Graduate Management News

August 2012

The Newsletter of the Graduate Management Admission Council

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Additional Resources

GMAC Data-to-Go: Underrepresented Populations in the Student Pipeline (available exclusively to schools that use the GMAT exam) 

GMAC has additional resources to assist schools in their diversity recruiting efforts. Visit the diversity pages on gmac.com to learn more about the data landscape, download the Diversity Resource guide, or discover organizations for possible alliances.

The Alsop Perspective: Fine-Tune Strategies to Recruit Minorities

By Ron Alsop

The Census Bureau made a striking announcement this year about America’s shifting demographics: For the first time, the majority of all children under the age of 1 were members of minority groups.

While those youngsters are still more than two decades away from applying to MBA programs, this demographic milestone should send a powerful signal to business schools that they need to speed up the glacial pace of diversifying their classrooms. You certainly wouldn’t know America’s population is changing so much so fast by looking at the faces in most MBA classrooms today.

The good news is that more underrepresented minorities—blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans—are taking the GMAT® exam. In the 2011 testing year, 15,456 members of those three groups took the test, 412, or 2.7 percent, more than in 2007. But those minorities still remain a disproportionately small share of the total US test-taking pool—15.5 percent at a time when they represent nearly a third of the US population.

When it comes to enrollment, the picture is bleaker. AACSB International data show the percentage of the two largest underrepresented minorities on the decline in full-time MBA programs. Blacks represented 5.6 percent of students in the 2010-2011 school year at a set of 456 US schools reporting their data to AACSB, down from 6.3 percent in 2008-2009. The share of Hispanic students fell to 4.8 percent from 5.1 percent, while Native Americans accounted for 0.5 percent, up slightly from 0.3 percent. (Asians, the other large ethnic group in America, are not underrepresented among GMAT test takers or enrolled MBA students.)

In the AACSB data for part-time and executive MBA programs, the share of blacks and Hispanics is growing a bit, and the percentage of Native Americans is holding steady. The part-time increases may reflect the fact that some minorities tend to be reluctant to take the risk of quitting a good job and borrowing money to pursue a full-time MBA degree.

Targeted Approach May Have More Impact

No doubt, business schools take the diversity challenge quite seriously and have long tried to recruit more minorities. There are obviously no simple solutions to minority underrepresentation, but schools should consider fine-turning their recruiting strategies. Just as companies target their marketing and recruiting programs to very specific demographic groups, so too should schools in their outreach to potential minority MBA candidates. A one-size-fits-all approach simply doesn’t work very well.

“There is a tendency, especially among people in the majority population, to think of minorities as a homogeneous group,” says Peter Aranda, executive director and CEO of the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, which promotes diversity in MBA programs through financial aid and other assistance to minority students. “If you regard all minorities the same, you’re missing the opportunity to communicate differently and have more impact. Business schools could be doing a more effective job by segmenting the markets.”

What’s more, the differences aren’t simply between the underrepresented populations. Within the Hispanic-American population are people representing many countries with distinctive cultures and languages. There are similar tribal differences among Native Americans. And for blacks, Aranda says, regional variations in culture between, say, the Northeast and South can come into play.

Because of its decades of experience and extensive connections with minorities, the Consortium provides some degree of targeting for its member schools. “The Consortium is in effect an extension of the admissions function for our 17 schools,” Aranda says. “We have people trained to be sensitive to all of our groups.” For example, he finds many Native Americans don’t think of themselves as minorities, and they are more interested in taking “their skills back to their tribal nation to create jobs and enhance the standing of their nation than in increasing their personal wealth.”

The Graduate Management Admission Council’s mba.com Prospective Students Survey reveals other noteworthy nuances among aspiring MBAs from minority communities. For example, current students and alumni are the most influential sources for both blacks and Hispanics, but second in degree of influence are professors for blacks, and friends and family for Hispanics. Career goals also vary somewhat. Consulting services rank first as the employment preference of prospective black MBA students, followed by government and then education. Among Hispanics, accounting is first, followed by government and consulting services.

“These differences illustrate the customization that target populations may require,” says Michelle Sparkman Renz, director of research communications at GMAC. “If schools gain more in-depth understanding of the underrepresented minorities, they can then strategize about customizing their outreach and conversations.”

Limited Resources Make Differentiation a Challenge

But few schools are tailoring marketing materials or campus events to specific minorities, let alone to subgroups within each racial and ethnic group. Some MBA programs have formed dedicated diversity offices, but they say they don’t have the money to hire specialists devoted to individual minority groups. “Ideally, we’d like to customize our messages, but it’s difficult with limited staffing and financial resources,” says Nsombi Ricketts, director of the office of diversity and inclusion at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management. “We’re a team of only three in our office.”

But Ricketts and other business school officials say they are trying to pay more attention to demographic differences and forge more connections with minority organizations, such as the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting and Graduate Horizons for Native Americans. “We consider our partnerships a way of targeting,” Ricketts says.

Shandra Jones, associate director of MBA admissions at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina, recently attended a Graduate Horizons conference and came away with valuable insights. “It was notable to me that proximity to family members is very important to Native Americans,” she says. “For us, that means that in addition to continuing our national presence, we need to put additional resources in regional outreach to Native Americans in the Southeast and specifically in North Carolina.”

Ron Alsop is a former Wall Street Journal columnist and editor and the author of The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace and The Wall Street Journal Guide to the Top Business Schools. The Alsop Perspective runs quarterly in Graduate Management News.

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