the decline in application numbers should not worry business schools. Most are still hitting enrollment numbers and maintaining student quality, the survey found, and admissions officers said that students are still interested in business school, though perhaps in a different structure. The report found that the majority of specialized master's programs — in fields such as accounting, finance and management — saw increases in applications.

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Wake Forest University's business school was among the institutions reporting an increase in the number of applications received for all of its programs. The number of applications for the full-time M.B.A. program grew by about 25 percent, said Matthew Merrick, the senior associate dean for students.

Some M.B.A. programs have struggled to cope with the financial downturn. Miami University of Ohio recently announced that it would close its one-year, full-time M.B.A. program, citing budget cuts and a small size that made it tough to sustain.

Merrick partly attributes the increased demand for Wake Forest's M.B.A. program to the school's emphasis on placing students in jobs once they leave. In recent years, the school has developed courses in career management and hired several career management officers to help guide students through the process. "The students that have come here have seen good results with their job search, and we think students are attracted to that in this market," he said. The university's two-year, full-time M.B.A. program has a placement rate of more than 90 percent, and the master's of accounting science program has consistently placed 100 percent of its graduates.

While specialized programs saw growth this past year, admissions officials don't think these programs are stealing applicants from traditional M.B.A. programs. The two degrees tend to serve different pools of students. While full-time M.B.A. programs tend to serve individuals who are two to six years out of college, the specialized master's programs tend to be designed for more recent graduates.

Officials did say that the two trends might be driven by the same economic uncertainty. Employed individuals don't want to give up the safety of their current jobs, and students who are graduating think they might have a better job prospect in a tight job market if they obtain an additional degree and wait a year.