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Opportunities and Challenges Facing Business Schools

Bill Stamats

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Business schools are facing some of the same challenges as higher education institutions overall—a declining number of traditional high school students entering college, surges in specialized skills, and a post-pandemic boom in virtual/remote learning. Rapid automation and increased reliance on technology in the U.S. and the world economy put more pressure on employers and workers to adapt quickly, and this trickles down to business school education curriculum, academic program portfolios, and establishing close relationships with employers to meet those challenges.

Stamats Research Director Nadine Brock examines a few of the driving forces business schools are addressing now.

Program Delivery

Can you do it virtually? Work from home, learn from home, remote is here to stay. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 59% of undergraduate students at four-year degree-granting institutions in the U.S. in the fall of 2021 were enrolled in some distance learning.

Business schools already face strong competition from online universities to enroll non-traditional undergraduate students. Program delivery and faculty attitude towards teaching across all platforms must adapt with consumer demands for convenient learning options to gain enrollment.

Skills needed. How rapid is your short-term business credential development? Is it aligned with employer needs? Is it aligned with your economic region?

“AACSB business schools offering non-degree certificates or diploma programs over the last three years have grown to nearly 50%—a 20% increase over three years.”
–AACSB Microcredential briefing paper, published August 2021

This excludes business-related certificates that third parties offer like Microsoft and Google, which exert pressure on business schools to innovate faster.

While large employers conduct some in-house training for staff, part of this responsibility lies with the employee who is motivated to remain relevant in today’s rapidly changing workplace. Higher education institutions can help fill this gap by offering short-term certificates and more convenient education delivery.

Related reading: Which Programs Should I Develop for Online?

Curriculum Offering

Big Data, AI, cloud computing, and automation are skills in high demand. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023 states that “more than 75% of companies are looking to adopt these technologies in the next five years.” This is already profoundly affecting how business schools approach their regular content and curriculum for human resources, marketing, finance, logistics and supply chain management, and customer service/product development/CX and UX design. All disciplines will include more data analysis than before.

Sustainability and green transitions are appearing in curriculum out of necessity to deal with climate change and create more resilient companies to weather disruptions. Younger consumers also demand more attention to sustainability and environmental causes. Many business schools offer courses or full degrees that address the intersection of sustainability, environment, and business. At the bachelor’s or master’s degree level, the average annual growth rate of degrees completed in Sustainability is in the double digits.* Business schools need to integrate offerings with natural sciences, energy solutions, engineering, and urban planning to meet this economic reality.

Interdisciplinary innovation, such as Business and Healthcare, Medicine, Law, Computer Information Technology, and more, are growth sectors in almost every geographic market in the U.S. As business schools adapt their offerings to market needs, more interdisciplinary approaches are needed across campus. This is where the innovation happens—working with experts in other fields and consulting with employers to develop courses, certificates, and concurrent degrees that meet specific needs. 

Read more: What Certificates Should We Offer


Nontraditional adult student enrollment is predicted to gain traction and offset declines in first-time freshmen. Students entering higher education with non-traditional approaches are disrupting traditional enrollment practices.

“Transactional marketing will be replaced with relational enrollment management. Precision and science will influence how, when, and who engages the inquirer of the future.”
UPCEA The Impact of the New Adult Learner – Trends in Higher Education in 2023,
January 17, 2023

Business schools must adopt digital marketing technologies in their own enrollment practice to compete more effectively with other business programs.

Master’s degrees are one of the fastest-growing award levels in business disciplines. MBAs still capture the largest share of the master’s degree market in business disciplines, but specializations in big data, data science, information technology, finance, and marketing continue to grow. As the economy demands more specialization, business schools are pivoting to customizing programs with specialized areas of study.

International is back! The number of international students enrolled in the U.S. in 2022-2023 has grown by 9% since the 2021-2022 period and 90% of these students are enrolled in on-campus programs. Business disciplines remain one of the top five areas that international students seek in the U.S.** While this may not be the largest part of your enrollment growth plan, it should be considered. STEM-OPT programs in Management Science, Actuarial Science, and Business Statistics qualify for the 24-month STEM optional practical training extension that these international students seek.

DEI—more diverse students, faculty, and leaders in business are needed in gender, racial identity, sexual identity, and neurodivergence. Due to the Supreme Court ruling that ends race-based affirmative action in college admissions, ongoing cultural change at business schools will be necessary to encourage diverse populations to enroll. Business schools must dedicate DEI offices and staff with budgets, revamp curriculum content to be more inclusive, use DEI metrics to measure progress towards initiatives and focus on the people and culture.

Related reading: Maximize Your Enrollment Initiatives with Website Personalization Strategy

We’d love to connect with you to talk about the opportunities and challenges facing your institution.

* Bachelor’s 21.2%; master’s 16.2%; IPEDS Degree Completion data CIP 30.3301 Sustainability, 2017-2021.

** OpenDoorsData.org; November 2022.