- Fewer foreign candidates who plan to apply to an MBA or other business master's program prefer the U.S. as their study destination, while more are looking to programs in Western Europe, according to new research from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).
- From 2009 to 2018, the share of international students who would prefer an MBA from the U.S. fell from 54% to 40%, with the pace picking up in the last two years and in part attributed to the current political climate. Meanwhile, the percentage who would prefer to enroll in a Western European program increased from 31% in 2016 to 40% in 2018. However, the U.S. remains the preferred choice for international applicants from Southeast, Central and South Asia.
- Across all applicants, two-thirds (65%) of candidates say they are considering a full-time MBA, though slightly more (21%) prefer a one-year program over a two-year program (19%). The majority of candidates (89%) are also considering alternatives to graduate school, including a new job (50%) and a professional certificate (37%).
Fewer students interested in U.S. business schools contributes to the broader trend of declining applications to the nation's MBA programs.
MBA applications were down for the fourth-straight year in 2018, according to a previous survey from the GMAC. The group noted that selective universities were also experiencing the shift, with applications to the Harvard Business School down 4.5% year-over-year, while they were down 6.7% at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.
Although experts say tight visa restrictions and the political climate are contributing to the declines, other factors are also at play.
For one, the GMAC report notes that the "number of high-quality business school options around the world is greater than ever before." Additionally, surveyed admissions officials say the current strong job market could be deterring students from applying, Inside Higher Ed reported. Combined, those factors have resulted in some colleges having to cut back or entirely shut down their MBA programs.
In response, some U.S. business schools are offering a broader array of options. For instance, the Miami Business School has ramped up its one-year graduate programs that specialize in areas such as analytics, finance and sustainability. And others are attempting to recruit students from liberal arts backgrounds by offering more supports and changing admissions requirements.
U.S. universities have also stepped up their recruitment efforts to attract international students more broadly. For example, Eastern Michigan University started charging international students the same tuition rate as in-state students last fall.
GMAC notes that more colleges have been expanding their delivery formats for business management education.
That could help some institutions stave off enrollment declines as interest in online education grows. For instance, Harvard Business School's online arm has experienced a 70% jump in enrollment since it rebranded to emphasize its online offerings.
However, the GMAC report notes that only 3% of business school candidates would prefer an online MBA. In choosing a program, nearly half (47%) of candidates said the type of degree played the biggest role. And three out of 10 said the location of a program was their first consideration.