Knowledge is good

Ten days after the University of Richmond set the date for the first information session about next fall’s MBA program, the 40 available seats were already reserved.

The rapid response at UR led the university’s Robin School of Business to schedule a second session for January. That session, announced two weeks ago, is full, according to Richard Coughlan, senior associate dean of graduate and executive programs.

“We will probably open a third one in February,” Coughlan said.

As the unemployment rate creeps higher every month and economic uncertainty looms, interest in graduate MBA programs here and across the country is increasing. Raises might be fewer and farther between in the coming years, so even those who aren’t getting laid off are investigating contingency plans. Coughlan says UR’s ranking as one of the top part-time MBA programs by Business Week is driving interest, but so is a more pressing desire to change careers and a growing need to enhance qualifications.

“As firms enter new markets, as they find themselves in increasingly competitive environments, the kind of skills and knowledge that a good MBA program can provide will continue to be in demand,” Coughlan said. Many of those signed up for the information sessions work for the area’s large employers, says Coughlan, noting Meadwestvaco, Genworth Financial, Bon Secours, SunTrust, Target Stores and the Federal Reserve.

In previous years, students going into the program had four to five years of work experience, but Coughlan now sees most entrants have seven to eight years of experience behind them.

“They hit a level in the organization where they have found most of the opportunity up above them will require an MBA, or the MBA will provide them with a significant advantage,” Coughlan said.

Although it is too early to tell how many applications the school will receive, Coughlan gets daily numbers on GMAT cores submitted to the school by prospective students, and they’re up 12 to15 percent compared with last year. Average scores are also higher, up 40 points from four years ago, making entry into the program more competitive.

Meanwhile at VCU, attendance at the first round of information sessions for the Fast Track Executive MBA is at a record high, according to Stacey Friedl, assistant director of the program. “Typically when the market goes down, job situations become more tenuous, people look to education as a way to differentiate themselves and increase their skill set,” Friedl said.

Friedl says she has already begun to receive applications for next August.

“We always have a couple that are early, but overall interest seems to be higher this year,” she said.

VCU’s Fast Track program is designed for students with an undergraduate degree who have at least six years of professional working experience. VCU offers a traditional MBA program for recent undergrads, and applications are expected to increase as well, according to Jana McQuaid, director of graduate studies.

McQuaid says applications for the current semester were flat, but enrollment was up 12 percent compared with last year. She says students are enrolling in larger numbers because they see more and more jobs require a master’s degree.

Attendance at informational meetings for the MBA program at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia is also up, according to their admissions director Sarah Neher.

More Reading:
Escape Route: Seeking Refuge in an M.B.A. Program

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