Many business schools are seeing a softening or even a decline in applications to their full-time MBA programs. The falloff can be attributed to multiple factors, including strong employment rates and recent visa issues for foreign students, among others, according to Alex Min, CEO of The MBA Exchange. But these issues are mostly cyclical and are always subject to change. However, there is one new reality in the MBA community that’s not going anywhere. Traditional programs facing the evolving needs of financial firms and the desires of its students have been forced to incorporate new tech-based modules into their curriculum.
“What we are seeing as a trend is that many MBA programs are recognizing the need for their students to have some proficiency in coding and/or data analytics,” said Esther Magna, principal at MBA advisor Stacy Blackman Consulting. “Those MBA students who do not realize that they will be managing people, processes AND data in the future will be disadvantaged in their careers.”
A number of business schools have begun embracing coding and other technical skills, often at the behest of students who are now demanding tech classes and clubs become part of their education. That wasn’t always the case. Several big-name MBA programs have just recently added rigorous technical offerings, including Harvard and Stanford, according to Min.
In late 2016, an HBS student published an op-ed in the Huffington Post calling out the business school for falling behind competitors by not including computer science as part of its curriculum. Over the following year, Harvard MBAs built its CODE club into “one of the largest, most active organizations on campus,” including hackathons and data science and blockchain workshops, according to a follow-up piece. More than 650 students signed up for the CODE newsletter or attended one of their events over a two-year period, representing around one-third of total enrollment.
It likely wasn’t a coincidence then that Harvard rolled out a joint degree last fall that confers its traditional MBA program with an MS in engineering sciences. HBS also offers a standalone business-focused version of its introduction to computer science class, one of its more popular electives taken up by people like English majors turned J.P. Morgan bankers. Stanford has also launched a similar hybrid two-year MBA program that it combined with an MS in computer science and electrical engineering.
Meanwhile, NYU’s Stern School of Business, one of Wall Street’s biggest feeders of front-office talent, introduced a non-credit elective course for students who want to learn Python, a programming language that is quickly becoming a favorite of banks. As an example, Citi is now offering continuing education classes to incoming analysts after traders expressed interest in adding the skill. In June of 2018, three students from UPenn’s Wharton School, the consensus top-ranked MBA program for investment banking, launched the Wharton Coding Club, which gained over 100 likes on Facebook less than 24 hours after going public. It seems that students are pushing traditional MBA programs to embrace coding and other technical skills rather than the other way around.
Of course, these classes, clubs and hybrid degrees have popped up amid the influx of specialized master’s in finance programs that are shorter, cheaper and seemingly as effective at getting students into investment banks. “Future financial professionals are more eager than ever to learn about topics such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and algorithmic trading,” Min said. ““Business schools are under pressure to fill their available seats by offering specialized non-MBA degrees as well as adding technical courses to their MBA curriculum.”
Besides coding, Min said that today’s finance-minded MBA students have an increased desire to understand subjects like stochastic processes, time series analysis, differential equations, data mining, numerical techniques and computer architecture. Business schools that offer this education rise to the top of applicants' target lists,” he said.
Traditional MBA programs may soon become a thing a past…
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