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April 3, 2023

In effort to boost enrollment, UConn MBA program redesign aims for quicker, more flexible degree

HBJ PHOTO | STEVE LASCHEVER UConn MBA Academic co-Director Vishal Narayan (left) and Jose Cruz, UConn’s associate dean for business graduate programs at the school’s Hartford campus.
Jose Cruz, UConn’s associate dean for business graduate programs (left), and UConn MBA Academic co-Director Vishal Narayan, at the school’s Hartford campus.

In Greater Hartford’s competitive MBA market, UConn recently made headlines by unveiling a revised program that will shorten the time it takes to earn a master’s degree in business administration and offer students more flexibility in course selection.

The state’s flagship university, which has among the largest graduate and undergraduate business schools in Connecticut, announced it’s decreasing the number of credits required to earn an MBA from 57 to 42.

Meantime, the number of courses required for the degree has shrunk from 19 to 14.

The changes are in line with national trends to increase MBA program flexibility, including by offering more online classes, as the number of students applying for the graduate business degree has been on the decline amid a strong labor market.

According to the 2022 “Application Trends Survey” by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), an association that represents graduate business schools, total applications for MBA programs declined 2.2% in the U.S. in 2022.

That included a significant 24.6% decline in domestic applications, offset by a rise in international student applications, according to GMAC.

UConn has experienced a drop off in its part-time MBA program, with enrollment shrinking from 811 students in the fall of 2020, to 593 students in fall 2022.

That nearly 27% decline was largely driven by pandemic-related disruptions, and was the impetus for the program redesign, said Jose Cruz, UConn’s associate dean for business graduate programs.

“Before the pandemic, it was common for (part-time MBA) students to go to work in offices in downtown Hartford or Stamford, and to attend classes in UConn campuses located close to their office, after work,” Cruz said. “Such norms of balancing work and higher education were severely disrupted due to COVID. Also, COVID-related restrictions made it difficult for interested students to attend in-person classes, and to network with their peers.”

Under the revised program, UConn students can — if pursued aggressively — earn an MBA in a little over a year, as opposed to two or three years, which should make it more appealing, said UConn MBA Academic co-Director Vishal Narayan.

By decreasing the number of credits, Narayan added, UConn has also lowered the cost of an MBA degree from about $60,000 to $45,000.

About 70% of UConn MBA students receive some form of financial support from their employers, the school said, which may or may not cover the full tuition cost.

Flexible programs

Despite being a small state, Connecticut has a relatively competitive MBA market, with more than a dozen colleges offering the graduate business degree.

UConn has traditionally been the biggest player in Greater Hartford, followed by the University of Hartford and Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, which launched an MBA program in 2014.

The 10 largest MBA programs in Connecticut — led by the Yale School of Management — had a combined enrollment of more than 4,000 students for the 2022-23 school year, according to Hartford Business Journal’s Book of Lists.

Besides scaling back credit requirements, UConn’s MBA redesign incorporates other changes, including greater flexibility. For example, students can more easily mix-and-match courses instead of following a pre-planned track.

Students can pursue a general MBA or select from specialties in digital marketing strategy, finance, management, supply chain management or business analytics, which has been the fastest-growing concentration area, Cruz said.

“They say business data is the new oil,” Cruz said. “Every organization needs people in data manipulation, modeling and so on.”

Compulsory courses still include marketing, finance, operations and data analytics.

In addition, UConn is introducing new electives called “MBA Now,’’ which will address hot business topics, starting with sustainability and global supply chain.

UConn also no longer requires applicants to take the GMAT or GRE tests, which is consistent with nationwide trends, Cruz said.

UConn, like many schools, has also increasingly embraced online education. It launched a fully online MBA program in 2021, which now has 55 students enrolled. It also has a flex MBA that offers both in-person and virtual courses.

An executive MBA program meets in Hartford on weekends and is typically for more senior leaders. The combined enrollment of all UConn MBA programs is 675 students, the school said.

Student interests

As part of its redesign, UConn studied more than 100 MBA programs across the country, including ones at the University of Hartford, Boston University, Rutgers and Penn State, Narayan said.

The school also considered feedback from students and employers.

In its research, UConn found that most other universities had fewer MBA credit requirements, including UHart, which requires 36 credits and 12 courses to graduate, Narayan said.

Ashish Bhardwaj, senior vice president and head of market development for GMAC, said many schools are pivoting to more flexible MBA programs, including expanded online course offerings.

Students interested in an MBA today are most interested in convenience and a value-added education, he said.

“The (MBA) market is segmented, and candidates are not looking for the same thing,” Bhardwaj said. “Candidates are also looking at return on investment. I’ve seen (MBA) programs differentiating themselves by evolving to address these (flexible education) needs.”

Other local colleges have also made recent changes to their MBA programs.

The University of Hartford, which currently has about 550 MBA students, has added several new courses in the last few years related to supply chain and project management, said Stephen Mulready, dean of UHart’s Barney School of Business, who was recently named interim president beginning July 1.

Mulready said UHart re-examines its MBA program offerings on a regular basis.

“I want to make sure that, as the dean, we are providing what the customer wants,” he said.

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