B-School Journalists Discuss the Future of the MBA

future of the mba

Stacy Blackman Hosts Exclusive Conversation with Journalists for the SBC Consulting Team

SBC often weighs in on MBA admissions topics for media outlets such as Bloomberg Businessweek, Business Insider, and US News. Today, we’re excited to share the expert perspectives on the future of the MBA from journalists with whom we frequently connect. Stacy Blackman hosted a webinar for our consulting team recently featuring two prominent b-school education reporters: freelance writer/editor Francesca Di Meglio, who spent nearly a decade at Bloomberg Businessweek, and US News senior reporter Ilana Kowarski.

This training event was one of many we hold for our consulting team to equip them with the intel they need to excel and guide clients from a foundation of up-to-date expertise.

The Future of the MBA

These journalists have spent years in the trenches covering higher education and the business school beat. Without question, they had a lot of insight to share with our team. The following are just a few compelling highlights from their presentation to the consultants of SBC.

future of the MBA

Peering into the proverbial crystal ball for a moment, both Kowarski and Di Meglio predict we’ll continue to see a heavy emphasis on character and other so-called “soft” factors in MBA admissions. Think communication and presentation skills, as well as cross-cultural competencies and teamwork.

Ethics and emotional intelligence have also gained greater importance as admissions criteria in the wake of the social justice movement. More schools may follow the lead set by NYU Stern, which explicitly asks applicants to showcase their EQ+IQ.

You cannot be a leader without having those soft skills.—Francesca Di Meglio

Business schools will continue to seek applicants from diverse backgrounds that reflect the world today more accurately. “Non-demographic forms of diversity—such as a variety of backgrounds, industries, and perspectives—will remain a high priority at most b-schools,” Di Meglio notes.

The journalists also stressed that Gen Z wants to make sure their work connects meaningfully with their lives. These future titans of business want to “lead with their heart,” says Di Meglio.

“A lot of business schools are trying to figure out how to train people for an uncertain world,” Kowarski says. “They’re trying to select people that will thrive in an uncertain environment and who will be creative.”

Ilana Kowarski, senior reporter at US News and World Report

What About Online MBA Programs?

As for whether online MBA programs will continue to expand their footprint, Kowarski does predict demand will grow. However, not everyone will get on board with the virtual delivery format. For one, Zoom fatigue has hit nearly everyone these past two years. Secondly, many of us are starved for the human interaction of the Before Times.

People don’t want something that they could do just as well online. They want to do something different. —Ilana Kowarski

“A lot of people started to really value in-person connections, and also became skeptical about the sort of ROI of purely virtual environments,” Kowarski notes. “I do think that there is going to be some resurgence of interest in traditional MBAs.”

Plus, she adds, “I think a lot of people are craving the social environment that a traditional MBA could provide.”

Will the GMAT Lose its Luster?

Neither reporter believes the GMAT or GRE will disappear, despite its current optional status at many business schools. As the world normalizes, top programs will once again begin to require this irrefutable proof of quantitative prowess.

“They’re going to have to have some way of knowing about the quantitative skills, whether you can handle the rigors of the programs,” says Di Meglio.

Francesca Di Meglio, freelance education writer/editor

“Data Analytics is among one of the major skills gaps that we need for the future of work,” she notes. With the growing number of technology-focused and STEM career paths, as well as the data science-focused skills required of today’s leaders, the ability to demonstrate strong quant skills is paramount.

Meanwhile, the schools have responded with curriculum additions in machine learning, data analytics, blockchain, artificial intelligence, and automation.  Both journalists predict a push and pull between the versatility of a general degree vs. having industry-specific specializations.

When it comes to specialized MBA degrees, “schools will be trying to strike a balance,” says Kowarski, “And students will, too, because they want to be as marketable as possible.”

One workaround that would benefit MBA grads is if more schools would offer continuing education for their alumni. (Michigan Ross School of Business provides just that to its alumni with various classroom and event opportunities through the Alumni Advantage program.)

What are Some of the Up-and-Coming MBA Programs?

While you’re likely familiar with the Magnificant Seven (M7) business schools, many high-quality MBA programs are nipping at their heels.  “One indication that a program is up-and-coming is if it has a much higher overall rank today than it did ten years ago,” Kowarski explains. “Or if its student outcome statistics have improved markedly over the past decade.”

Examples she includes on this list are the UW’s Foster School of Business, the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University, and the Warrington College of Business at the University of Florida.

“The schools are often based in regions with growing populations and/or an increase in local business activity, which the schools can capitalize on to the benefit of their students,” she adds.

Di Meglio concurs with that assessment. “Schools like Rice or other second-tier schools have always been strong contenders,” she notes. “They provide great opportunities to their students, especially for those who want to stay locally after graduation.”

UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

“Regardless, I would also include the MBA programs that are still in the top tier but might not be as talked about as the M7,” she adds. These would include schools such as UVA Darden School of Business, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, and the Duke Fuqua School of Business. “They are well-known and have brand appreciation across the world,” says Di Meglio.

“I think there will be more emphasis on the student as consumer. Schools that respond to both what students and recruiters want will win.”—Francesca Di Meglio

“MBA hopefuls tend to be the most pragmatic among prospective grad students,” notes Kowarski, “and they think a lot about what’s in their best interest.”

Demand for the MBA Remains Strong

Despite the changes in store for business schools and graduate management education, the outlook is bright for the future of the MBA. “In terms of the future of business schools, the MBA degree is the most versatile degree,” Di Meglio says. “It remains one of the most popular degrees, if not the most popular depending on what list you look at. And I think that’s going to continue moving forward.”

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Much gratitude to both Francesca Di Meglio and Ilana Kowarski for generously sharing their time and knowledge with the SBC consulting team. If you would like to learn more about how working with one of our admissions experts can help you reach your MBA dreams, contact us for a free 15-minute evaluation of your candidacy.

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