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MBA Programs’ Numbers Down in Strong Economy

Numbers are down in the Business Journal’s annual survey of MBA programs that serve Orange County—and that’s a good thing.

Deans at OC programs said the results generally follow an old adage: when the economy’s bad, go to school; when it’s good, go to work.

Local schools showed a year-to-year decline of about 1.5% in the number of MBA students enrolled as of September to 3,341. The schools combined for 6% fewer graduates in June, with 1,539.

“We see it as basically being flat,” said Gerardo Okhuysen, associate dean of master’s programs at University of California-Irvine’s Paul Merage School of Business. “Given … an improving economy, this is a good outcome.”

The Business Journal alphabetically lists 41 MBA programs. Data for about half the entries are provided by the schools, with estimates provided for others.

UCI had 676 students enrolled in its MBA as of September, down 1.3% from last year, and 314 MBA graduates in June, down 5.7% year-over-year.

It has the largest MBA program of schools based in Orange County.

A second factor in the down year involved the overlap of the perennial student demand for programs that can be finished fast and the developing trend of specialization in graduate business offerings.

Students are enrolling in programs other than the MBA.

“Specialization identifies you” in the market, said Darryl Stevens, assistant dean of graduate business programs at Chapman University in Orange.

Chapman had about 11.3% fewer MBA students enrolled as of September, or 220, down from 248 a year ago, and its number of graduates this June was down by 21%, or 25 fewer students than earned the MBA in June 2014.

Focus

Stevens said some of the enrollment decline is due to students taking new, focused programs instead of earning a general MBA.

“One-year specialty degrees are pretty robust.”

Chapman added a master’s of science program in accounting two years ago and is considering adding specialized graduate business work in finance, management, and data analytics (see related story page, 16).

“We also have what we call a ‘4 + ½’ program,” Stevens said, in which undergraduate students studying accounting start taking graduate courses in their last semester of bachelor’s work and can earn an M.S. degree six months later.

UCI added a master’s degree in accounting in 2013 and a certificate program in entrepreneurship that begins this year, is tentatively aiming for a fall 2016 launch of a master’s in finance program, and has begun the process of adding a master’s program in data analytics further down the line.

“We’re starting to think of students as lifelong learners,” he said. “We want to be in a position where we can help serve our communities at any age or need.”

Speed

Speed is crucial, the deans said.

“Most of our students can finish in about 16 to 18 months,” said Stephen Christensen, dean of the business school at Concordia University in Irvine. “One guy did it in 10 months. He took three classes a week and told me he had no life, but he did it.”

Concordia reported 115 MBA students enrolled as of September, down 11% year-over-year, and 63 graduates, a decline of 6%.

Christensen said Concordia plans to launch specialties next fall for its MBA in management, finance, marketing, entrepreneurship, and international business—the last effort connected to the school’s satellite location in Shanghai.

“You can drill down deeper into the subject matter (and develop) an expertise,” he said.

He said the school is also planning a separate master’s degree in accounting.

Pepperdine University’s Irvine location has amped up flexibility by accepting students who haven’t taken the Graduate Management Admission Test, or GMAT.

“It’s an alternative for individuals with a strong academic background,” said David Smith, dean of Pepperdine’s Graziadio School of Business and Management.

The school began offering the waiver last year, and 20% of its 162 OC MBA students are in the program on that basis.

“We also increased scholarships for part-time students with a strong profile,” Smith said, meaning high GMAT scores and “several years of work experience at the mid-manager level.”

Anomaly

Scholarships have been key at Brandman University in Irvine—one of a few schools with more MBA students this year.

The school, part of the Chapman University system, had 154 MBA students enrolled as of September, up 5.5%, and graduated 67 MBA students in June, up 8% year-over-year.

Dean of the school of business and professional studies Glenn Worthington said scholarship money has come from local firms that “identified some of the leaders in their companies, and they got reduced tuition.”

He said the MBA is 5 years old and “has grown every year for those five.”

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