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Tracking the Preferences of the PTMBA Market

Over the years, Eduvantis has collected a substantial amount of market research data about the attributes of Part-Time MBA (PTMBA) programs that are most important to prospective students from various markets. Upon aggregating this year’s data, which include almost 700 respondents from across the nation, we noticed a few trends that should prove useful to business school leaders as they continue to fine-tune their PTMBA programs to meet shifting prospective student demands. Today, we are going to focus on just the “most important” attributes. In subsequent posts, we will explore those in the middle and at the bottom end of the spectrum.

Importantly, the findings presented here reflect trends in aggregate. In our work, we see these preferences shift quite considerably within individual markets, so understanding how your market does (or does not) match these averages is vital to meeting the needs of your prospective students.

1. “Academic” attributes are of greatest importance

On average, the attributes focused on the strength of programmatic reputation and curriculum are of greatest importance to prospective students. This is good news for all of the faculty who are working hard to create and maintain programs with high academic quality. It is extremely sought after!

What is difficult, however, is proving to a prospective student that your program has a stronger curriculum or a better academic reputation than your competitors (without relying on rankings.) Have you been to your competitors’ websites recently? It’s not like they’re saying that their reputation is poor or their curriculum, weak. They are likely saying much of the same things that you are! This is why, while they say that this is the most important attribute on the whole, prospective students usually end up choosing a program based on other attributes of importance to them. Basically, academics are very important, but they’re rarely differentiating.

2. “Convenience” is extremely important for the largest number of people

When we focus in on just the “extremely important” (shaded in darkest green below) rating for each variable, which is usually a good indicator of choice-making, we see a shift at the top, as “convenient location” vaults the academic attributes into the number one position, with 53% of the surveyed prospective students giving it this magnified importance. This variable, “convenient location,” is one that can be the trickiest to address, as convenience is obviously relative to the individual, whereas many of the other attributes are more cut-and-dried.

What is interesting is that this appears to be a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts for PTMBA programs. As programs have moved to become more convenient for individuals, the importance of convenience is only rising. It is now a baseline necessity to be convenient for prospective students, rather than relying on other attributes to trump any inconveniences.

3. Though having a convenient location remains a very important attribute, offering online delivery options is growing in importance

A natural byproduct of this convenience uprising is that online delivery options also continue to increase in importance among PTMBA seekers. When looking at delivery interest alone, we confirm that strictly face-to-face delivery is no longer the most popular option among MBA seekers, with hybrid and fully online delivery formats together taking up the largest share of the market. This is a large shift from even a few years ago, when PTMBA seekers were still more interested in face-to-face programs. This trend begins to shape the definition of “convenient location” to include the homes of your prospective students!

Implications

Some implications of these findings are as follows:

  • Academics are still the backbone of PTMBA programs. Performance on other attributes cannot make up for poor academic performance, so ensure your programs stay up-to-date and appropriately challenging for your students.
  • However, given that judging the academic strength between programs can be difficult for prospective students, understand that they are likely choosing based on other factors, which should be elevated in your marketing and recruitment messaging.
  • Having a “convenient” program no longer just means that it can be offered on weeknights and face-to-face in one location to meet the needs of your working professional market. These professionals are looking for much more convenience than that, be it multiple locations and/or online program offerings.
  • If you do have the convenience your prospects are looking for, make sure they are aware of it! We have worked with many PTMBA programs that have the convenience the market is seeking, but, when asked about it, the market is mostly unaware, leaving precious opportunities for conversion behind.
  • It is very important to understand how your students and prospective students value the importance of these attributes, as well as view you as delivering on these attributes, so you can adapt your programs and messaging accordingly. Without that information directly from the market, it can be difficult to find your target market and put your best foot forward.

If you have any questions about these data or how to survey your market to learn this important information, please don’t hesitate to be in touch with us. We conduct student and decliner surveys regularly to better understand local and regional markets. We can help you determine how well positioned your programs are to “win” in their specific markets as well as what would increase their appeal among prospects.

We look forward to diving more into these data in subsequent posts.