GMAC Viewpoints: 2017 – A year of great change and new opportunity

Working as a community to strengthen and improve GME for years to come.

Dec 19, 2017

Sangeet Chowfla

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….” – Charles Dickens

Graduate Management Education (GME) seems like a Dickensian Tale of Two Cities. Depending on where you sit, there are very different views about its future. For years, we have worried about a changing GME landscape - digital disruption and different program formats, among other things. This year, we realized that the biggest change in GME might well be the result of old things – geography and demography.

For some of us, 2017 seemed to be the worst of times. Application volumes to some US MBA programs (a hefty 44% of global applications tracked by GMAC) declined. This was the result of the intersection of two forces: Changes in the patterns of student mobility, the result of changing perceptions of the US as a study destination, and the growing reputations of business schools around the world. While some US full time MBA programs saw growth, others saw sharp declines. Those with enrollments under 200 saw applications contract by 11%. For our members who were impacted, this is a difficult result to manage.

For others, it was the best of times and the age of plenty. Applications grew by 3% in Europe, 6% in Canada and 13% in Asia as programs in these countries continued to gain recognition and took their place on the global stage. In the US, programs with enrollments over 200 (strongly correlated to higher ranked schools) saw applications rise by 4%. This was partly a result of stronger domestic demand and partly due to increased preference by international applicants. Uncertainty around immigration rules also played a role, leaving some candidates to think “If I am forced to move back to my home region, then I had better have a degree from an institution with a global brand.”

Media hype also played its part by highlighting challenges to the MBA but not the opportunities. Much was written about Tippie’s decision to shutter its sixty-person MBA program. Little was written about the growth of programs at Oxford, Cambridge, ISB and Fudan (to name a few) by several hundred each over the last few years.

Our take is that, on aggregate, the MBA program is alive, well, and vital. Global application volumes in the 329 schools we tracked grew by a healthy 6%. This is a cause for cheer for proponents of the degree, but cold comfort for many of our colleagues who are struggling to meet enrollment targets.

At GMAC, we are helping schools cope with these changes in multiple ways:

Increasing insights. We have been building upon our work around student motivation. This involves going beyond our traditional strengths in reporting facts and trends to integrating these insights into comprehensive analysis of the motivations of women in GME and the value of pre-experienced master’s programs. We also helped schools navigate the fast-changing environment by publishing monthly updates on student mobility. Great change, we believe, requires great insights. Our goal is to continue to build on this approach.

Increasing advocacy. In 2017, we tested our first ever advocacy campaign – “Calling All Optimists” – to grow aggregate demand for GME. A rising tide, we believe, will lift all boats. We have learned a lot through this exercise but still have a way to go.

Increasing awareness. Our regional teams have worked with many of you to build school-specific marketing and webinar campaigns. We believe increased outreach and sharper positioning will help get your message out and to the right audiences.

With all this activity in the MBA space, we have not ignored other aspects of GME. We convened our first ever master’s symposium to better define the opportunity around pre-experienced master’s programs. We researched and published a white paper that tracks demographics, motivations, outcomes and satisfaction of students in this area. We extended the reach of the Executive Assessment (EA) program to more schools and introduced the NMAT assessment in South Africa. And we expanded the Admissions Institute with new programs to the West Coast of the US, India and China.

We also continued our efforts to build the candidate pipeline. In 2017, GMAC staff initiated or participated in over 500 candidate events – more than two for every working day – and generated nearly 70,000 leads for GME. We delivered 350,000 assessments to 250,000 unique candidates, and reflecting the changing nature of GME, greatly increased our presence on undergraduate campuses. GMAC is now present on 73 campuses in the US where we managed more than 100,000 student interactions with over 18,000 leads. We also expanded internationally with a new presence in five European campuses on top of our already robust activity in China and India.

We measure our contribution to the future of GME by how well we help everyone in our community succeed. Although we have made inroads on multiple fronts and are pleased that the majority of you have expressed overall satisfaction with our work (87% via the recent School Satisfaction Survey), we recognize there is still much to do.  We look forward to partnering with you to strengthen and improve overall GME for years to come.

We thank you for your confidence and support and wish you a happy and prosperous new year.