Best Business Schools Blog

Student walking up steps to business school building

Why Business Education is Up for the COVID-19 Challenge

Posted June 15, 2020 by Dee Steinle - Executive Director of MBA and MSB Programs - University of Kansas School of Business

As unemployment surges in this pandemic era, it is natural for students to more closely consider their job security and earnings potential when deciding which degree and career path to pursue. But choosing the right degree is not a simple, straightforward calculation.

If you are interested in a graduate business degree and a career in business, your future earnings are determined by a variety of factors, including undergraduate education, choice of industry, and personal and professional networks. However, pursuing an MBA is not exclusively about increasing future earnings. Among the current full-time MBA students I advise at the University of Kansas, the top reasons for pursuing the degree are learning new skills (especially in technology), accelerating career advancement, and acquiring the knowledge required to manage businesses in their chosen profession. In other words, a primary reason students want to earn an MBA is to gain an education and the skills that come with it.

There are different types of MBA programs that can align with your desired career goals, work culture, location, and other factors. Choosing a program that provides the best return on an educational investment is crucial to attaining future success and happiness. At the University of Kansas, we work with prospective students to help them understand the investment of time and resources it will take to complete our programs.

COVID-19 has created unprecedented disruption, yet the crisis has energized our MBA students to think strategically about the issues of the day and solve problems cooperatively. The pandemic will be the cornerstone of many classroom conversations as we move forward.

With so many unexpected developments now unfolding, it might seem like the news is all negative. In reality, there are uplifting stories to report. Professionals in all fields are learning new ways to do their jobs—including remotely—and some of these new practices are worth maintaining long term. The world is changing, and those who want to evolve with the times are just as well served by a business degree today as they were before the pandemic.

At the same time, there are a number of unique challenges facing MBA programs nationwide, and business students here in the middle of the U.S. The Graduate Management Admission Council documented a 13.7 percent decline in international applications to U.S. business programs from 2018 to 2019. International enrollment matters, as international students bring more than tuition dollars. They bring diversity of thought. Their absence will be felt.

In terms of overall enrollment, Midwestern schools face a particularly challenging outlook. The Midwestern states of Illinois and Kansas had two of the six largest percentage declines nationwide in 2019, while Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Ohio had four of the 10 largest declines in 2018, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

We anticipate the need to boost domestic enrollment in order to offset declining international enrollment. In that regard, we are encouraged and reassured to be working with Liaison International’s BusinessCAS, a cloud-based tool that drives our applicant volume; our business school’s class size increased by 44 percent from 2018 to 2019 after we joined the platform. By improving an academic institution’s financial health, strong enrollment leads to increased funding for student support services, state-of-the-art facilities, and all the other benefits that elevate students’ experience. Higher enrollment and exposure to a broader applicant pool also increases a business program’s chances of building a more diverse incoming class, enabling students to grow in the context of a diverse community that prepares them to enter a global economy and helps them forge a well-rounded professional network.

Although the pandemic has caused concern about the vitality of graduate business programs and higher education in general, we will carry on. Taking inspiration from the Kansas State motto—“Ad Astra per Aspera,” which means “to the stars through difficulty”—business programs are up for this challenge.

Dee Steinle University of Kansas School of BusinessDee Steinle is executive director of MBA and MSB programs at the University of Kansas and vice chair of Liaison International’s BusinessCAS Advisory Board.