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Top of Mind: Executive MBA Program Issues

The Eduvantis team recently attended the Executive MBA Council conference in Houston, where we engaged in stimulating conversations with many of the top EMBA programs around the important market trends and observations we gather in our work, as we help our business school clients gain an advantage in an increasingly competitive market.

Current issues getting our attention in the EMBA market:

  • Lowering barriers to application and admission
  • New prospect search patterns
  • Leveraging technology
  • EMBA career services model

Lowering Barriers

A perceived barrier that prospects report when considering EMBA programs is the GMAT.  In 2003, 35% of EMBA programs reported not requiring the GMAT for admissions.  Two years later, that number climbed to 51% of schools.  According to Poets & Quants, as of 2011, only four of the top ten EMBA programs required the GMAT.  As a way to qualify potential students, programs have not only started placing more consideration on applicants’ professional achievement and work experience, but also administering their own entrance exams to assess student aptitude.  This approach clearly takes more effort on behalf of the schools, but it may lower the perceived hurdle for certain types of prospective students.

Schools are also making programs more accessible to students by experimenting with – or committing to – alternate formats beyond the every-other-weekend cadence, which has seemingly been the standard since the first EMBA program opened its doors in 1943 at the University of Chicago.  Currently, half of the top 25 EMBA programs ranked by USN&WR offer alternative formats.  For instance, Goizueta’s EMBA blends nine weeklong residencies, an 8-10 day international trip, and distance learning.  Fuqua’s GEMBA blends 60% face-to-face residencies with 40% distance learning periods. Students start with a several week reading period, then meet for two weeks abroad, followed by two months of distance learning, and then finish with a residency on-campus.  Another example of a program that has undergone a redesign is Kenan-Flagler’s Evening EMBA. Students now attend class only one night per week (vs. two), and the Weekend program now meets only every third weekend (vs. every other weekend) and on alternate days.  To reduce the time out of work on Fridays, the school has cut down the number of Fridays from 33 to 18.  These format changes aim to address some of the very real time pressures EMBA students face, and they may widen a program’s geographic reach by minimizing ongoing travel obligations.

New Search Patterns and Lead Generation Challenges

Our work suggests EMBA prospects across the globe in 2012 were taking slightly longer to “awaken” to the idea of earning the degree.  Institutions that understand this part of the prospective student journey are taking steps to cultivate relationships and build impressions over time, versus merely turning on the spigot of enrollment marketing investment on an annual cycle.

While 87% of prospective EMBA students report that their primary source of information about an EMBA program is the program’s website, the way they search has changed.  Since 2005, Google Trends shows overall search volume for “Executive MBA” programs is declining, and is forecasted to remain stable over the next year.  While searches for “Executive MBA” are decreasing, there has been an increase in alternative searches, such as “Online Executive MBA” (as prospects seek convenient formats) and “Executive MBA Rankings” (as prospects seek aggregated sources that quickly signal quality).  The top search markets for EMBA prospects in the United States (where 85% are located) based on search volume are New York, Boston, Dallas, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Chicago.  Bottom line: especially as searchers are looking for more aggregated sources of information, the path for institutions to capture these searchers is incredibly competitive.  Institutions that are able to strategically increase their market visibility through organic and paid digital tactics can gain a competitive advantage and have the strongest opportunity to capture these selective searchers and convert them into inquiries.

Leveraging Technology

Technology has enabled EMBA programs to offer rich virtual interactions and deepen or extend cohort experiences among students while not in residence.  According to the EMBA Council, programs are now delivering 29% of materials electronically, compared to only 12% in 2010.  For instance, Ross’s curriculum includes an element of distance learning for students that mirrors today’s business environment, which requires global engagement and teamwork. Typical virtual collaborations include interactive case studies and team-based simulations.

Some schools have gone as far as to replace residency-based programs with online options. The Cornell-Queens EMBA program is a “residential remote” program – the remote portion is not online, but instead students gather in regional classrooms with teams based on their geographic location.  During these Saturday sessions, teams engage in videoconferences with their classmates in other regions.

Programs are also adopting social media technology such as LinkedIn to reconnect with alumni, enable networking between prospective and current students and alumni, and develop corporate relationships.  In fact, the EMBA Council reported that 86% of member schools are using LinkedIn in 2012, compared to just 41% in 2009.

EMBA Career Services Model

EMBA programs appear to now generally acknowledge that EMBA students are looking for more than just career enhancement.  Today’s EMBA students are more similar to “traditional” MBA students than ever before: they are seeking opportunities in new companies, industries, and functions.  Only 33% of EMBA prospects surveyed by GMAC (vs. 13% of FT and 42% of PT prospects) state that their career goals include continuing with their current employer upon graduation.  Factors such as a volatile economy, instability in the markets, and increased interest in entrepreneurship have caused EMBA students to start “thinking outside of the box” in terms of their motivations and post-study aspirations.  Moreover, decreased employer sponsorship has likely played an important role in this evolution.

Many programs have bolstered their career management programming to cater to those who are considering career transition.  In 2012, EMBA Council members ramped up outreach efforts: 60% increased alumni outreach and 41% corporate outreach; both figures represent an approximate 50% increase since 2009.  In addition to focusing on outreach, EMBA programs at schools such as UCLA, Cornell, U of Michigan, NYU, and Columbia, among others are developing and leveraging career development opportunities for EMBA students. Recognizing that 30-40% of each incoming EMBA class is seeking to shift careers, UCLA’s Anderson School provides dedicated career services to EMBA students through one-on-one career coaching on-campus or via phone, specialized short-term and long-term career workshops and a dedicated career management site tailored to its EMBA students.

What trends have you been observing?  We would like to explore them with you.  We look forward to talking with you.