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MBA Programs Adapt to Fill New Niches

A recent article from The San Francisco Chronicle turned heads with the headline “MBAs less appealing to US students”.

Like many newspaper headlines, this one is a bit of an overstatement- its intended to grab attention, not to convey nuance.

However, the article itself drives an important point: Demand for an MBA education is becoming more nuanced, and, driven by that demand, B-schools are expanding their offerings beyond the traditional two-year MBA.

Quoted in The Chronicle article, UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School Dean Jim Dean sums up the trend with a classic comparison: “In the 1920s, there was the black Model T, and if you wanted a car, that was it.

MBA Programs

Eventually, competitive pressures and demand from customers drove differentiation. I think that’s what’s happening here.”

Such differentiation is cropping up all over the B-school landscape. The Chronicle cites online MBA programs and one-year specialized masters programs, such as a masters of finance or a masters in marketing.

To those, we would add the rise of one-year degree programs in the US, the rising number of American students seeking an international MBA, and joint degree programs that let students study medicine or law in conjunction with business management.

However, the change is not limited to newly minted programs. The two-year MBA, the Model T of B-School, has made great strides towards diversified offerings and specializations within that traditional framework.

Three top B-schools’ offerings exemplify the trend: HBS, Stanford GSB, and the Chicago Booth School of Business.

-Harvard offers a set of Initiatives with a list of offerings likely to answer a wide range of demands, including the entrepreneurship initiative, the global initiative, the healthcare initiative, the leadership initiative, and the social enterprise initiative.

-Stanford offers a similar “Centers” program with four overall focal points: entrepreneurship, global business, leadership, and social innovation.

-Booth offers specializations within its larger MBA program, such as its International MBA, which incorporates study abroad experiences and a larger concentration of international business courses.

More often than not, today’s MBA applicants know what they want before they even begin the application process.

They do not limit their dreams to a general MBA education, but have specific thoughts about how they will apply that education and what it can do for them.

B-schools must meet that demand to survive, and they are doing so with a wide range of niche programs within the larger whole.

As the trend progresses, look for more niche programs to crop up under the MBA umbrella, and a more diverse range of students to take advantage of those offerings.

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