Elsmere Education Market Insights: Anticipating Shifts in the Graduate Business Market

Business person is viewing charts and graphs on the computer.
Wither the old MBA? Emerging Trends in the Graduate Business Market. In this post, we utilize data to examine the country's most popular field for graduate degree programs.

In our previous post on Market Research Strategy, we explored the vital foundation of a solid market analysis when considering the launch of new degree programs and outlined the key questions and criteria to consider. In this post, we apply some of these criteria to examine the country’s most popular field for graduate degree programs— business.  

Embracing Specialized Degrees and Online Learning

Graduate business programs have traditionally favored the conventional Master of Business Administration (MBA). However, recent trends indicate a shift towards specialized master’s degrees and online learning, presenting business schools with both challenges and opportunities.

From Classroom to Living Room

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), “Business Administration and Management, General” (commonly known as MBA) is by far the largest degree category in the country, with 73,650 completions in 2020. The next largest, social work, doesn’t even come close with 15,970 completions. 

Despite the ubiquitous nature of MBA programs, the surprising truth is that from 2012 to 2020, degrees conferred in MBA programs declined by 6.7% (NCES, 2022). However, while overall program enrollments declined, MBA programs offered ONLINE have grown by 19% over the last five years, with an average of over 2,000 new students per year (Burning Glass, 2022).   

This shift to online programs was already underway, and then the pandemic came along and accelerated the trend noted above. In fact, online MBA enrollments have overtaken on-campus programs (Inside HigherEd, 2022).  

The shift from on-campus to online will eventually plateau. Those seeking to enter the graduate business market are facing a highly competitive, commoditized market. Consider the University of Illinois Gies School of Business shutting down their on-campus MBA due to the popularity of the $22,000 iMBA via Coursera. And Boston University’s online MBA is now being offered at half the cost of its on-campus version.  

Nevertheless, the data suggests that opportunities still exist for new entrants in the online market, especially when considering the shift in focus of business programs that could be offered, which we’ll cover next.  

The Rise of the Specialized Business Degree 

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) has observed a growing preference for specialized master’s programs such as Business Statistics or Supply Chain Management over general degrees like the MBA. Since 1999, 1,152 new MBA programs have been launched compared to 3,319 new specialized master’s programs (AACSB, 2020). While general business degree completions have dwindled since 2012, all other NCES business-related categories show a positive 20% growth rate.  

So, if there is an opportunity in these specialized degree markets, how does an institution choose the RIGHT master’s specialization to offer?   

Some of the more popular specialized programs, such as accounting and finance, are experiencing an overall decline (-10% and -32%, respectively, over the last five years).  

Some of the specializations experiencing rapid growth include what the NCES calls “Management Science & Quantitative Methods, Other” at 1,128% growth and “Business Statistics” at 731% growth since 2015 (NCES, 2022). 

While a clearer picture is emerging, more information is needed to make a decision. Looking at this chart, Business Statistics looks like a clear winner – but the average number of new graduates per year in Management Science is almost 2,650 compared to just 237 for Business Statistics. Determining the potential market size for each program should be the next step in your analysis. 

Thorough market analysis is crucial for institutions considering launching new business programs. This analysis should not only assess enrollment trends but also consider the potential market size for each program. The graduate business market is undergoing a transformation driven by the rise of online learning and specialized degrees. Institutions that adapt to these trends and make informed decisions based on market data will be well-positioned to thrive in this evolving landscape.

Elsmere Education has conducted market research for hundreds of graduate business programs and can assist institutions in making informed decisions about new program offerings. If you are interested in learning about a particular type of program or would like more information on how Elsmere can help, get in touch here!   


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