Anticipating Shifts in the Graduate Business Market

Wither the old MBA? Emerging Trends in the Graduate Business Market. In this post, we utilize data to examine the most popular field for graduate degree programs in the country.

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In our previous post on Market Research Strategy, we discussed the critical foundation of a solid market analysis when looking to start new degree programs and the key questions or criteria to consider. In this post, we utilize some of these criteria to examine the most popular field for graduate degree programs in the country— business.  

From Classroom to Living Room 

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), “Business Administration and Management, General” (read: 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 (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). But while overall program enrollments declined, MBA programs offered ONLINE have grown at 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 this 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.  

But the data indicate that there is still opportunity 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 noted that enrollments in business graduate programs are shifting from general degrees like the MBA to specialized master’s programs such as Business Statistics or Supply Chain Management. Since 1999, 1,152 new MBA programs have launched compared to 3,319 new specialized master’s programs (AACSB, 2020). While general business degree completions have shrunk since 2012, all other NCES business-related categories show a positive 20% growth rate.  

So, if there is 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 in decline overall (-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). 

We are starting to see a clearer picture.  But we still don’t have enough information 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 – so determining the potential market size for each program should be the next step in your analysis. 

Completing a thorough market analysis is critical before launching a new program, but it’s also time-consuming. Elsmere Education has completed research reports for hundreds of programs. Please get in touch with us if you need assistance. If you are interested in learning about a particular type of program, get in touch here!   

In our next blog post in the continuing series, we’ll explore online graduate programs in another popular degree area— Mental Health.  

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