July 25, 2024


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Poets&Quants’ Top Business School Trends Of The Decade

The last 10 years have been, by any measure, a decade of great change for graduate business education — and Poets&Quants, founded by John Byrne in August 2010, has been there to chronicle every major development. Not only have we seen paradigm-shifting innovations in business schools around the globe, we have witnessed unexpected declines in some sectors, rises in others, and evolutions that impact more than the MBA programs that are — for now — the flagships of most leading schools.

But some trends have been predominant, meriting long-term, in-depth coverage because they have changed how applicants apply, how MBA candidates learn, and how B-schools serve their students. Below are the five most important (and one honorable mention for good measure) that have had — and will continue to have — the greatest impact.

And for more on the exciting direction of management education in the last 10 years and what it means for the 10 years to come, listen to a discussion with John Byrne, Caroline Diarte Edwards from Fortuna Admissions, and ApplicantLab founder Maria Wich-Vila on current events and admissions trends in this recent episode of the weekly Business Casual podcast.

5. The Rise of the Graduate Record Exam

One business school entrance exam dominated the start of the decade. By the end of it, the sands had begun to shift in a big way.

The Graduate Management Admission Test remains the big dog when it comes to getting into the leading business schools. In the short term, even coronavirus is unlikely to completely change that. But a growing statistical mountain proves that the Graduate Record Exam is no longer the unloved step-child of business school admissions tests. According to data compiled by Poets&Quants, over the past five years the percentage of entrants submitting GRE scores has climbed at 42 of the top 50 full-time MBA programs in the United States. Ten years ago, not many schools accepted the GRE; now, all do.

The rise of the GRE comes with major effects on the graduate business landscape. First and foremost, it opens up a vast new pool of candidates. Many test-takers prefer it to the GMAT because it is applicable to other, non-business graduate programs. More women take it, drawn to its de-emphasis on quant metrics, and it is available in more locations. But an increased market share for the GRE has a downside (or two): As the GMAT declines, we get a less reliable look at the market and how it’s changing because the administrators of the test, the Graduate Management Admission Council, report their data in massive studies throughout the year. (Here’s the latest example.) As their numbers dwindle, the picture gets fuzzier. B-school admit directors, meanwhile, say they have no preference — though many privately will confide that the threshold for GRE submitters is higher.

Educational Testing Service, the company that administers the GRE, once also ran the GMAT until GMAC switched test administrators to Pearson VUE. Ever since, ETS has worked to build market share for the GRE to get back to their previous position. They are well on their way — and the coronavirus pandemic may have accelerated their ascendancy. ETS got rave reviews for the at-home version of the exam it released in the spring, while GMAC’s at-home GMAT test was met with widespread grumbles over technical issues.

As it stands, it’s hard to escape the conclusions of admissions officials and consultants that the doors to graduate business education are wide open for those who wish to eschew the GMAT altogether or take and submit scores from both tests.

“We are seeing a higher percentage of our clients opting to take the GRE over the GMAT than in the past,” says Alex Min, CEO of The MBA Exchange and a 2007 MIT Sloan MBA. “Since ETS redesigned the GRE almost a decade ago — including a change in its scoring scale — more business schools began accepting GRE scores as an alternative to the GMAT. Many business school applicants perceive the GRE as less intimidating than the GMAT, especially the Quant component.”

The GRE numbers keep going up. Check back next spring and you’ll likely see the test with a more prominent role than ever before in MBA admissions. And in five years — who knows? The test could displace the GMAT as the go-to exam for graduate business program admissions.

4. Specialty Master’s Degrees, Business Analytics & Tech Go ‘Boom’

Lower- an
d middle-tier schools have seen their full-time MBA programs decline to the point where they have been forced down an ugly path: locking the doors and turning out the lights. We’ve seen once-popular MBAs shuttered coast to coast, and B-school deans expect more to follow because of the coronavirus pandemic. Many schools have put the resources that would have gone into their residential MBA into online MBA programs (more on this development below). But the decline of what were once flagship programs has also sparked the rise of smaller programs that are more specialized, and in many cases customized, and that take one year rather than two. B-schools have given particular attention to the demand from industry for graduates with business analytics skills.

Not every major business school has launched a specialized master’s in business analytics in recent years — it just seems that way because companies want tech talent and schools want to give them what they want. But even for the few schools that haven’t gotten on board the biz analytics train — a group which includes, to date, a handful of the most elite institutions — the demand for graduates with data science skills has proven too great to ignore. Thus, the business analytics landscape is one with many contours. Concentrations and “pathways,” intra- and inter-school collaborations, certificates, and other approaches at the leading schools give those looking to work in fintech or data science or management analysis or any number of occupations a plethora of choices in the space.

The business analytics boom derives from a demand across sectors for those who can analyze big data so that decisions can emanate from it. The demand has become so great that graduates of these programs are securing very good employment rates and starting salaries, and MBA programs have followed suit: You can no longer get through any MBA program without a healthy dose of biz analytics. Not everyone needs a general management education; these days, everyone coming out of business school needs some data science skills.

