Going the Extra Mile to Grow Your Working Professional Programs
It’s official. We are still not out of the woods.
According to the most recent GMAC Application Trends Survey, through 2014 the majority of working professional MBAs worldwide have continued to experience a downward or stagnating trend in their applications with only 44% of part-time MBA programs reporting an increase in application numbers. The situation does not seem to be quite as dramatic as last year (where only 29% of part time programs experienced an increase in applications) but it is true across the part-time, flexible and executive MBA worlds that we are faced with a persistently tough recruiting environment.
As always, however, challenging times spur new thoughts and innovation. In order to grow our programs we do have to come up with new ideas and ways of doing things, be it about how we attract working professionals in the recruiting office or how we keep offering something new at the program and career services levels.
Here are three tips to keep the momentum going in your working professional programs:
- Grow the recruiting toolkit. What is a recruiter to do when the expected crowds are simply not turning up for the traditionally oversubscribed info sessions and MBA fairs are a bit of a shot in the dark as far as targeting the right caliber of students? Most of us are innovating with the goal of bringing the student experience to candidates early on, to provide that essential ‘taster’ of MBA student life. To this end, more intimate settings are being explored such as coffee chats near the applicant’s workplace or out of town dinners with current students & alumni (Chicago Booth) and downtown social events with a specific theme such as Kellogg’s diversity happy hour. Admission blogs and chats, individualized class visits and opportunities to connect candidates with faculty one-on-one are obvious parts of the toolkit.
- Working professional programs: maximum student experience with minimum time. Apart from providing an array of innovative courses, part-time programs also need to think long and hard about the right timing and delivery options. Finding a favorable weekly scheduling that works well for busy professionals can go a long way towards helping recruiting efforts. For instance, the Rotman Morning MBA program taps into the pool of working professionals (women in particular) who prefer to get their studies done before the work day begins by going to class twice a week from 7:00-8:59 am. Time is of the essence for working professionals as they look to maximize their experience as students. Competitions and study tours are great ways to involve part-timers in student life and encourage networking within the different cohorts. Industry speaker events that provide working professionals with an opportunity to network with business leaders complements the academic learning well. To bridge the gap between technical studies and real-time problem solving, innovative programs such as a Self-Development Lab allows for personal development that goes way beyond the business curriculum.
- Focus on career services that work the same hours as our students. Working professionals, by definition, have full time jobs so their job search takes a very different shape from full time students’. There isn’t one well defined timeline they follow when searching for new opportunities so the structured way of campus recruiting is not meeting those needs. Implementing a career platform focusing solely on the needs of working students is essential. An individualized career management plan designed for working professionals as well as 24/7 access to online career tools and resources is key. It goes without saying that career coach hours need to be modified to early mornings, evenings and weekends to suit students and online workshops and webinars will need to be offered as an alternative to in person meetings.
All in all, these are challenging times for part-time programs. Our working professionals are stretched at work and for many applicants being a student while holding down a demanding job (and perhaps having a family) is seen as extremely difficult. It is by going the extra mile to focus on the unique needs of our students at every step of the business school experience and continuously innovating to better suit those needs that we can continue to bring great value to this fantastic group of students.
About the Author
Eva Hughes is the director of Admissions & Recruiting, Morning & Evening MBA and Master of Finance programs at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto.