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Colleges touting outcomes boost MBA programs’ profiles

Why and how to share student success data
University Business, April 2018
BUILDING BUSINESS LEADERS—Impressive facilities can be a key consideration for prospective b-school students. Miller Hall, a $75 million project that is the home of William & Mary’s Mason School of Business, was completed in 2009.
BUILDING BUSINESS LEADERS—Impressive facilities can be a key consideration for prospective b-school students. Miller Hall, a $75 million project that is the home of William & Mary’s Mason School of Business, was completed in 2009.

Editor's Note: This is part 3 of a 3-part series on b-school survival. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

In a competitive landscape, business schools that aren’t in the top tier of MBA rankings must find other ways to differentiate themselves. Many are highlighting student success data and employment outcomes to captivate MBA candidates whose biggest consideration is: What will an MBA do for me?

“That’s exactly the question prospective students ask,” says Ken White, associate dean of MBA & executive programs at William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business. “It’s an academic discipline where salary and job placement are among the very most important components to prospective students.”


Online exclusive: Standardizing MBA student success data


That is why even though the Mason School MBA isn’t a top-ranked program (it’s tied for 57th on the 2018 U.S. News & World Report list), the fact that 98 percent of its graduates had job offers within three months of graduation is an attractive statistic.

And that point could partially explain why last year the program had its largest incoming full-time MBA class in the school’s 51-year history.

Here’s how sharing student success data can help MBA programs attract new students, prove ROI value and connect with the business community:  

1. Students can identify programs that align with career goals.

“We’re seeing business schools doing more to strengthen their clarity of purpose,” says Juliane Iannarelli, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer of AACSB International—The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. This messaging covers outcomes in ways that go beyond starting salary.

A student who is geographically flexible and seeking a position at a top-tier company in a certain discipline, such as consulting, might use outcomes statistics to find a school with a large number of students going into that kind of work, says Megan Hendricks, executive director of the MBA Career Services & Employer Alliance, a global organization for employers and administrators working in graduate business career services.

Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management in Nashville publishes career data on its website and in printed materials to showcase the many opportunities its graduates have, says Christie St-John, director of MBA admissions.

“A candidate may see which functional area or industry our students tend to go into, the geographical location of our graduates post-MBA, and the corresponding salary ranges.”

Vanderbilt’s data reveals a couple of key points: The percentage of students with a job at graduation has been increasing each year and is in the same range as some of the top-ranked schools. Also, graduates are accepting jobs around the country and the world.

“For candidates who may be hesitant to attend a small school in the south, this is very helpful,” says St-John.

Sharing a list of the top companies hiring a school’s MBA graduates can be compelling as well.

“It gives students an idea of who our relationships are with,” says White of William & Mary.  

2. Focusing on outcomes fuels more collaboration.

Vanderbilt does more than post student statistics online. The admissions team works with marketing and communications to sharpen messaging, identify trends to highlight, and develop strategies that attract various demographics, says St-John. The career management office is another close partner.

“We go on treks with students and career staff to visit companies in various cities so that we are aware of the trends in hiring,” she says, adding that career staff will also sit in on admissions meetings—and even give their point of view on some of the more difficult decisions.

Likewise, adding more resources and personnel (along with a revamped curriculum) to its results-driven Graduate Career Management Center played a key role in improving enrollment at William & Mary’s business school, says White.

“Students want to know they will have great support in terms of meeting employers and getting interviews.”  

3. A commitment to student success fosters stronger business community ties.

The greater focus on outcomes (as opposed to just what the programs themselves are about) has resulted in working more closely with the corporate sector. “Schools are wanting to operate more in partnership with businesses as opposed to being just a supplier in a pipeline,” says Iannarelli.

Administrators use feedback from businesses to develop relevant educational programming that yields better outcomes for students while also preparing them to be more impactful employees.

By shining the spotlight on student success, smaller and lesser-known business schools can focus on more meaningful statistics.

“Frankly, focusing on rankings, which currently give a huge weight to average GMAT scores, is not the best way to determine the quality of a program,” says St-John. “The real question should be: Are the students getting the jobs they want when they graduate?”