4 Research Insights To Boost Recruitment to Online Programs

Posted by Andrew Walker
Andrew Walker is the Director of Research Analysis and Communications at GMAC. In this role, he works to disseminate actionable and relevant research findings about the global graduate management education industry. Andrew holds a Master's Degree in Public Policy from Georgetown University.

Posted on Feb 27, 2024 9:30:47 AM

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Findings from across GMAC’s survey research program illuminate what GME candidates, current students, and employers think of online and hybrid programs—and how those perceptions translate to application trends.

Across GMAC surveys, we track GME stakeholders’ opinions of and engagement with online and hybrid learning. Candidate and employer perspectives from the GMAC Prospective Students Survey and Corporate Recruiters Survey were featured in a fall research brief about online and hybrid learning. In addition, new details from our Enrolled Students Survey and Application Trends Survey offer a more complete picture about the current position of online programs in the GME market.  

Check out four key findings from across our survey research about the demand for online and hybrid graduate management education. 

1. Women, first-generation, and millennial candidates tend to be more interested in online and hybrid programs. 

Women are more likely than male candidates to indicate a preference for study in online or hybrid programs, according to the GMAC Prospective Students Survey. Twenty-seven percent of women say they prefer online or hybrid programs compared to 19 percent of men. However, generation may play a greater role in preferred program delivery, since Gen Z women are more likely than millennial men to want to study in person.

First-generation prospective students worldwide are especially likely to see the value in online and hybrid degrees. This may be due to the flexibility that online and hybrid degrees allow, which may enable students with additional responsibilities to earn income alongside their studies to support their families or supplement tuition.

2. Current online and hybrid students are looking for resources specific to their experience.

According to GMAC’s 2023 Enrolled Students Survey, enrolled students or recent graduates of online, hybrid, or flexible programs report wanting more opportunities for connection. Respondents said their GME experience could be improved through more opportunities to connect with current students during the admissions process. Similarly, enrolled students also sought more opportunities to connect with their peers during the program through classes and co-curricular activities sponsored by student and career services.

Online, hybrid, and flexible students were also seeking resources that were specific to their program delivery, such as career services for online students—especially those in established careers and after graduation. These students were also seeking targeted student services and mental health support that could be accessed virtually. 

3. Candidate and employer sentiment toward online programs is warming compared to pre-pandemic levels—but not everywhere. 

Globally, candidate preference for online or hybrid GME programs has grown from 16 percent in 2019 to 22 percent in 2022. Likewise, results from the 2023 Corporate Recruiters Survey indicates most employers worldwide (54%) consider an online GME degree to be of equal value to a degree from an in-person program. However, sentiment toward online programs varies regionally.

In the United States, candidate preference for online or hybrid programs has continued to grow above pre-pandemic levels, with 18 percent of U.S. candidates preferring to study in a hybrid program and 13 percent preferring online course delivery. However, this growth in candidate interest has not been matched among U.S. employers, with only 27 percent of U.S. recruiters indicating their organization values online and in-person programs equally.

The opposite is true in Central and South Asia, where candidate preference for online or hybrid programs is only 11 percent compared to 90 percent of employers who view online and in-person degrees equally.

Interest in online or hybrid programs is highest among candidates in Canada and Africa (49 percent and 41 percent, respectively) and has grown quite a bit among East and South Asian prospective students since 2019, with preference for online programs growing from 11 percent to 25 percent in 2022.

4. Applications to online and hybrid programs are on the rise.

According to GMAC’s 2023 Application Trends Survey, programs offering flexibility to students were the most likely to see program growth in 2023. Globally, 60 percent of hybrid GME programs and 53 percent of online programs reported growth in their applications. Meanwhile, 53 percent of full-time, in-person programs reported declines in applications. Sixty percent of both online and hybrid MBA programs reported growth, while online business master’s programs did not have the same level of growth compared to hybrid master’s programs.

Overall, candidates and employers alike have more favorable views of distance learning compared to pre-pandemic levels. While current online and hybrid students may have some recommendations for more connected GME experiences, the most recent application cycle indicates a growing trend toward interest in online and hybrid learning. 

Topics: Recruitment & Marketing, Application Trends, Research Insights, graduate management education, Student Survey, GME, MBA, candidate insights, candidate research, survey, research library, alumni

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