By Marco De Novellis

MBA North America,  June 12, 2017 —

US business schools are ramping up efforts to boost numbers of women on MBA programs.

According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), 75% of full-time, two-year MBA programs with 120 students or more reported a growth in applications from women in 2016. The majority of full-time, two-year MBA programs are based in the US.

At Temple University’s Fox School of Business, 55% of MBA students are women. At the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business, 52%.*

Yet women are still under-represented on most full-time MBA programs. And just 37% of all full-time, two-year MBA program applicants in 2016 were women.

Just 37% of full-time, two-year MBA program applicants in 2016 were women. US business schools are leading the charge for change. (©monkeybusinessimages)

Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management has experienced percentages of women on its full-time MBA program more typical of US business schools across the board – increasing slowly but steadily from 30% for 2014’s intake, to 32% for 2015, and 39% for 2016.

Shri Ramakrishnan, assistant director of graduate recruitment at Whitman, recalls that when meeting with prospective students at MBA events, she sees equal numbers of men and women.

But after that, something happens. Female candidates stall and don’t submit their applications. Women are falling off the applicant funnel.

Solving the funding problem

Why? One reason might be the cost of an MBA. Whitman’s full-time MBA costs $78,000 for two years of tuition. Some US-based MBA programs can cost upwards of $100,000.

In March this year, GMAC released an International Women’s Day white paper based on a survey of 5,900 business school applicants.

38% of female survey respondents in the US cited financial reasons as the key reason why they had not yet accepted their admissions offer to business school, compared with 20% of male respondents.

Arizona State University’s WP Carey School of Business is tackling the MBA funding problem head-on. In 2016, it launched its new Forward Focus MBA, with the university covering the entirety of all incoming MBA students’ tuition.

Applications sky-rocketed from around 500 in 2015 to 1,159 in 2016. As well as boosting numbers of international MBA applicants, WP Carey increased its female MBA population from a plateau of 30% to 43% in 2016.

For the duration of the two-year MBA program, WP Carey students give back to the school by working on research projects, new infrastructure, or running student clubs.

“The idea is that we’re investing in our students,” says Pam Delany, the school’s director of graduate admission and recruitment. “With the scholarship that we offer we’re able to open our doors to people who may not have ever considered applying to a full-time MBA because of the cost.”

At WP Carey, the drive to open up more opportunities for women in business comes right from the top. The school’s dean, Amy Hillman, is one of the few female business school deans in the US. The school’s senior leadership team is also predominantly female.

“Our students come and they see female leadership in action – that helps set the tone,” Pam explains. “Our women MBAs are supported to go to leadership conferences. We have an active women in business club. All our full-time MBAs have executive coaches.

“We can’t just attract women and admit them; we have to provide them with the resources while they’re here. Male or female, we have to provide MBA students with an experience that allows them to explore who they are as future leaders.”