MBA – The Mommy M.B.A.: Schools Try to Attract More Women

The Mommy M.B.A.: Schools Try to Attract More Women

Ask any ambitious, young female college student about her plans, and she’ll likely say she’s heading for law or medical school, a great job or perhaps her own business start-up.

What she probably won’t say: She wants to get an M.B.A.

The typical M.B.A. track runs a collision course with many young women’s plans to start a family. Working four to five years after undergraduate school before enrolling, as many schools offering a master’s in business expect, is a bridge too far for many women. The alternative — seeking an M.B.A. at a younger age — means shouldering roughly $80,000 in M.B.A. expenses at a life stage when many are laden with student loans and aren’t making much money. Also, women tend to be more wary of the risk of taking time out for an M.B.A., for fear of hitting a glass ceiling.

Because of these issues, female enrollment in full-time M.B.A. programs has remained mired for years at a dismal 30%, compared with about 49% in medical schools and 47% in law schools.

To break this pattern, graduate business schools are fielding new programs to attract women. They’re launching part-time "morning M.B.A.s," bending the rigid M.B.A. track and recruiting students at younger ages. The new offerings aren’t a good fit for everyone. But the changes are slowly brightening the work-life landscape for aspiring female business leaders.

At least three schools have started part-time "morning M.B.A.s" in the past year, to appeal to at-home mothers, self-employed people or others working odd schedules. (Most part-time M.B.A. programs have only evening or weekend classes.) More than half of the 83 part-time M.B.A. students taking morning classes at DePaul University’s Kellstadt Graduate School, Chicago, are women. The schedule tends to suit multitaskers; Nancy Nguyen, 26 years old, says it enables her to juggle M.B.A. studies with an evening internship, a student-government post and home life with her boyfriend.

The University of Toronto’s Rotman School offers a 7-to-9 a.m. M.B.A. Student Wendy Zhang, 31, says it affords "a great opportunity" to juggle M.B.A. studies with time with her husband and four-year-old son and her job as a senior programmer.

Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School tried a morning M.B.A. last year but put it on hold because of low enrollment. However, extending to seven years the time allowed to finish a part-time M.B.A. has helped to raise female enrollment to 44%, says John Mooney, associate dean.

Web resources to help explore your M.B.A. options:
• Information on accredited programs
• Guide to distance-learning programs
• Information on entrance exams and trends
• Resources for women

Nationally, 37% of students in part-time flexible M.B.A. programs are women, says the Graduate Management Admission Council.

Such flexible programs may seem like just another Mommy Track, M.B.A.-style. But part-time M.B.A.s in general have shed their stigma, headhunters say. A part-time degree from a name-brand school confers as much résumé luster as a full-time M.B.A., provided that the courses, professors’ qualifications and other traits are the same. A part-time M.B.A. falls short as a means of switching careers, however. Full-timers typically get better networking and access to recruiters for leadership-track jobs.

Among full-time programs, the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business is jettisoning the "conveyor-belt model," says deputy dean Stacey Kole, making course work more flexible and allowing students to do the traditional summer internship at other times of the year.

Harvard Business School is snaring recruits earlier, when they are college juniors, to offer them a slot in its M.B.A. program three years later, after they graduate and work for a while. A large share of the 630 first-round applicants to the program, called 2 + 2, are women, says Andrea Kimmel, associate director, M.B.A. admissions. In interviews, she adds, one applicant cited her desire for "a quicker path to leadership" in business so it would be easier to start a family.

The University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Isenberg School has raised its female M.B.A. enrollment above 50%, partly by tapping another powerful incentive — inspiring role models. Amherst stresses networking between students and female executives and faculty, a spokeswoman says. In one student survey, says Rob Franek, a Princeton Review vice president who has studied the program, students said they were "very inspired by other women" grads.

Write to Sue Shellenbarger at [email protected]

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