Wake Forest University Shuts Down Full-Time MBA

Wake Forest University

With demand for its traditional full-time MBA program shrinking, Wake Forest University is shutting the program down to refocus its resources on its part-time and specialized master’s degrees.

The full-time MBA class of 2016, which started classes a few weeks ago, will be the school’s last. Visitors to the school’s website on Wednesday found a message saying the school “will no longer offer incoming students admission to a traditional daytime MBA program.”

The size of the program has been shrinking, from total enrollment of 144 in 2009 to 98 in 2014, with the latest cohort clocking in at just 48 students. School officials say part of that is due to increased selectivity but concede that demand for the full-time program is shrinking, while its part-time and specialized master’s degrees in the last five years have experienced double- and triple-digit growth.

Enrollment in the part-time MBA program has grown by 23% since 2012, from 247 students to 304.

Dean Charles Iacovou says Wake Forest is not giving up on the MBA, but doubling down.

“We are invested in MBA education,” Iacovou says. “Our school very much believes in the value that an MBA provides to our graduates and their employers. Our decision is a proactive step that will allow us to redirect resources and energy to meet the changing needs in the market.”

Iacovou says Wake Forest will refocus on “offering flexible ways on evenings, weekends and through hybrid models for working professionals to continue their education and development.”

Wake Forest not alone

The shuttering of an MBA program is a rarity but Wake Forest is not alone. In 2013, the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and Columbia Business School eliminated their joint executive MBA program after more than a decade in operation. A year earlier Miami University closed an MBA program on its Oxford campus. And the full-time MBA program Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business will graduate its last class next year.

But Wake Forest may not be the last school to pull the plug on its full-time MBA. While applications to these programs in the US have been on the rebound since 2012, that follows three years of declines, and much of the rebound is being driven by international applicants, according to the Graduate Management Admissions Council. Today, nearly two out of three MBA students in the US are enrolled in programs that allow them to continue working, according the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

“For the vast majority of business schools, traditional daytime MBA enrollments have decreased over the past decade,” says Sherry Moss, a professor of organizational studies in the Wake Forest MBA program. “Data shows that students prefer flexibly delivered programs that allow them to continue working, enrolling at twice the rate as traditional daytime MBA programs.”

The Wake Forest full-time program, ranked 58th by US News & World Report, landed job offers for 90% of graduates and produced MBAs who earned an average salary of US$86,699 in 2013. The bulk of graduates go into consumer products, financial services and consulting.

Middle-ranking schools face tough times

In a recent interview with Poets & Quants, John Delaney, the outgoing dean of the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business, explained the predicament that many mid-market schools like Katz – and Wake Forest – face.

Not unlike Wake Forest, Katz has a full-time MBA program that struggles to enroll 100 students and a much bigger part-time program that competes with Carnegie Mellon for the best and brightest applicants, winning over many of them on price. But he’s worried about what might happen to that fragile détente once online MBA programs pick up steam.

“That is why everybody is so nervous,” Delaney said. “If online MBAs were to dig into a market where they took your part-time MBA program away, then you are going to have real challenges because that is often the program that pays the bills.”

Wake Forest’s decision to scrap its full-time MBA program effectively puts all its eggs in the part-time MBA and specialized master’s baskets – a smart move, perhaps, but if Delaney is right, a temporary one at best. 

Written by Louis Lavelle

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