Demand for MBA graduates strong despite sluggish economy
Demand for talented MBA graduates remains strong despite a sluggish economy, and employers are beginning to tap the growing pool of MBAs coming out of online and part-time programs, according to Thunderbird executive Kip Harrell, who was appointed president of the MBA Career Services Council June 26.
Founded in 1994, the council is a professional association for individuals in the field of MBA career services, and those that recruit MBAs directly from MBA programs. The council includes more than 500 career services professionals at more than 200 business schools worldwide. Harrell previously served as chairman of the council’s standards committee.
Harrell, who has served as the Associate Vice President for Career Management and Professional Development at Thunderbird School of Global Management since 2002, says “Employers are battling for talent like never before.”
He says a recent downturn in the financial services sector has many MBA students worried about spillover into other sectors, but that impact is yet to be determined and will rely on the outcomes of company budgeting cycles presently under way. Harrell says he and others in the career services industry are “cautiously optimistic” about next year’s trends given the state of the economy.
One thing he expects to see in the fall is increased demand for graduates from nontraditional programs such as distance learning and part-time, weekend and evening executive MBA programs. Enrollment in those programs has outpaced that of full-time programs, which is creating a shift in strategy as companies compete for MBA graduates.
“Despite the downturn in the financial services sector, the requests for new MBAs keeps growing year by year,” he says. “It’s growing so fast that employers are looking at some of the nontraditional programs for their talent.”
Harrell says the increased credibility of distance learning and part-time programs has helped fuel the spike in MBA applications to those programs.
Online and part-time options, such as Thunderbird’s Global MBA On-Demand program, and it part-time executive MBA in Global Management, are allowing more working professionals to keep their full-time jobs while they attend graduate school. This can be important during an economic downturn.
“If you’ve got a good job and the economy is lousy, you don’t want to leave that good job to go back to school,” he says.
In fact, the demand and growing popularity of distance learning programs not only among students but also employers, prompted the Economist Intelligence Unit to launch its first distance learning MBA rankings earlier this year. Thunderbird’s program ranked No. 7 worldwide on that list.
“The idea that distance-learning programs are in some way the ‘poor relation’ of the MBA, particularly compared with full-time programs, is no longer tenable,” the EIU report said. “Most distance-learning programs have now achieved equal standing with, and have the same academic rigor as, other delivery methods. Because the corporate world has largely embraced them for its own employees, they also accept them as an important qualification for new recruits.”
Harrell says increases in business school applications in general are also up because of population trends that have fueled an increase in the number of people who fall within the average age group for MBA students, ages 25 to 29. This has created a larger pool of potential applicants worldwide.
Harrell has 20 years of experience in recruiting, corporate staffing and career advisement. He oversees student job search preparation, career advisement and corporate visitation schedules at Thunderbird’s Career Management Center.
Harrell also serves as co-leader of Thunderbird Leadership EDGE – a program which identifies, selects and develops an elite group of high potential MBA students for experiential leadership and growth opportunities.