“By expanding the student base you’re able to have more students and bring in more resources,” said Jan Williams, chairman of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, an international body that accredits business school programs. “It’s a way to maintain your MBA enrollments or even grow them in a time when it would be otherwise difficult to maintain or grow them.”
Executive MBAs are unique not only for the students they enroll, but their structure. Many meet in person as infrequently as one or two weekends a month, or even less if the program includes an online component. Meanwhile, the instruction starts at a more sophisticated level given the students’ prior work experience.
Universities experienced a swell of demand for continuing education and graduate programs at the dawn of the recession as older workers looked to retool and younger workers sought safe haven in academia.
But as the economic slump drags on and national unemployment remains high, those already in the workforce are more cautious about leaving a stable job.
Several local universities reported that applicants for full-time and part-time MBA programs have been on the decline in the past three years.
“There was a day when it was build it and they’ll come,” said James Bailey, the director of executive development programs at George Washington University’s business school. “You ran a good degree and you didn’t have to worry about enrollment.”
Meanwhile, several local schools reported gains in executive MBA enrollment over that same three-year period. Those programs have been more resilient in part because the students attracted to them tend to have a greater degree of job security and more lucrative incomes.
That’s especially true in the Washington region.
“Our economy has held up fairly well. We have an above average population in terms of advanced education. We have a pretty high median income,” said Greg Hanifee, assistant dean of executive programs at the University of Maryland’s business school. “So for all those reasons, schools like the D.C. market to recruit from.”
Coming to Washington
But some schools have done more than just recruit. Several universities from outside the Washington region, including Johns Hopkins, Virginia Tech and the University of North Carolina, have expanded their academic offerings at satellite sites in the region to include MBA programs tailored for executives.
Johns Hopkins has had a campus in the Dupont Circle neighborhood since 1992, including a site where students can now earn a slew of part-time master’s degrees in business disciplines, such as finance. Last fall the Baltimore-based institution introduced a weekend MBA program that primarily attracts an executive audience, said William Kooser, associate dean of students.