Annual MBA Student Survey Shows:
Employment Doesn’t Equal Optimism;
Respondents Want Classroom ‘Dazzle’

Employment is up but career aspirations down nationwide among MBA students, a group that nonetheless expects a degree to lead to at least a 22 percent pay raise.

In the classroom, this group wants dazzle — lectures plus case studies plus simulations and more. However, more and more of them expect courses to be delivered online.

But faculty and administrators should not get in touch with them in their social media space. Three-fourths of the students say they prefer email, which perplexes MBA program directors who — almost uniformly — say: “But we can’t get them to read it.”

These contradictory, puzzling and challenging responses are among the results Naveen Jindal School of Management Associate Dean Monica Powell is parsing following her second annual survey to learn what graduate business-administration students expect their education to deliver.

Collecting data from April to September of last year, Dr. Powell again sought opinions on faculty and classrooms, program design, communications, networking, career outlook and more. But for the second survey she broadened her reach, gathering more than 1,200 responses from part-time MBA students in 10 public and 12 private programs throughout the United States. In the initial study, 632 responses came from four public and four private schools.

Dr. Powell also conducted a separate but related study of full-time MBA programs, gaining 806 respondents from seven public and seven private schools.

The part-timers registered a significant uptick in their full-time employment, up 7 percent, to 84 percent of respondents.

But job-market good news did not translate into an optimistic outlook. Instead, respondents tallied declines from the first survey in postgraduate career expectations, with fewer looking forward to promotions, new jobs, an industry change or professional growth.

For Dr. Powell, as an administrator, the impact of job growth is clear and immediate — less MBA-candidate demand on career services.

Demand is down, too — at JSOM and nationwide — among prospective students to attend in-person informational recruiting sessions. In 2010, 68 percent of respondents attended; in 2011, 59 percent did.

“We are trending way down in terms of face-to-face selling of graduate schools of business,” Dr. Powell said.

Increased reliance on Internet-based information, Dr. Powell said, implies that business schools “better be building websites that convey not only the essentials but also the essence of their programs.”

Beyond websites, program shoppers may turn to social media channels to make inquiries. But once applicants are officially enrolled, Dr. Powell said, “we asked them how they wanted us to communicate with them, and overwhelmingly, they did not choose any social media options.”

In coursework, though, students have high expectations for high technology. More and more millennials — students born since the early 1980s — are arriving on campuses, Dr. Powell said, and because “technology has been increasingly integrated into the maturation [of this generation], they will not tolerate boredom in the classroom.”

Results showed an 11-point increase from 2010 to 2011 in the percentage of respondents who wanted what Dr. Powell dubbed “the dazzle factor.” Sixty percent of 2011 respondents expected not only a lecture, case study or a combination of the two, but also group activities, business-problem simulations, YouTube videos and more.

Data registering a “dramatic jump” — just under 40 percent in 2010 to just under 47 percent a year later — in the percentage of part-time students who expect online courses underscores the message, Dr. Powell said, that, “if you’re a school that doesn’t have online options, you may want to explore adding them.”

Such feedback goes to the heart of the survey’s creation. “I wanted to give MBA administrators a tool to gauge how their programs are faring, relative to students’ expectations and needs,” Dr. Powell said.

Besides tracking trends, survey results can reveal sit-up-and-take-notice realities.

In that realm, Dr. Powell was intrigued that in both 2010 and 2011, virtually no difference was recorded in public-school- vs. private-school-student expectations. Given the wide range of MBA program prices, “why don’t private-school students expect a whole lot more?” she asked.

“Domestically, MBA program-enrollment numbers are trending down,” Dr. Powell said. “It seems to me, this is going to create greater competition for students. As the numbers shrink, differences in student expectations are going to become an important marketing factor.”

Dr. Powell delivered preliminary survey results to fellow educators last October at the annual Part-Time MBA Conference at Temple University.

Since then, she has launched two more expectations surveys, one for undergraduate business or management students and one for business-school master’s degree students in disciplines other than business administration. Results for all four 2012 surveys are due this fall.

For more survey result information, contact Dr. Powell.