Despite a massive downturn that plagued the United States and global economy through 2008, job numbers in business and economic sectors are on the road to recovery. Along with job figures, the numbers of those who pursue postsecondary education in business, such as an MBA, are climbing. In fact, postsecondary education in business enrollment did not suffer due to the economy. According to the National Center for Education Statistics website, there were 155,637 master’s degrees in some form of business discipline awarded in the 2007-2008 academic year. That number grew by more than 5,000 degrees from the 2006-2007. Overall, the number of graduates in college business programs has risen by more than 53,000 since 1998. Interest in MBA programs can also be gauged by the amount of Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAT) exam participants. The amount of test takers grew to record highs in 2008-2009 at 265,613 and stayed above the 263,000 mark in 2009-2010 as well. After a strong turnout of 244,655 test takers in 2001-2002, numbers dropped sharply through 2007, hovering around 200,000 each year before rebounding in 2007-08. The GMAT also points out that approximately 21% of test takers each year are repeat testers.
With the increasing number of business and management occupations in the United States, the number of MBA participants is likely to increase over the next decade as well. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), careers in management is expected to increase by 11%, with approximately 454,300 jobs open by 2018. Careers in similar field likes like business and finance are expected to grow by 18%, adding in approximately 1.2 million new jobs over the same time period.
According to the BLS, these new jobs will be as a result of increasing financial regulations and the need for greater accountability for accountants and auditors, adding roughly 279,400 jobs into the market through 2018. Additionally, as business trends continue to shift to an increasingly competitive and global scale, there will be a significant spike in management analysts, which is expected to add more than 178,300 jobs by 2018. Together, these two occupations will account for 38% of the growth in the field through 2018, which should continue to drive the demand for MBAs.
Pursuing an MBA is a major commitment that takes a great deal of planning, budgeting and sacrifice to complete. However, despite the best laid plans, problems still arise and occasionally, there are those who need to step away from their MBA program. Surprisingly, data reveals that in most cases, MBA students who have to discontinue their education do return to complete their education in the future. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, officials at most business schools usually see a couple of students per year who must put their MBAs on hold. Most are only away for a semester or quarter before returning, and very few leave their programs for good. Administrators note that each has their own personal story for leaving, whether it is due to family responsibility or personal issues, and that none take the decision lightly. In most cases a school will allow a student to take a temporary leave during the program if they have completed their basic courses and had a lengthy discussion with program administrators. Oddly enough, those who do drop out of MBA programs permanently are typically students who are offered a job that they view is a once in a lifetime opportunity, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
While business school administrators initially worried that the worsening economy would have students leaving their MBAs in pursuit of job opportunities or startups in droves, this has not been the case. The last time there was a significant spike in MBA dropouts was during the dot-com boom of the 1990s, but even then, numbers of those leaving MBA programs were small. University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School director Michael Stepanek noted that only 11 students have left his program from 2004-2009, including those who became ineligible because of poor grades. For the most part, most advisors and administrators would look at a job opportunity that arises during an MBA as a good thing. While most will never experience the extraordinary levels of success of famed dropout Steve Ballmer, who left Stanford to join Bill Gates at Microsoft, worthwhile opportunities do exist. Bloomberg Businessweek illustrates how one of Stepanek’s 11 dropouts, Tristan Handy, left Kenan-Flagler after only one year of study to pursue an opportunity as the director of operations for online publishing startup Squarespace.com. The company has grown from $270,000 in profit in 2005 to $2.2 million in 2008. But interestingly enough, similar to Ballmer, it was a college friend who invited him to join the company.