MBA programs adapt to new way of doing business

Despite international travel complexities, Dimitri Alejo, 31, decided that the pandemic was the perfect time to explore new opportunities. Alejo, who is from Colombia, started his MBA program at Michigan Ross a few weeks ago after numerous delays getting to Ann Arbor because of travel restrictions. He said that because of the pandemic many of his friends who intended to study in the U.S. scrapped their plans.

“If you are in the moment right now where everything is shut down, it’s a perfect moment to prepare and grow yourself,” Alejo said. “It’s a moment where you can grow and learn, meet new people and have experiences.”

Alejo said he left a good job as brand manager for Uber because he wanted to go “beyond making profits” and help companies influence positive change for society. His MBA concentration is social impact with technology.

“When everything is open again, I will be ready for those new opportunities that the market will have,” he said.

The Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University is expecting a flat budget over last year, though the university has not finalized its overall budget, Karen Ruedinger, the business college’s assistant dean, said in an email. The number of MBA students this fall is 132, down from 167 last year, according to data provided by the university.

At Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business, the number of full-time MBA students this fall slipped to 140 from 149 last year, due largely to lost international enrollment, according to university data.

The larger impact was felt in the executive MBA program designed for students working full time, many of whom typically receive financial support from large corporations partnered with the school, including Eaton Corp., Whirlpool Corp. and the Detroit 3 automakers. Just 98 students enrolled in that program this year, compared to 134 last year.

“Companies who typically have sponsored their students have opted not to for this particular year, and that’s a bit unprecedented with some of our employers, so there has been more of a hesitation and what we refer to as deferrals,” said Cheri DeClercq, assistant dean of graduate and MBA programs at Broad College of Business.

Ford Motor Co. cut off its tuition assistance program amid the pandemic but restored it in early August,according to spokesperson Said Deep. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which sponsors employees for MSU’s MBA program, allowed current students to continue but postponed the 2020 fall class until next year, said Michael Palese, spokesperson for the company.

Even some universities suspended tuition support programs for employees. UM paused its program indefinitely April 30.

MSU also saw an “extreme” decline in MBA applications in the spring and summer as the pandemic continued, though application numbers were trending up going into March, DeClercq said, adding that 40 percent of international students who had intended to start in the fall deferred to next year.

As the admissions office worked to stem the enrollment decline, DeClercq said the college adjusted its curriculum around COVID-19. Undergraduate classes at MSU are fully remote this fall, but around 30 percent of MBA classes are being conducted on site, with mask-wearing and social distancing.

The content and schedule of courses are also being tweaked. For example, an executive MBA course in “critical thinking for innovation” was moved up in the calendar so students could apply the class to the workplace and vice versa.

“I’ve had faculty come up to me and say, ‘I can’t teach the same cases I taught before,'” DeClercq said. “Certainly, the core principles of business, we don’t throw those out the window, but (we are) finding new ways and new, fresh examples of how the world is changing and how we’re thinking about cases in a different way.”

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