Published: Oct. 31, 2018

Why a select few U.S. colleges and universities experience an upsurge in applications

Over the past four years, American colleges and universities have been struggling to recruit MBA students. A 2018 survey conducted by the Graduate Management Admissions Council, the nonprofit who oversees the GMAT examination, reported that applications to U.S. MBA programs declined by 7 percent this year. According to Poets & Quants, 18 of the top 20 U.S. business schools experienced a drop in their MBA applications. Meanwhile, CU Boulder’s Leeds School of Business joins company with a few select schools that have seen an uptick in applications.

Causes for the decline in applications nationally include the strong job market and a decrease in international applications. But there’s more to the story: for some, the perceived value of an MBA has decreased due to a dip in the value-added-ratio (escalating tuition costs compared to current starting salaries for MBA graduates); for others, it’s a matter of supply vs. demand, as more business schools are graduating MBAs than ever before. All things considered, there are ways to counter those forces when attracting prospective students in the future. Here are a few:

Location beyond just geography

Among current MBA students surveyed by Leeds, a top reason for choosing the master’s in Business Administration program is location. Over the past five years, Leeds has seen a jump in non-resident graduate enrollment of more than 130 percent. While it could be easy to chalk this up to Colorado’s 300+ days of sunshine a year, other programs in the area match the national trend in application decline. “Location” is actually deeper and more complex. Boulder and the Front Range have an incredibly distinctive, vibrant, entrepreneurial business community as well as venture capital and startup opportunities — and Leeds strives to dramatically increase connections between students, faculty and the thriving business scene.

Leeds partners with global and local employers not only to provide internship and networking opportunities for students but also to provide them with a pipeline of prospective, experienced individuals whom they could hire in the future. Engagement with the business community has also resulted in other benefits, including additional resources and gifts to the school, increased visibility to a wider pool of prospective students, and shared expertise/mentoring of MBAs and undergraduates from business professionals.

A 21st century learning environment

Flexibility and customization are other major factors in why some MBA programs have not seen such significant decline. Online MBAs are up nearly 50 percent in applications across the country, according to the GMAC. Students expect a graduate program to deliver the most up-to-date information available using advanced methods and technology.

But nimbleness is not only about offering online education. Students expect more than a passive classroom experience. Leeds, through its Deming Center for Entrepreneurship, has introduced a pilot program that places full-time MBA students in High Growth Venture fellowships. The experience launches the students into scale-up companies, juggling all that comes with raising capital and the exponential growth that can happen with rapidly growing teams and businesses. In addition to the direct pipeline to these hard-to-find companies, Leeds arms its students with the right combination of knowledge, experience and passion that help them make an immediate impact.

Dare to teach business differently

Annually, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) releases a survey of MBA applicants, which includes information about what informed their decision to go to business school. Among the top answers was the desire to make a positive difference in the world and improve society.

Social impact and business ethics are integral to the Leeds experience. Leeds’ commitment to social impact and cutting-edge research was cited by 29 percent of MBA students as a significant factor in their decision to attend the business school. Not only are students able to develop skills in something they’re passionate about, but they also learn that the way to do good business is to consciously choose to do the right thing.

Take the initiative to try something new

A shift in the political landscape that welcomes more international applications or a dip in the economy that encourages people to go back to school is likely to happen at some time. But in the meantime, there are other ways to buck the trend. The right combination is unique to each program, but it starts with identifying a signature approach to keeping pace with today’s dynamic business landscape. Institutions that are responsive to evolving student needs and innovative in delivering top-tier education are the ones that will come out ahead.