The Wake Forest University School of Business has decided to eliminate its full-time, two-year MBA program to focus on part-time business education. The decision, announced October 22, 2014, epitomizes larger worries about the viability of the two-year MBA program, especially for institutions ranked outside of the top 20 in MBA rankings.
Polls Show Need for More Flexibility
Wake Forest’s two-year MBA program was widely respected and ranked in Poets & Quants list of top 50 MBA programs. However, enrollment had declined in recent years, and officials felt that nationwide surveys predicted further decline.
Wake Forest MBA professor Sherry Moss told The Winston-Salem Journal that, “for the vast majority of business schools, traditional daytime MBA enrollments have decreased over the past decade,” and, “Data shows that students prefer flexibly delivered programs that allow them to continue working.”
Wake Forest’s dean, Charles Iacovou, insists that the decision was not purely financial, and points to plans to expand faculty and investment in the school’s part-time programs. Instead, he said, the change came from a need to “be nimble and innovative in how we educate our students today.”
Wake Forest’s Move Predictive of Future Change
For those who have been closely watching higher education, Wake Forest’s move should not be a huge surprise. There have been a lot of disruptors in MBA education recently, including online programs and niche one-year program. These competitors have already forced shutdowns or extensive overhauls at smaller MBA programs with less competitive rankings. It was only a matter of time before a more prominent two-year MBA program became the first to close its doors entirely.
In my mind, Wake Forest’s move anticipates the future of many middle-tier MBA programs. The MBA applicant pool has increasingly divided itself along pretty clear lines:
- Applicants who can afford to leave their full-time jobs to enroll in a two-year MBA program, and who have the necessary talent to gain admissions to a top-20 program
- Applicants who have the talent to get into a top-20 program but who cannot afford to quit working or do not want to relocate
- Applicants who need an MBA to advance their careers but do not necessarily need to invest in a top-20 program, or have the stats to gain admission
The first group is well-served by top MBA programs and will keep those institutions in business for years to come. The second and third groups, however, represent a much larger share of the market, often served by MBA programs like Wake Forest. These students are increasingly looking for more flexible options that they can tailor to suit their needs, and they are the ones driving market change.
While I do not expect much change from top-20 programs, I do expect the next tier of MBA programs to adapt in more radical ways over the coming years, to serve a growing number of students who are prioritizing flexibility, customization and convenience.