Business schools work to diversify applicant pool

Although women have outnumbered men on U.S. college campuses for decades and now account for more than half of the college-educated workforce in the U.S., women and students from minoritized ethnic backgrounds continue to be underrepresented in Executive MBA (EMBA) programs, Financial Times reports. Hoping to diversify the pool of students enrolled in these programs, which typically serve working professionals with college degrees who want to further their careers, institutions are looking for ways to target underrepresented students and make EMBAs more accessible and affordable.

Reflecting labor market disparities

The racial and gender gaps in EMBA admissions tend to reflect, and perpetuate, inequities within the U.S. labor market, experts say. According to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, a business school accreditation body, Black people/African Americans make up 8.5% of EMBA students in the U.S., compared to 12.4% of Americans in 2020 per Census data. Additionally, women made up just over a third of all EMBA degrees. 

Related: McDonough School of Business welcomes increasingly diverse classes >

“When you get to the executive ranks, the composition of the labor market is skewed,” Michael O’Leary, senior associate dean for graduate and executive degree programs at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, tells FT. More women occupy senior roles in the education, non-profit, and public sectors than in traditional EMBA candidate pools like finance and consulting. “There are fewer women and people of color in those ranks [compared with white men] and therefore fewer of them enroll in EMBA programs,” O’Leary explains.

Making EMBA programs more accessible

Business school costs are top barriers for underrepresented students. Compared to just 9% of men, 30% of female MBA applicants in the U.S. cited obtaining funds as their biggest challenge, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council. Women who enroll in EMBA programs part-time are also balancing personal and professional commitments, the combination of which is “the biggest barrier” to an EMBA, O’Leary says.

Georgetown University has made its EMBA program more accessible to students by offering more flexible scheduling, more online classes, and classes that require less travel. In the 2021-22 academic year, the McDonough School of Business reported that the diversity of its incoming class had increased, with women and U.S. underrepresented minorities making up 44% and 40% of the EMBA cohort, respectively.

Other institutions are also working to increase the diversity of the EMBA pool by investing in their career services to help students fulfill career advancement goals. Yael Grushka-Cockayne, senior associate dean for professional degree programs at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business told FT, “I view these activities as directly related to diversity, as it allows various people who couldn’t justify the expense to feel they get the return much quicker.”

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