US MBA Applications Are Declining, But Not From Women

US MBA Applications Are Declining, But Not From Women main image

Despite the significant advantages of doing an MBA, applications to some of America’s top b-schools have been declining over the past few years, and in 2019 applications fell at an even sharper rate.

Research projects have speculated over the reasons for this decrease – the economy’s current stability, the diminishing value of an MBA title, stricter immigration laws and the escalating cost of the degree were among the most popular.

Nevertheless, there’s a silver lining: this past year, MBA programs have enrolled a higher percentage of women than ever before. Has change finally kicked in?

The data

According to the Forté Foundation, this fall American business schools enrolled about 39 percent of female students – a slight increase from 2018 and three percent more than the average for non-US schools.

19 of the schools surveyed (or more than one in three) had 40 percent or more women enrolled; a striking figure if we compare it to 2015 (when only 12 schools met the 40 percent target), 2010 (two) and 2005 (zero).

Olin Business School at Washington University was the closest to achieve gender equality in its enrolment figures with 49 percent of women enrolling at the institution. The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan Ross School of Business came in a close second and third, with 47 and 45 percent female enrolment respectively.

The downsides

While the increase in women’s enrolment shows some improvement in b-school gender equality, numbers don’t always portray an accurate picture of real-life issues.

A study by The Association of MBAs (AMBA) found that women are more inclined to enrol in MBA programs when they’re younger, compared to men, who feel comfortable attending b-school at different stages of their career.

These figures could be coincidental but could also indicate that women are still subjected to gendered scrutiny and bias when they decide to temporarily leave the workforce for maternity, educational or other personal reasons.

It’s also universally known that women earn less than men do – and it’s no different for MBA graduates.

Two years ago, Financial Times data revealed that an MBA did little to help women close the gender pay gap; while the AMBA found that, even though both genders feel more valuable in the workforce with an MBA title under their belt, more men than women expect to see a salary increase of at least 50 percent within three years of graduating.

This is particularly discouraging, as it has been proven that women act less assertively when asking for higher pay for fear of upsetting their relationship with managers and colleagues.  

What this means for gender equity in business education

Elissa Sansgster, CEO of the Forté Foundation, defined the increase in women’s enrolment “remarkable”.

She said: “The progress over five-year intervals, in particular, demonstrates a significant shift in gender parity at top business schools. At this pace, we’re confident we’ll reach our goal of 40 percent women’s enrolment by 2020.”

While this might be achieved in the next year, it’s undeniable that there’s still a lot of work to do to narrow the equity gap between genders – enrolment is one thing, but real-life retribution is another.

We can only hope that breaking down educational barriers will help women break them in business, too.

Written by Linda Mohamed

Linda is Content Writer at TopMBA, creating content about students, courses, universities and businesses. She recently graduated in Journalism & Creative Writing with Politics and International Relations, and now enjoys writing for a student audience. 

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