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MBA enrollments falter with economy

| Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Pittsburgh universities report fewer students are seeking master's degrees in business administration, reflecting a national trend, but officials are hopeful a stronger economic climate eventually will encourage more to enroll in MBA programs.

A recent survey by the Reston, Va.-based Graduate Management Admission Council found nearly 62 percent of MBA schools nationwide reported declines in applications for full-time programs this year. Thirty-two percent said they had increases.

Directors at universities with declining MBA applications said potential students might be staying in current jobs or forgoing the degrees altogether.

“Our enrollment of full-time students in the program has been down about 7 percent over the past few years,” said John Delaney, dean of the Katz Graduate School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh.

The program accepted 100 to 110 full-time students, Delaney said. The class of 82 that started in August reflect the lowest application number since 2008 and the fewest number of students accepted.

Up to 45 percent of those enrolled in Pitt's MBA program are international students, many brought here by overseas companies with Pittsburgh offices.

“We like that mixture because we are in a global economy, and this provides our domestic students with an opportunity to talk with and experience working with international students,” Delaney said.

The decline in applications stems from the fact that most full-time MBA students have historically followed a well-worn path to their degree: Spend a few years in the working world before heading back to school to gain skills and a degree they expect will lead to a jobs upgrade. But many professionals are unwilling to leave good jobs today, given the uncertain economy, said Avi Gordon, director of the MBA Admissions Studio, which counsels people on MBA applications.

Earning an MBA can pay off: Students in the two-year program typically receive internships with companies between semesters, and those in the one-year program frequently find jobs shortly after graduation, Delaney said.

“Within three years, because of their MBA degree, their income is sufficient to pay back the cost of their tuition,” he said.

According to figures at educationnews.org, MBA professionals in Pittsburgh earned an average of $140,090 a year in 2010, the latest numbers available.

Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business is among those reporting more applications, though the school could not supply numbers.

“Over the past five years, we have seen an overall increase of applications after the first application deadline,” spokeswoman Barbara Donehue said. The deadline to apply for the fall 2013 term is Oct. 22.

Duquesne University acknowledged flat enrollment for MBA programs over the past five years but said an accelerated one-year program is gaining popularity.

“Fewer students are signing (up) for the two-year programs and more are entering the one-year MBA-sustainable program, or a specialized one-year master's program,” said Dean Alan Miciak of the John F. Donahue School of Business.

Duquesne advertises its MBA-sustainable program as “rigorous, concentrated study of leading-edge business management practices.” It attracts early- and mid-career professionals seeking degrees in accounting, information systems and finance.

“Normal class sizes are 25 to 30 in the full one-year program, and about 25 each for the specialized master programs, but our evening program has about 250 students, most with jobs, who obtain their degree in about three years,” Miciak said.

Next fall, Duquesne intends to offer online options with some programs, he said.

Enrollment fluctuated at Robert Morris University after the school in 2009 closed its Downtown campus and sold the building.

“We effectively lost about half the number of candidates we receive for our MBA programs,” said John Clark, director of the school's MBA program.

Total enrollment — that is, new and returning students — perked up in 2010 with 175, from 131 the year before. In fall 2011, that enrollment reached 173; this fall, it fell to 133. The decline results from fewer returning students, though the number of new students has increased or remained the same, Clark said.

“All our MBA programs are in the evening, so about 90 percent of the students have jobs,” he said.

Ten years ago, enrollment declined when the school raised tuition, Clark said. Inquiries seem to be going up, he said.

Sam Spatter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.

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