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Digital Efforts Have MBA Programs Back in Growth Mode

Top Area Schools see First Increase in 6 Years

The pandemic is largely in the past for business schools serving Orange County, but one trend that picked up speed during the lockdown appears to be here to stay.

Online programs helped buoy enrollment across the region’s top 14 MBA schools over the past year, prompting officials to ramp up those offerings for the long term.

“We added four new programs in 2019, one of which was a completely online MBA
program,” said Michael Solt, dean of the College of Business Administration and professor of finance at California State University, Long Beach. “It was good timing.”

That addition helped enrollment nearly double last year to 617 students.

“We thought the online MBA program would be popular, but it is far more popular than we expected,” Solt said. “It’s now our largest graduate program.”

The pandemic itself helped stimulate enrollment increases, Solt said, as people looked for new hobbies or careers after being stuck at home in 2020.

“I think many decided to take that time to invest in their careers and themselves,” he said.

The 14 business schools reported a nearly 1% enrollment increase to 2,856 students last year after an 11% drop the year prior. It’s the first increase seen on the Business Journal’s annual list since 2016.

Digital Efforts

CSULB saw the largest increase on the list, which sorts universities alphabetically.

“Our goal is to continue investing to improve the quality of our online program, so it remains a desirable option in the Southern California region,” Solt said.

Azusa Pacific University is also expanding its online offerings, recently launching a new program designed for graduation in 12 months. The program offers the inclusion of “microcredentials,” or internationally recognized badges or certificates, such as Formstack, Tableau, Python, Excel and Intercultural Competence.

The University of California, Irvine, whose Paul Merage School of Business is the largest in Orange County, has also noticed demand for its online courses.

“We shifted everything remote for the short term, but in the past year we have retooled our programs to have dual-teaching capabilities” with both remote and in-person classes, according to Burt Slusher, assistant dean of MBA and Specialty Masters Programs.

“Flexibility is the key now, and people want to have an education where it meets their needs.”

The school has three MBA programs: a full-time program, one for fully-employed students and an executive MBA. The hybrid learning program has been adopted for the school’s fully-employed MBA program, or FEMBA.

Developing Leaders

UCI’s MBA program ranked No. 43 among all U.S. business schools in a 2021-2022 report by Fortune Education. It’s investing to continue that reputation, with a new initiative focused toward fintech, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and sustainability industries.

“Companies are now looking for experts in those four areas, so we are adding new faculty members in those subjects to meet demand,” Slusher said.

California State University, Fullerton, saw its enrollment increase nearly 12% to 339 this year. The business school, the second largest in the country, is raising money to build a new Center for Leadership, which aims to provide career development training for current and prospective CSUF students.

The new center is expected to deliver within the next two and a half years, according to President Fram Virjee (see story, page 1).

Moving forward, business schools hope to maintain momentum heading into the 2023 school year.

“People who were on the fence about getting an MBA found the pandemic as an opportune time,” Slusher said. “Our school has invested heavily into digital tech, which will help us continue to develop leaders for the digital-driven world.”

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