Another factor that led to increased interest in one-year specialized master’s programs, especially for those without experience: the decline of corporate training programs. Companies don’t want to spend six months teaching new hires their jobs anymore — they want them to hit the ground running.

Other manifestations of the yawning chasm of industry demand for tech talent: the rise of one-year tech MBAs, most recently at Northwestern Kellogg; and the STEM movement that has seen B-schools increase their Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics offerings — not only in one-year programs but also inside their full-time MBAs. Now every top-25 MBA program has some pathway to a STEM degree, whether through a concentration or joint degree — or because their entire MBA program, top to bottom, is designated STEM.

3. The Rise of Entrepreneurship Programs

All changes in graduate business education are, to some degree, sparked by students. What students want will always be a crucial consideration for curriculum shapers — second only to what industry wants, though of course the two are deeply intertwined. But what students increasingly want these days is to be their own bosses — not to go to work for a lifetime of making money for someone else. And that has schools not only fashioning more entrepreneurship programs and concentrations but incorporating entrepreneurial thinking into more coursework throughout their MBAs.

While they once acted as incubation labs, and still do, B-schools in recent years have morphed into teaching the mindset of entrepreneurship, and that has infiltrated entire programs.

Stanford Graduate School of Business gets credit for producing the most entrepreneurs each year, with Stanford serving as the epicenter of the fertile startup soil of Silicon Valley; some 16{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec} of the GSB Class of 2019, the most recent we have employment data for, became their own bosses. But Harvard is not far behind: Few are aware that HBS’s entrepreneurship teaching group is second-largest at the school. For the third straight year in 2020, Stanford had more startups in the Top 100 than any other school according to P&Q‘s annual analysis, with 34; Harvard followed with 23. While the gap between Stanford and Harvard was large, it was smaller than 2019, when Stanford had 38 of the Top 100 and Harvard had 21. In the seven years P&Q has been tracking startups based on funding, both Stanford and Harvard have now had the exact same number of startups on the list — 210.

What are the biggest startups to come out of MBA programs in the last 10 years? We just happen to have written about that this month!

While Stanford and Harvard duke it out, smaller programs are making entrepreneurial waves. For the 27th year in a row, Babson College was crowned the top entrepreneurship school in the country by U.S. News & World Report in 2020. In P&Q‘s inaugural entrepreneurship ranking last year, Babson placed third behind Stanford, while Washington University in St. Louis’ Olin Business School took the top spot, beating out 26 other schools. From 2016 to 2018, some 20.7{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec} of Olin MBAs launched companies within three months of graduation — more than any other ranked school. Olin also has nearly $1 million in annual funding for student entrepreneurs, and about three of every
four MBA students are involved in the entrepreneurship club at the school. P&Q will publish its 2020 entrepreneurship ranking October 27.

Poets&Quants’ Founder John A. Byrne

2. Graduate Business Education Inches Toward Gender Parity

Medical schools and law schools achieved gender parity — and then some — in their student ranks long ago. In most graduate as well as undergraduate programs, women now outnumber men. Not so in business schools. Why have B-schools, and particularly MBA programs, always lagged? Many factors, cited repeatedly in surveys over the years — among them women’s greater concern than men over the financial burden of pursuing a graduate business degree, greater concern over a perceived lack of flexibility in MBA programs, and greater interest in work-life balance. Women have long seen the expectation of starting a family in the future as the biggest impediment to investing in a costly and time-consuming MBA program.

But things are beginning to change. Schools have put in the effort to make MBA programs more appealing and make women feel more welcome once they arrive, including offering more scholarship money and launching initiatives like UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business’s Center for Gender Equality. The result: In the last 10 years, the proportions of women have increased dramatically at many top B-schools, and incrementally but steadily at others. In 2018, USC became the first top-25 school to crack the glass ceiling, with 52{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec} of women in its Marshall School of Business MBA. Meanwhile, elite schools like Wharton and Stanford have not only eclipsed the 40{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec} threshold but stayed there; in 2019 both led all U.S. schools with 47{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec} women in their MBA programs.

Even as apps have plunged worldwide (and particularly in the United States), the drive for gender equity in MBA programs continues to make progress. According to a Forté Foundation report last November, the percentage of women who have enrolled in full-time MBA programs in the U.S. continues to climb upward, to about 39{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec} on average in the fall of 2019. U.S. schools continue to outpace non-U.S. schools, which average 36{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec} women enrollment. Oxford University’s Saïd Business School led all European schools in 2019 with 44{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec}.

Remarkably, the drive for gender equity in B-school faculties is further behind, according to a report released in early March of this year. 20-First, a UK-based management consultancy, reported that only one of the 20 B-schools it examined in the U.S., Europe, and Asia had reached the 30{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec} mark in female faculty: Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Business School. The top U.S. schools were Harvard and Virginia’s Darden School of Business, with 29{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec} each; the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, with just 18{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec} women on its faculty, had the worst marks of any school.

