Hybrid learning, AI are vital to prospective MBA students

Hybrid learning, AI are vital to prospective MBA students

BestColleges reports that artificial intelligence and hybrid learning are high on the list for MBA students.


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Artificial intelligence (AI) is again at the top of prospective students' lists for the most important topics in their master of business administration (MBA) curriculum, according to a new report.

A growing number of business schools are embracing artificial intelligence in their MBA curriculum. That all-in attitude toward AI reflects strong interest from prospective students, according to the 2024 Tomorrow's MBA report from the United Kingdom-based consulting firm CarringtonCrisp.

Most prospective MBA students — 53% — selected AI as an important topic to be covered in their business curriculum.

Other important topics, chosen by between 41% and 48% of respondents, were also tech-related: Technology management, data analytics and decision-making, digital transformation, information management, digital marketing, and e-commerce all made prospective students' top interest list behind AI.

AI also took the top spot in 2023, BestColleges previously reported.

The Tomorrow's MBA report includes a global lens of prospective students: 2,263 people from 32 countries responded to the study. Most of those respondents were between the ages of 26 and 40. Roughly 52% were male, and 48% were female.

That diverse group of respondents overwhelmingly embraced AI. Many said they would use AI to help them create a strong MBA application. But nearly three-quarters of prospective students said AI can't replace "the creativity required in good quality instructional design," according to the report.

"Schools are aware that this is happening," CarringtonCrisp co-founder Andrew Crisp told BestColleges in an interview. "They don't want wholesale lifting of content from one of these providers, but they recognize it's being used. So it's a question of embracing it and creating an environment where it's used positively to enhance the experience of studying for an MBA."

Hybrid Learning in High Demand

Prospective students largely want to study for their MBA full time. Nearly three-quarters of students said they want to study full time — but few want entirely in-person learning.

Students want "the best of both worlds," Crisp said.

"People want the flexibility that online study provides them whether that's synchronous or asynchronous, and they want the face-to-face to give them the experience, and to give them the networking more than anything else," Crisp said.

A growing number of MBA programs are embracing hybrid options for students, with an emphasis on flexibility for working students.

Students Embrace Ethics, Inclusion 

Diversity, inclusion, and ethics were also important topics for prospective students — mirroring the 2024 Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) Prospective Students Survey.

Around 82% of respondents in the Tomorrow's MBA report said they were interested in embedded diversity, equity, and inclusion content within an MBA program. Students were also similarly interested in responsible management, ethical leadership, and global challenges.

CarringtonCrisp introduced questions on those topics a few years ago, and Crisp said the percentages have gone up slightly every year since they were introduced.

"There is an element of employer demand here," Crisp said. "Employers are reacting to these issues in society and say: 'If we're going to maintain the strong customer relationships we have, we have to understand our customers and where they are and the issues that are important to them. And, therefore, we need people who can come into our business with an understanding of these issues.'"

Climate change was in students' top 10 interests in last year's Tomorrow's MBA survey, but it fell to the 26th spot this year. A variety of factors contributed to that change: CarringtonCrisp also introduced "sustainability" as an interest, which ranked as 15th most important. Climate change was also top of mind for students in last year's report, given the U.N. Climate Change Summit, also known as COP27, was about to take place when survey data was collected for that report.

MBA Students Consider Alternatives

A growing number of business schools are embracing stackable, nondegree credentials in their curriculum — and those short-term, skill-building alternatives are popular with prospective students.

Prospective students indicated they would consider a number of alternatives to an MBA, with professional certifications being the most popular. Other master's programs, certificates and diplomas, and continuing professional development were among the other popular alternatives.

Respondents were also highly familiar with mini MBAs. Those short-term, abbreviated programs cover many of the same skills as an MBA in an accelerated format.

This story was produced by BestColleges and reviewed and distributed by Stacker Media.

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