September 1, 2023

Adapting MBA Programs: Navigating Disruption and Demands

According to a recent AACSB article, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought significant disruption to MBA programs globally, leading to declining enrollments, altered travel plans for international students, and a growing preference for flexible MBA and specialized master’s programs that emphasize practical skills. To remain competitive, MBA programs need to evolve and offer more than just online and hybrid coursework. Wiley, an educational company, conducted a survey involving 151 deans, chairs, and administrators to explore the challenges faced by MBA programs and identify areas requiring change.


The survey highlighted several key challenges:


  1. Declining Enrollment: 61% of respondents reported struggling with declining enrollment due to various reasons stemming from the pandemic.
  2. Differentiation: 53% of programs found distinguishing themselves from other MBA offerings in the market challenging.
  3. Skills Enhancement: 40% were focusing on improving students’ analytics and in-demand job skills to ensure they are better prepared for today’s competitive job market.


MBA programs have responded to these challenges by embracing online formats, offering flexibility, and providing more specialized programs that cater to students’ needs. There has been a growing interest in online MBA programs in recent years, driven by students’ desire for self-paced learning. The preference for self-paced learning was reflected in a survey where 73% of prospective MBA students indicated their preference to study at their own pace.


However, students’ needs extend beyond flexibility in scheduling. They also seek specialized skills and relevant, real-world experiences. This has led to an increase in specialized MBA programs that aim to equip students with targeted skills and enhance their employability. AACSB-member schools reported a 19% enrollment increase in specialized programs compared to a 13% rise in standard MBA programs.


The key areas for improvement identified in the survey were students’ lack of skills in analysis, research, critical thinking, and writing. To address this gap, MBA programs are considering more customizable, relevant, and real-world-focused materials and experiences. Nearly 60% of the surveyed administrators expressed their willingness to alter their MBA programs to address these skill gaps.


To remain competitive and differentiate their programs, business schools are implementing various strategies:


  1. Offering Specializations: Schools are adding concentrations in areas like cybersecurity, entrepreneurship, and management to provide students with focused skill sets.
  2. Flexible Formats: Schools are offering low-cost programs, faster tracks, and flexible schedules to cater to different learners’ needs.
  3. Real-World Relevance: To prepare students for the job market, schools are connecting with companies to offer real-world projects, enhancing students’ soft skills, and focusing on in-demand skills like data analysis.
  4. Customization: Schools are offering self-paced customizable modules that allow students to tailor their learning experiences to their preferences and needs.
  5. Profession-Specific Programs: Some schools are organizing MBA programs around specific professions, offering customization options that align with career goals.


The article also emphasizes the role of educational companies like Wiley in helping business schools adapt to these changes. Wiley offers tools like customizable course mapping, soft skill accelerators, and industry-specific certifications that can enhance students’ learning experiences and help schools stand out from the competition.


In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted significant changes in MBA programs worldwide, with a shift towards online and specialized offerings that cater to students’ demands for flexibility and relevant skills. Business schools are addressing these challenges by differentiating their programs, focusing on real-world needs, offering various formats, and aligning with educational partners to enhance the learning experience. The evolving landscape of MBA education reflects the dynamic nature of modern business environments and the increasing emphasis on practical, applicable skills.