1. The Rise of The Full-Service Online MBA

Across the United States, several full-time MBA programs have closed in recent years: at Wake Forest, at the University of Iowa, at Virginia Tech, and elsewhere. This year alone the MBAs at Missouri Trulaske and Purdue Krannert have shuttered — the latter a program that was ranked in the top 40 by Businessweek as recently as 2017. But these schools have not given up the MBA game entirely. Instead, many have put the resources that would have gone into their residential MBA into online MBA programs: see Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, Wake Forest, and the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign’s Gies College of Business for prime examples. In less than five years the $22,000 iMBA from Illinois Gies boosted enrollment to between 3,750 and 4,000 students this fall, hailing from 114 countries.

These schools — and others that have maintained their shrinking residential MBA programs while making big moves into the virtual space, like Boston University, which welcomed the first class to its $24K online MBA this month — are acknowledging the reality that today’s business student often doesn’t have the time or the finances to quit work for two years
and study full-time, in many cases after relocating a long distance. Nor could schools physically accommodate the numbers that Gies and others are enrolling. But this is not a revelation, as the heavy investment in online business education at top-25 universities over the past decade shows.

As virtual learning has gained in acceptance — a process accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic — the myths about online MBAs have fallen away: that students should expect minimal support, second-string professors, unfriendly systems, and slipshod course design. That is surely true in places — but at the elite programs and an increasing number of others, students can expect an impressive portfolio of options. Programs like Carnegie Mellon Tepper’s online MBA (ranked No. 1 last year by P&Q), Indiana Kelley’s Direct Online MBA (ranked No. 1 by U.S. News), UNC Kenan-Flagler’s MBA@UNC, and Rice University Jones’s MBA@Rice are world-class, employing state-of-the-art design and cutting-edge innovations led by the same faculty who teach in their residential programs. The cost often reflects that: the price tag for CMU Tepper’s program is $137,200, for UNC’s $125,589, for the online MBA at USC Marshall School of Business $106,197. But most programs are considerably cheaper than their residential counterparts, in the $30K-$45K range. And they have lower thresholds for admission; some don’t even require you to take the GMAT at all.

More than 320 business schools in the U.S. alone now offer online MBA options; scarcely a month goes by without another program popping up. Even the big names in the graduate business education game: In the fall of 2019 alone, the University of Michigan and UC-Davis welcomed their first cohorts of online students. And this is to say nothing of the expansive suite of online offerings available through Harvard Online. Will McKinsey and Amazon and Bain and Google and other top hirers of MBAs start hiring online MBA degree holders in great numbers? Eventually, maybe. Regardless, employment outcomes are still solid: See our story last fall on job placement rates at the top online MBA programs.

The future of the online MBA is bright. We’ll be tracking it every step of the way. Keep abreast of all the latest developments at Poets&Quants’ Online MBA Hub.

Poets&Quants’ Top 10 Online MBA Programs Of 2020



2019 Rank

2018 Rank

Final Score

Admissions Final

Total Experience Score

Career Total

Total Cost


Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper)









Indiana University (Kelley)









University of Southern California (Marshall)









Lehigh University









University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Kenan-Flagler)









University of Massachusetts-Amherst (Isenberg)









Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Foisie)









Auburn University (Harbert)









University of Nebraska-Lincoln









Rochester Institute of Technology (Saunders)








Honorable Mention: Students — And B-Schools — Embrace Social Impact

The ethos “Business as a force for good” has been gaining traction for years as B-schools respond to MBA applicants’ and candidates’ growing inclination to eschew the single-minded pursuit of money. The new generation of MBA students still want to get paid, of course, but many are willing to make less if it means helping the planet in a measurable, definable way. As the number of women has grown in graduate business education — both in front of the class and inside it — so too have programs designed to appeal to those who want to use their talents to make the world a better place. Sectors that have gained by the increased attention include nonprofits, government, and education — not in earth-shattering numbers, but enough to be noticed; hardly ever more than 1{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec} or 2{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec} of each graduating class, but always a persistent, measurable number. Wharton’s 2019 employment report shows 3.3{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec} of MBAs went into social impact.

A course at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business exemplifies the trend. For the past 12 years, Business on the Frontlines has sent Mendoza MBA students to under-developed, post-conflict countries around the world to examine the impact of business. When new Dean Martijn Cremers took over at Mendoza in 2019, he expanded the course from an elective to a core course, making it “an essential part of the Notre Dame MBA.” This move has been mirrored in countless social impact programs elsewhere. Stanford GSB deserves credit for being a leader in the sphere in the U.S., though all the elite U.S. schools now have similar offerings; in Europe, which in many ways is ahead of the curve in embracing social impact programming and the idea of “business as a force for good,” France’s INSEAD has been a long-time leader, as well.

The world is changing. Money isn’t everything. And MBAs aren’t just following the tide — they’re rowing the boat.


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