Crain's Detroit Business: Kiantee Rupert-Jones on M.B.A. recruitment during pandemic

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Once considered the gold standard of career development, the MBA degree faces a new question of relevance. Business schools in Michigan are struggling to sell the master's programs as they face staggering budget cuts and enrollment declines brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Increased demand in graduate education often coincides with economic uncertainty, but in the case of a global pandemic, experts aren't so sure. At Wayne State University, Kiantee Jones, assistant dean of graduate programs at the Mike Ilitch School of Business, is thinking about recruitment in a new way. While the raw number of MBA applications this fall is up slightly from last year, the number of people moving past the first phase of the process dropped off significantly, Jones said. There are 223 new MBA students at the school this year, compared to 270 last year. The business school's budget for fiscal year 2020-21 hasn't been finalized, but Jones expects a 5 percent cut. Wayne State's niche of part-time, mainly online classes would seem better protected from the pandemic than its competitors' models, but "virtually" attracting new students has been a headache, Jones said. The work- and learn-from-home age caused a disconnect between the school and companies such as Lear Corp., DTE Energy Co. and the automakers, which provide its main pipeline of students. "We used to get flooded with applications," Jones said. "We didn't really have to put forth a great effort. We were invited to corporations. We were setting up tables. We had a really good connection with the employees at these corporations. It was just easier." Jones said since the pandemic started, the business school launched monthly online information sessions and added virtual grad fairs in hopes of keeping students engaged. Jones said she believes the challenges posed by the coronavirus crisis are long-term, but like her counterparts at UM and MSU, she remains optimistic about the demand for and value of an MBA degree, even if the program is forced to change permanently.

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