For more than a century, the star of US business education has been the MBA. Though it has gone global, the degree, established by Harvard Business School in Boston in 1908 and long a passport to the boardrooms of the biggest US companies, is most strongly established in the country.
Could another degree now steal the show? The Master in Management (MiM), better known in Europe, is growing in popularity in the US, where demand for the traditional, two-year MBA has been falling for the past few years, according to exam administrator GMAC.
In recent years several top US business schools which run highly successful MBAs have established MiMs. The options for students are now abundant: Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, MIT Sloan School of Management and the Mendoza College of Business all run MiMs in the US.
Two-thirds of respondents to a survey by the consultancy CarringtonCrisp last year said they were applying to MiM courses instead of MBAs, with 47 percent of these people saying an MiM is considered just as valuable to an employer as an MBA. This suggests that there is much demand for the courses.
But US business schools have not experienced the expediential growth of MiM applications like their peer schools in Europe, according to GMAC, where the degree is better known and accepted by recruiters. At the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, applications rose by just 14 between 2013 and 2017, to 132. Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business had 769 applications for the 2013 graduating class and slightly fewer — 762 — for the 2017 class.
In comparison, over the past five years Fuqua has averaged around 3,600 applications to its full-time MBA, though it has a far larger class size than the MiM.
[See all Master in Management Programs in the USA]
One reason for the subdued growth in MiM applications could be that US business schools have had to work hard to convince American employers of the value of the MiM, which traces its roots to the French Grandes Écoles.
US employers have gone through a “major learning process”, according to Stephen Taylor, assistant dean of graduate programs at the Carey school. “US employers are still learning what the MiM degree is and what kinds of skills students have,” he says.
“In the US, we have operated on a continuum of MBA versus MS degrees as a proxy for the talent seekers of generalists or specialists, respectively,” says Taylor. “Introducing the MiM degree caused some hesitation because it doesn’t fit neatly into that continuum; MiM graduates are generalists, but they also have an area of expertise coming from a non-business related undergraduate degree.”
Nevertheless, Justin Rice, associate director of career coaching, at University of Michigan Ross School of Business, says that US recruiters are now more accepting of the MiM than they have been in the past, particularly with big brand schools that already have relationships with employers. Michigan Ross established its Master of Management program in 2013.
“We have had time to introduce graduates into the market and for them to demonstrate their competence and validate the Fuqua degree,” says Russ Morgan, senior associate dean for full-time programs at Duke Fuqua, whose MiM launched in 2009.
“For recruiters, that personal experience with our graduates has led to recruiters returning to campus and hiring an increasing number of graduates each year.”
The figures bear him out. Some 85 percent of students in the graduating class of 2017 were employed six months after graduation. The top three industries were consulting (27 percent of graduates), finance (22 percent), and technology (13 percent), with students working with companies including McKinsey & Company, Deloitte, IBM, Citi and Oracle.
Strong employment prospects are one reason for the growth of MiM degrees in the US — another is that they cover similar ground to the MBA but are much shorter and cheaper. “The compressed time commitment and relative cost are extremely attractive to students, and help explain MM application growth rates,” says Mark Garrett, MiM managing director at Michigan Ross.
“The MM is a fast track to rewarding careers in business,” he adds. The school’s 10-month course costs substantially less than the school’s two-year, full-time MBA program.
The launch of Master in Management degrees by US schools may also be having a “domino” effect on peer institutions. “That has enhanced the awareness of the MiM degree,” says Morgan, at Duke Fuqua. “Many schools have a better understanding of the population seeking these degrees and the value proposition relative to an MBA that they may not have had a decade ago.”
While application numbers have not rocketed, the composition of the US MiM cohorts has changed in recent years. They once relied heavily on applications from their undergraduate students, but the classes are now more diverse — and in more ways than one.
“Our first class of students who graduated in 2011 was predominantly Duke graduates, but since that time we have had great diversity in the undergraduate schools represented by our students,” says Morgan. Today about 15 percent of the class are Duke alumni, and on average over the last five years, there has been close to an even split of domestic US students (52 percent) and international students (48 percent).
But the closeness in age of MiM and undergraduate alumni — typically MiM students go straight to business school from their bachelor’s course — means that they are often competing for the same jobs. Is the MiM truly worth the additional cost?
“Our MiM students are candidates for similar roles as undergraduate business students,” says Garrett at Michigan Ross. But he adds: “The understanding with students and employers is that MiM [graduates] will start their careers with sophisticated entry-level positions and then utilize their unique skill sets to rapidly progress in their company.”
Professor Rex Kovacevich at the USC Marshall School of Business, which runs a Master of Management Studies program, says that master’s “graduates are able to further polish their résumé and compete for jobs that had usually gone to the very best undergraduates”.
Another potential roadblock on the road to growth is the negative immigration rhetoric of the Donald Trump administration, which has already had an impact on US MBA application numbers from international students.
“MiMs programs are also affected by perceptions of how welcome the United States is to international students considering a graduate degree here, as well as what employment prospects look like upon graduation,” says Duke Fuqua’s Morgan.
However, US business schools are bullish on the future growth of the MiM in the country. Michigan Ross’s Garrett believes that with improving job prospects and an increasingly international cohort, they will “continue to grow in popularity, acceptance and understanding”.
“While not a replacement for the MBA, the [Master of Management] is a great choice for a large number of future business professionals, and more schools will continue to capitalize on this demand,” he says.
The Carey school’s Taylor says that the MiM is counter-cyclic with economic cycles. “The MiM is a great option for recent undergraduates that want to wait out a ‘down’ economic cycle, but can also provide a defining edge in the job market when the economy is strong.”