Last spring, students at Stanford, Wharton, and Harvard Business School petitioned for MBA tuition discounts once schools went entirely online. Networking with peers is a significant draw of the MBA experience, and they felt that virtual interactions didn’t cut it. While some schools offered extended payment periods in response, elite programs have not reduced MBA tuition fees due to COVID-19.
As we shared with Find MBA, a couple of different reasons might have affected their calculus. First, no one knew how long the pandemic would last. Schools didn’t want to lose revenue during an economic downturn that has affected them, too. Top MBA programs are not taking a reputational hit in any way from the pandemic. So, the value of the degree remains the same.
Students everywhere covet the top-tier schools because their educational value translates well across the globe.
Second, tuition price contributes to perception. If you pay more for something, then it must be worth more, right? If programs cut prices, even for an online experience, the move might have impacted their brand reputation and quality perception.
“Throughout my 20-year career in MBA admissions, the one constant is the incredible allure of top programs, the high caliber of students that pursue those programs, and the core attributes that those programs seek,” says Stacy Blackman, President of Stacy Blackman Consulting.
MBA Tuition Not Affected by Move Online
Moving online hasn’t diminished the value of the elite b-school brands. Think about the best online MBA programs, which also have limited residency requirements. You’ll see a hefty price tag for those as well.
UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s MBA@UNC is a prime example. Tuition at this top-ranked online MBA program exceeds $125,000 for the July 2020-July 2021 academic year.
Learning environments have changed in an unprecedented way due to COVID-19, but the perks of a top program have not. Elite business schools still give the best and the brightest access to the top employers, top salaries, and fantastic networks. All of that is unbelievably valuable, and people will continue to pay for that exclusive access.
Plus, as Stanford GSB lecturer David Dodson pointed out last March, going through COVID-19 together might become a tremendous bonding experience for the class.
The Silver Lining of COVID’s Timing
If COVID-19 had struck before the digital age, its crippling effects on education would have been profound. Thankfully, students of this generation are tech natives and feel completely at home in an online environment.
They deftly use their virtual and in-person options to maximize opportunities for advancement, enrichment, and engagement. Because of this pandemic, we’ve learned that interacting online can provide distinct advantages. With technology, we can connect with anyone, anywhere much more easily, quickly, and economically.
Elite business schools had already begun to boost integrated digital teaching into core MBA courses prior to the pandemic. Vijay Govindarajan of Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business tells The Economist that “digital technology can help a top school ensure its gold-plated MBA programme shines even brighter.”
Critics who believe schools should reduce MBA tuition as online learning continues should step back to examine the bigger picture. With vaccine distribution ramping up, we know the pandemic won’t last forever. Meanwhile, programs continue to strive for ways to offer students the best experience possible.
As The Economist notes, “business schools deserve credit for adapting their business models—as their professors preach others to do. Many delayed the start of semesters, offered generous scholarships, waived exam requirements and liberalised policies on deferrals.”
A top MBA admissions director whom we interviewed about this topic said, “No one has been phoning it in during this pandemic—that’s just not the mindset of these elite programs. Their dedication to their brands and their students is deep and wide. COVID-19 was a unique business problem, and both students and programs (and employers) have risen to the occasion.”
Long-Term ROI of the MBA
Despite uncertainties in the job market caused by the coronavirus, the MBA still offers a strong return on investment.
“Applicants understand an MBA as a long-term investment in their future,” says Beth Tidmarsh, a former Kellogg MBA admissions officer who now works on the SBC team. “Thus, the long-term brand reputation and credential of a top-tier B-school is appealing.”
The reason leading U.S. business schools remain in demand, despite high MBA tuition fees, is that top employers continue to source their talent from these pools of students, explains one MBA career coach on the SBC team.
This is especially critical for students planning to make an industry and/or functional pivot post-MBA. Between the recruiting opportunities and broad-reaching alumni networks, there is tremendous value in the MBA even amid a pandemic.
“Top schools are committed to creating a class that brings in diverse perspectives from around the world to enhance student learning and the overall classroom experience,” Beth notes.
“Managers and leaders of the future will tackle problems in a highly interconnected world, do business on a global scale, and the issues are only getting more complex…especially in this current climate.”