THE MBA TRANSFORMATION: Graduate business schools offer tailored programs to counteract declining enrollments.

 
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After a long history of standardized programming, the traditional MBA is getting a makeover.

Driven by competition for a shrinking applicant pool, a demand for flexibility, changing workforce needs and technology that enables different ways to deliver coursework, business schools in North Carolina are looking for opportunities to carve out their niches.

Nationally, enrollment in MBA programs are experiencing a downward trend, according to a 2018 report by the Graduate Management Admission Council, a nonprofit association serving graduate business schools.

"There is a real effort, more than ever before, to meet the student where the student is," says Hope Williams, president of North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities. One way is through online classes, which more than half of the state's 14 private university MBA programs offer.

Queens University in Charlotte, for example, launched a flexible MBA in 2017, giving students a chance to choose between online, face-to-face or combined delivery options. The university also offers five different concentrations and gives MBA candidates the ability to finish the program in 14 or 36 months.

This fall, 36 students will make up Queens' largest class of full-time MBA students since 2011, according to Rick Matthieu, the business school's dean. The college has 182 students enrolled in its fall flexible MBA program.

While a smaller MBA program, Queens is fortunate to operate in one of the nation's hottest business cities, "Our biggest strength and our value proposition lie in our unmatched connections to our business community," Matthieu says. "Last year alone, over 170 business leaders engaged with our students as guest lecturers, case competition judges, executives in residence and as mentors."

The Fuqua School of Business at Duke University serves 850 students, according to Russ Morgan, a marketing professor and senior associate dean. The school, which ranked 10th in U.S. World News & Report's 2020 rankings of best U.S. business schools, offers students formats including online, weekends, full-time and hybrid programs, which combines online and in-person classes.

The Fuqua MBA also offers an international executive program to a worldwide audience with opportunities for collaboration, a critical element in the MBA program. "Through technology, we can provide coursework online and bring people together into a virtual classroom," Morgan says.

The University of North Carolina Wilmington's...

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