Despite falling numbers of applicants and enrollments in the fall semester of 2019, the University of Wisconsin School of Business is committed to preserving its two-year-long, full-time MBA program.

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the admissions committee of the WSB received 311 applications seeking enrollment for the fall semester of 2019. The number had dropped by 33%, compared to the 465 applications received in the previous year.

The number of students enrolled in both full-time and evening MBA programs reached the lowest in a decade, according to the Wisconsin State Journal, with 67 students enrolled full time and 40 enrolled part-time in the fall semester of 2019.

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Regarding the smaller class size recorded last year, WSB Dean Vallabh Sambamurthy said part of it was due to the uncertainty revolving around the school’s announcement in 2017 to possibly suspend the program.

According to a Wisconsin State Journal article published in 2017, a proposal was submitted to the school faculty for review, which called for a one-year suspension of admissions to the full-time MBA program offered at WSB while UW leaders undertook a long-term review of program offerings.

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The article also quoted WSB Dean Anne P. Massey at the time, who told the Wisconsin State Journal that UW needed to respond to a changing market where students were shifting away from the traditional, two-year MBA programs towards online delivery and one-year degrees. 

“To be relevant, to be agile, in order to be significant, we’ve got to always refresh and renew and review,” Massey said to the Wisconsin State Journal. “It would be irresponsible for me or the faculty or the school, more broadly, to not have these discussions.”

About a week after, UW announced it would continue with its full-time, two-year MBA program offered at the business school, according to Wisconsin Public Radio. The decision came after the proposal to shut down the program was met with pushback by faculty and students, according to the Wisconsin State Journal

Massey said the WSB made the call to halt the discussion and continue consulting efforts in light of the criticism, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. All these events happened before the arrival of Sambamurthy as the new WSB dean in August 2019. 

“Once I arrived here in August, I declared that we are strongly committed to the full-time MBA, and we have been focused on marketing and advertising, and not surprisingly, we have seen that our applications are up by 20%, so that’s the big story,” Sambamurthy said.

WSB was not the only institution experiencing a falling demand for its MBA programs. According to the Wall Street Journal, an expanding list of business schools across the country shut down their traditional, flagship MBA programs to pursue shorter, specialized masters and online degrees.

The 160-year-old Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa ended its full-time MBA program at the end of the spring semester last year, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign also announced plans in May last year to shut down both of its full-time and part-time residential MBA programs and shift towards iMBA, an online program, according to the Inside Higher Ed website

According to Wisconsin Public Radio, founder of the business education news website Poets&Quants John Byrne said the improved quality of undergraduate business programs and the increased options for non-traditional business degrees were among the many factors contributing to a national decline of the full-time MBA. 

Among such national trends, Sambamurthy said the WSB was committed to continuing with its traditional, full-time MBA.

“[The] bottom line is that by emphasizing how we help students succeed in careers, how we are a STEM [certified] program, and how we do a lot of experiential learning and how our alumni are deeply involved as coaches and mentors, we expect that we will be able to still differentiate ourselves and maintain our class size, even though many schools are seeing the applications are indeed [in] decline,” Sambamurthy said.

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Sambamurthy said the WSB currently offers three MBA programs including the traditional full-time MBA, the evening MBA for working professionals and the executive MBA for senior executives. The school is working on introducing a hybrid model to the evening MBA program next year to make it 50% online and 50% in person.

Sambamurthy said when deciding upon which program to attend, most MBA applicants would choose a program that helps them succeed in moving to a new career.

UW second-year MBA student David Koser joined the full-time program after working for two and a half years in water resources engineering. Koser said the overall quality of the MBA program offered at WSB, the provision of scholarships and the personal interaction with faculty and students were all important factors influencing the final decision to come to UW.

Koser added being in the full-time MBA program also helped with career switching and got students involved in the bigger MBA community.

“I love all my classmates, … going through [the first year] created a lot of really close bonds, that is really apparent right now,” Koser said. “I wanted that kind of community.”