Simon’s STEM advantage

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In the face of declining enrollment, digital disruption, and current and impending changes to immigration policies, business schools nationwide have had no choice but to be creative. The Simon Business School’s idea has taken it center stage.

The newly revamped MBA curriculum at the University of Rochester graduate business school, the first in the nation to offer a science, technology, engineering and math designation in every area of specialization, has been named Program of the Year for 2018 by Poets & Quants, an online news source that covers the graduate business education market. It is only the second U.S. school to gain this recognition. Cornell University’s Cornell Tech MBA in New York City is the other.

“The smart move by Simon puts the school in a stronger position to recruit and gain the best candidates from outside the U.S.,” writes Poets & Quants.

Simon’s program earned the designation last summer. The school had to demonstrate its curriculum met the guidelines set by the state Education Department, which include a requirement that half of a program’s credit hours be in applications using STEM. Since Simon has historically used analytics to research and teach finance, accounting, operations, marketing and other aspects of business learning, the designation made sense, officials say.

“Businesses need people who do technology, and they need people who can manage people who do technology. And that’s what our MBA is offering. It really is the future of education, and Simon is leading it,” says Gregory Bauer, dean of full-time programs at Simon and the Rajesh Wadhawan Professor.

The STEM designation originally was developed to help employers deal with the shortage of qualified workers. Reports suggest the acronym initially surfaced as SMET, used by National Science Foundation officials in the early 2000s. A few years later “STEM” gained traction, with Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and state government officials across the country, highlighting the need for integrated STEM education. Last November, the U.S. Department of Education said it has assigned $279 million in STEM discretionary grant funds in fiscal year 2018.

The Rochester area is a leader in STEM education, ranking No. 1 in undergraduate and graduate degree recipients nationwide.

Along with being cutting edge and in line with national priorities, the Simon’s STEM designation makes the school more attractive to applicants near and far.

“STEM reinforces the fact that we provide our students with an analytical degree that they can use to help manage people,” Bauer says. “The hallmark of the Simon MBA is that students get both an understanding of the analytic tools they need, as well as the ability to lead globally diverse and inclusive teams. It gives them a huge competitive advantage in the job market. All of our students—domestic and foreign—will be able to tell employers, ‘I have a STEM degree, and therefore I have an understanding of the tools, applications, and techniques that you want your employees to have.’”

Adds Simon Dean Andrew Ainslie: “Along with benefiting our students, these moves will give Simon a real competitive advantage, because we are the only true STEM business school.”

Overall, demand for graduate management education worldwide was stable in 2018, according to findings of the annual Application Trends Survey from the Graduate Management Admission Council. However, applications to business school programs in the Asia-Pacific, European and Canadian markets increased while U.S. programs reported a drop in volume. The United States experienced a nearly 7 percent decline, including a 1.8 percent decline in domestic application volume and a 10.5 percent drop in international volume across all program types.

“Several factors can help explain the lag in U.S. business school demand,” says Sangeet Chowfla, GMAC president and CEO. “A low unemployment rate means young professionals have an increased opportunity cost of leaving their jobs in pursuit of an advanced degree.

“Combined with a disruptive American political environment and the emergence over the past decade of tremendous educational and professional opportunities abroad, one can begin to understand in part why demand in the United States has dropped from previously record-high application volumes at some schools.”

Though changes to immigration policies have impacted the flow of prospective students to the U.S., UR has managed to hold its own and report growth. The university’s international student enrollment has increased 36 percent since 2015. Adding a STEM designation to its MBA program could make it even more favorable for foreign students, who tend to apply in greater numbers to such programs.

STEM-designated educational programs make it possible for international graduates to work in the U.S. longer than the one-year limit for non-STEM graduates, if they choose to make use of the Optional Practical Training program. OPT lets recent international graduates apply their learning in the real world, before they decide to apply for a work visa or head back to their home countries.

“If students are using the STEM designation to stay in the U.S. longer, they’ll be applying the tools we give them to help American employers,” Bauer says.

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