Traditional MBA programs are toppling, as online education catches on

June 7, 2019

Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has joined other major business schools nationwide in announcing that—pending University approval—it will shift investments away from its residential full-time and part-time MBA programs. Instead, the college will focus its investments on its rapidly growing online iMBA as well as a suite of specialized master’s programs, undergraduate education, and lifelong learning. The College plans to stop enrolling new students in the full-time and part-time residential programs.

Indeed, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal, applications to traditional M.B.A. programs have languished in a strong U.S. job marketdeclining last year, even at Harvard Business School, Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and other elite schools

The business news outlet reports that Millennials, saddled with more college debt than previous generations, have grown more reluctant to leave jobs for a year or more to pursue one of the nation’s priciest degrees.

Between 2014 and 2018, the number of accredited full-time M.B.A. programs in the U.S. shrank 9% to 1,189, with schools reporting 119 fewer two-year degrees in the most recent survey by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Wake Forest University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, commonly known as Virginia Tech, are among the others to recently cut their traditional M.B.A. programs, the Journal reports.

Against that backdrop, shorter and more-flexible graduate business degrees have proliferated. At the business schools in the same survey, there were 140 new masters programs in specialized subjects like data analytics last year, marking a 16% jump from 2014, to 981.

“The iMBA is the right format for the times— providing a powerful learning experience with anytime/anywhere accessibility at an affordable cost,” said Jeffrey Brown, dean of Gies College of Business, in a university press release. “Given the global reach and accessibility of this program, we are creating what I call the world’s MBA. With this and with our innovation in undergrad, specialized masters, and lifelong learning, we are playing to our competitive advantages and positioning ourselves for tremendous impact and steady growth. These moves will focus our investment in ways that will make us unquestionably one of a handful of the world’s very best and most innovative business schools.”

At Geis, Brown says, applications to the iMBA have nearly tripled—from 1,100 in 2016, when the program was launched, to a projected 3,200 in 2019. He says the new program is “revolutionary”in its delivery, stackable structure, concentrations, immersions, accessibility, and career-curated content. It combines material in ways that professionals use it in the real world, not in traditional academic silos.

Even better, iMBA students earn the same MBA that on-campus students have been earning for decades—at a total cost of less than $22,000, compared to the $80,000 full-time program.

“Our iMBA is the most innovative, highest-value MBA of any kind anywhere in the world,” said Brown. “Because it is online and offered at an affordable cost, it creates access to a high-quality, high-impact business education for larger numbers of talented people. It fulfills our land-grant mission and serves our state spectacularly well. At the same time, by being fully online, it extends and deepens our reach as a global player — ensuring a worldwide reach for our college and alumni network.”

In May, Stetson University in Florida also said it would stop admitting new students to its full-time, on-campus M.B.A. programs, funneling resources instead to more popular online equivalents.

Research contact: @WSJ

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