2022 marked a slow return to a new normalcy in the world of graduate business education. Campuses continued to open and receive incoming cohorts, and virtual classes gradually decreased in favor of in-person learning. At the same time, 2022 brought additional challenges for business school students and schools- most notably, economic uncertainty and an unpredictable job market.
As we look ahead to the new year, we reflect on some of the key themes highlighted by GMAC’s annual research surveys. What insights can be gleaned from the 2022 results of the Prospective Students Survey, Corporate Recruiters Survey, Enrolled Students Survey, and Application Trends Survey? How has graduate management evolved over the last year?
Looking forward, here are five trends that may continue to dominate the world of business schools in 2023 and beyond.
1. MBA programs globally experience surge in international demand
Generally, 2022 was a challenging year for overall increases in MBA applications. Total applications declined 7 percent, and 75 percent of full-time two-year MBA programs saw reduced applications compared to 2021.
And at the same time, international applications increased considerably. Sixty-four percent of the same MBA programs that saw reduced applications in 2022 reported increases in applications from international students. In the U.S., 80 percent of MBA programs reported increases in international application numbers.
In other regions, too, international applications jumped back after a COVID decline. For example, 60 percent of GME programs in Latin America reported rising rates of international applications. In Greater China (China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong), applications from international students increased by 44 percent.
It’s clear that international students saw the reopening of borders after COVID as a green light for international study. After the frustration of travel restrictions over the last two years, students across the world seized the opportunity to travel for GME.
For many of these students, this meant heading to the world’s largest MBA destination—the U.S.—but many other students instead chose to travel more widely for their graduate degrees or to stay closer to home. Traditional conceptions of ‘top destinations’ for GME are changing, and more students are looking to take advantage of economic growth in Asia, especially those within region.
2. Hybrid programs retain interest after pandemic spike
As COVID shut down campuses, many students turned to online and hybrid programs for their education. But demand switched in 2022. Students flocked to in-person programs as campuses re-opened. In fact, 76 percent of online programs in the U.S. reported declining applications this year, more than any other program type.
However, this drop in demand is likely explained by the drastic uptick in students applying to online degrees during the 2020 and 2021 application years. It certainly doesn’t reflect the overall demand for hybrid and online GME programs, which appears to be growing. Twenty percent of respondents in the Prospective Students Survey (PSS) this year said that they preferred hybrid program delivery, compared to 14 percent before the pandemic.
Students that may have become more nimble working remotely over the pandemic are grasping the benefits of hybrid program delivery. These monumental changes to work styles over the last few years has also had lasting effects on how people perceive online education.
In the most recent PSS, 89 percent of students said that networking opportunities gained through an on-campus degree are the same as through an online program- up from 79 percent in 2020. While applications may be slowing from the pandemic high, students see the value in online and hybrid programs, and we may see further growth in this area in 2023.
3. Despite economic tension, the GME job market is ripe with opportunities
Despite gradual recovery from the COVID pandemic, many global economies saw downturns this year, including the U.S. and the U.K. As a result, many companies—particularly those in the tech sectors—restricted hiring in the final quarters of 2022. In some cases, companies resorted to large-scale layoffs.
Meanwhile, the ‘Great Resignation’ pushed some companies to turn to corporate retention programs to reduce the numbers of employees leaving work, some of whom may have gone on to GME. The implementation of these programs may in part explain the reduced numbers of MBA applications in 2022 compared to previous years.
Nonetheless, GMAC’s Corporate Recruiters Survey illustrated a more optimistic picture for GME graduates. Ninety-two percent of corporate recruiters said they planned to hire MBAs in 2022—an increase from 91 percent in 2021. The job market was also promising for business master’s graduates; 88 percent of recruiters said they planned to hire Master’s in Management graduates in 2022—9 percent more than in 2021.
There is also great news for those huge numbers of international students who chose to pursue GME in the States. After a significant reduction in international hiring over the past few years, many companies are increasingly optimistic about hiring workers from overseas. In fact, over half of U.S. recruiters said that they either planned to or were willing to make international hires in 2022. Although the only certainty about the economy in 2023 especially is its uncertainty, the signals from employers is positive for GME hiring.
4. Business schools are receiving more applications from underrepresented communities
This year, GME became more diverse, especially in non-traditional GME regions. In the Middle East and Africa, GME programs reported a 75 percent increase in the numbers of female applicants to programs. In Greater China, there was a 69 percent increase in female applicants.
Meanwhile in Europe, more than half of business school programs reported a stable or growing number of applications from women. Though women make up just 44 percent of GMAT test takers, these increases are a sign that progress is being made.
While the U.S. saw decreased applications to GME programs in 2022, these programs still managed to grow numbers of applications from underrepresented populations (URP). Overall, 52 percent of U.S. GME programs experienced stable or growing applications from URP.
Growth was even larger in U.S. business master’s programs. In 2022, 65 percent of these programs either grew or maintained application numbers from URP.
5. Students are seeing more value in GME
Results from GMAC’s Enrolled Students Survey also demonstrate that more students are pleased with the quality of their business school experience this year. Overall, 85 percent of survey respondents rated the value of their GME program as good to outstanding, up from 82 percent in 2021.
This may be the result of programs having less pandemic-related disruption or even students having a greater awareness of what services might be available to them during their business school journey.
With higher numbers of students on campus, students were even likelier to engage with extracurricular services through their business school. For example, a greater percentage of students gave a favorable rating to their institution’s careers services and student services in 2022 compared to 2021. Over half of graduates (57%) said they were able to achieve their goal of making a career change after GME, which speaks to the optimistic jobs market for graduate business students and the quality of careers services departments at business school.
Looking to 2023
Despite challenges, there are many reasons to believe 2022 was a positive year for GME. As highlighted by GMAC research this year, business schools have made progress towards gender parity in GME; are attracting more international student applications; and are continuing to improve career prospects for graduates. With this momentum, 2023 has the potential to be just as promising a year for graduate management education.