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What’s Killing U.S. Business Schools? These 4 Charts Help Explain

October 20, 2017, 10:14 PM UTC

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the University of Wisconsin is in the process of reviewing its graduate business degree programs, a process that may result in the discontinuation of its two-year full-time MBA program. (According to the Journal, the business school’s faculty will vote on the decision early next month.)

The Midwestern school’s program may become the latest casualty in a string of closures of MBA programs around the country. The University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business announced in August that it would end its full-time MBA program. In recent years, Wake Forest University, Thunderbird School of Global Management, Virginia Tech, and Simmons College (the country’s only all-female business school) have shuttered their traditional two-year programs.

While it’s true that fewer students are applying to b-school each year, supply and demand is hardly the only factor driving the trend. Here are others to consider.

1. Non-MBA graduate business degrees are proliferating.

As the Journal notes, the University of Wisconsin recently began offering part-time and specialized programs in accounting and finance—programs that are potentially cannibalistic to its MBA program. But the university is catering to students’ increasing interest in more tailored education.

Globally, the percentage of candidates considering only business master’s degrees has increased from 15% in 2009 to 23% in 2016, according to a 2017 report by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), the organization that administers the GMAT, the business school entrance exam. Candidates considering only MBA programs decreased from 52% to 49% over the same period.

2. Fewer international students are opting for American schools.

Meanwhile, the number of international students who want to study in the U.S. is down: 58% in 2016 vs. 61% in 2009, according to GMAC. Potential considerations: the Trump administration’s proposed travel bans and tightened immigration policies as well as the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union. For students in Western Europe, the top preferred locale from business school is now the U.K., rather than the U.S., which was the most preferred option in 2009.

3. Undergraduate student debt is ballooning.

Students’ willingness to take out loans for graduate degrees is also on the decline, and many are still paying off loans from their undergraduate education. Compared to 2009, fewer candidates say they expect to take out loans to cover their education and are instead relying on financial aid in the form of grants, fellowships, and scholarships, as well as parental support.

Student loan debt held by Americans has increased to more than $1.3 trillion dollars this year. A 2014 report from the New American Foundation estimated that 40% of loan debt was held by the 14% of students seeking graduate degrees and the College Board found that graduate students borrow an average of nearly three times more per year than undergraduates.

4. Top business schools are pulling away from the pack.

While applications to business school overall have declined over the past three years, this isn’t necessarily the case across the board. On the contrary, the top-ranked business schools are seeing a massive influx of interest from students. Yale University’s School of Management, for example, has seen a whopping 45% increase in applications since 2013. Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Business has seen a 28% increase, and University of California-Berkeley’s Haas has seen a 20.7% uptick.

In fact, of the top ten business schools in the country—according to U.S. News & World Report—just one, Dartmouth College’s Tuck, has seen a decline (2.6%) in the number of applicants.