Before I left Graduate Management Education (GME) earlier this year, I started tracking how many vendors would contact me on a weekly basis. It was between 7 – 10 per week, and other than clogging my voicemail to make it nearly impossible for students to leave me messages, my biggest frustration was how little they actually knew about GME. GME is different. It just is. We aren’t the same as other graduate programs or our undergraduate business school colleagues. Some of what makes us unique has been around for decades, while others are more recent trends that need our attention.

Business school classroom

This begs the question: how will your school handle the challenges ahead? Let’s take a look at some recent developments in the GME space.

OPMs and Enrollment Partners Are Here to Stay: Or, Aren’t They?

The “if you build it, they will come” days are no longer a reality for most b-schools. Online Program Management companies (OPMs) and other Enrollment Partners realize this and have crafted a compelling value proposition. At first, the pitch was getting programs online and providing an infrastructure to do so. That aspect of their business still exists today, but as more schools create their own online expertise, the value proposition has adjusted. Now, it’s something along the lines of “we’re better at marketing and recruitment than you are.” While they may be right, that’s a tough pill to swallow for most people — at least it would have been for me. This isn’t a judgement on the OPM space, it’s just me reinforcing that they’re meeting a market need. The real question is, could you develop that same expertise internally, and if so, what’s stopping you from starting today?

Competing With the Rise of International Business Schools

Wait, international enrollment in MBA and MS programs are down? Who knew?! All joking aside, we know the challenges of recruiting internationally are real right now, but there’s one part of the equation that we’re not talking about — the rise of international b-schools. The international student “crisis” is much more than rhetoric and H1B visas (although that plays a big part). The quality and reputation of schools outside of the U.S. have increased in the last decade making it a more difficult decision for international students to leave “home.” And, even if a student is committed to joining a b-school outside of their home country, the U.S. is not necessarily their preferred destination today. As GMAC mentioned in their 2018 annual report, 65% of Canadian b-schools received more international applications than last year compared to only 28% in the United States.

So, what can we do? If someone tells you they have a one-stop solution, I have a bridge to sell you.

Is it more international travel? Maybe. GMAC’s recent acquisition of The MBA Tour could allow for better data integration, and we may see that tour model shift to better serve the market. I once stood in front of a GMAC session and said that our school yielded one student from our international travel expenditure — have you measured your ROI against the opportunity cost? And, if you do travel abroad extensively, what is the outreach and marketing plan for the trip before, during, and after?

Could part of the solution be better content around what makes your school unique from a global perspective? Or, perhaps it’s more meaningful and personalized outreach to international students? Well, it wouldn’t hurt to spend time mapping out what an international student’s journey looks like within your funnel. Needless to say, this is not a problem that’s going away, and it will take a multi-faceted approach to solve. How is your campus technology solution helping mitigate this external force?

Responsibility Center Management (RCM) Models Change the Campus Dynamic

Headlines like “Business Schools Have No Business in the University” or “Why We Should Bulldoze the Business School” showed me a side of higher ed that I didn’t know prior to working at a business school — the rest of the university doesn’t like you very much. B-Schools tend to create their own mini ecosystem, and with Business Management being one of the (if not the) most popular undergraduate majors, the resulting revenue generated creates tension. Add a strong MBA and MS portfolio, and the revenue increases even more, alongside the tension.

This is especially true in schools using a Responsibility Center Management (RCM) model. With RCM, units are responsible for managing their own revenue and expenses, and while countless articles have been written on the benefits and drawbacks of this model, schools operating within this type of system no doubt feel the additional enrollment pressure. That enrollment pressure, combined with revenue considerations at the departmental level and market interest in more specialized degrees, can create a crowded portfolio of programs (and has, in my direct experience). Students have a fuller menu of options to choose from at the expense of admissions staff’s time spent explaining seemingly nuanced differences between Specialized Masters programs. Day-to-day, this means students are applying to multiple programs and requesting information dozens of times — creating a real headache for the admissions team. How are you currently handling all of the internal pressures of enrollment management?


Looking Ahead: Where Do We Go From Here?

As we face these challenges, I’d like to suggest a few ways we can move forward:

1. Stay connected: It’s important for us to stay updated on the latest happenings in our industry. I made it a personal goal to attend at least three vendor or association webinars/events per month to make sure I was learning about what was happening outside of my bubble. Even more powerful are the connections with your peers — I think this is one of the best parts about GME. Call your colleague at another school and see if they’d be open to a phone call or grabbing a cup of coffee to talk through a challenge. Chances are they’ll say yes, and even if you don’t come away with a solution, it’s good to know you aren’t the only one struggling with a particular issue.

2. Look outside of higher education: We wrote about this recently in The EDUpreneur’s Guide to Higher Ed Innovation — think about your day-to-day interactions with brands and ask yourself how your school stacks up against user experience standards outside higher ed/GME. For example, last week I booked a dinner reservation for a special night out with my wife using OpenTable. It took about 10 seconds and I was able to add it to my calendar, get an automatic reminder, and (somewhat smugly) bypass everyone waiting 45 minutes for a table.

Now, think of a prospective student who wants to set up an introductory phone call to talk through which Specialized Masters program is best for them. Are you crafting a memorable student experience that shows how much you care about a prospect’s interest in your school? It’s worth the time to secret shop your school. Have a student worker call your general admissions phone number or fill out a request for information form to see what the experience is like. Better yet, do it yourself — you might be surprised what happens (or doesn’t happen).

3. Encourage your colleagues: Whether you’re running an enrollment team or an independent contributor, you aren’t facing these challenges alone. Encourage your teammates to think outside of the box and attend professional development opportunities. One of the benefits of working at a b-school are all the incredible speakers and resources within the four walls of your institution (and online!). When was the last time you took advantage of the business experts who are presenting to your MBAs right now?

All in all, one of my favorite parts of working within GME is the collegiality between schools and how open schools are with one another. What got me most energized and excited was talking to my colleagues about how they were tackling these challenges (and many others). So, if you ever want to chat, as my former team will tell you, I’m always up for a cup of coffee. You can always find time on my calendar here.

William Rieth, Account Executive at TargetX