M.B.A. Programs Rush to Add STEM Degrees

M.B.A. Programs Rush to Add STEM Degrees

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Business schools are racing to add concentrations in science, technology, engineering and math to their M.B.A. programs as they try to broaden their appeal to prospective students overseas who want to work in the U.S.

Several schools, including Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, have unveiled STEM-designated master’s in business degrees in recent months. The University of California Berkeley’s Haas School of Business recently reclassified its entire M.B.A. program as STEM.

A STEM degree or concentration in a field such as data analytics or management science can be particularly appealing to international students, especially those with visa worries. The designation allows foreign graduates of U.S. universities to apply for a work-authorization program that can extend their stay in the country by two additional years versus a more traditional business degree.

“If I’m an international student, going to a school that will give me the extra years would be a big deal,” said

Georgette Phillips,

dean of Lehigh University’s College of Business. The school unveiled a 15-credit, STEM-designated business-analytics concentration for its M.B.A. program in December.

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STEM-certified tracks for M.B.A. programs are a potential recruiting tool for business schools trying to halt the decline in international-student applicants, a demographic that accounted for nearly 40% of all applicants to U.S. business schools in 2019, according to data from the nonprofit Graduate Management Admission Council.

About one-quarter of the roughly 800 U.S. business-school programs tracked by GMAC in 2019 reported themselves as STEM-certified. Last year those programs were more likely to have expanded their pool of international applicants, with 43% of STEM-certified programs reporting more foreign applications than the prior year, compared with 26% of non-STEM business programs.

Universities have been struggling to attract international students amid changes to immigration policies and political tensions between the U.S. and China. International applications to U.S. business schools fell 14% this past year, according to GMAC.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security outlines which fields can be designated as STEM-related, potentially earning the graduate the additional two years of U.S. employment eligibility. In 2019 there was a 12% increase over 2017 in the number of schools with authorized students who qualify for the extra time in master’s-degree programs in business statistics or management science, two of the more popular STEM degrees at business schools, according to data from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Beginning in 2016, STEM students were allowed to extend their stay through a federal program as another way for employers to find highly skilled technical workers in a tight labor market.

Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management began offering a STEM-designated M.B.A. degree option in four specialized areas in the fall as a way to recruit top international students and help them stand out against other M.B.A. graduates, said

Michelle Hadley,

associate director of M.B.A. recruiting for Purdue.

“We wanted to provide our international students ways to differentiate themselves in a landscape when it’s more and more challenging for domestic businesses to hire international students,” she said.

In January, North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School started offering new STEM concentrations in business analytics and management science as part of its full-time M.B.A.

Bradley Staats,

associate dean of UNC Kenan-Flagler’s M.B.A. programs, said STEM-certified degree options are something overseas students have come to expect.

“There are a bunch of schools that think it will stem the decline in international students,” Mr. Staats said. “I think the macro issues are a little bigger than that, but it can’t hurt and hopefully it helps.”

Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management added a STEM major in management science to its M.B.A. curriculum in November. “We’re looking at trying to make our programs stronger and make it attractive to all types of students,” said

Mike Mazzeo,

senior associate dean for curriculum and teaching at the school.

Specialized master’s degrees in STEM-related fields such as data analytics have become a trendy addition to business schools as companies increasingly want employees they consider quantitatively nimble, meaning they can sift through vast amounts of information and synthesize it to help solve business problems or strategize.

Peter Johnson,

assistant dean at the Haas School of Business at Berkeley, said the new STEM designation for its M.B.A. reflects the quantitative focus of the school’s curriculum. Since December, Mr. Johnson said he has received at least a dozen phone calls from other deans asking how the school obtained the designation and expressing an interest in making similar changes.

Richa Goyat had been working as a consultant in her home country of India but wanted to be closer to her husband in Chicago, so in 2018 she decided to get an M.B.A. at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. She plans to graduate this spring and expects her STEM degree will let her stay in the U.S. longer, giving her more tries at a coveted H-1B work visa. But when Ms. Goyat enrolled, Booth didn’t have a STEM-designated M.B.A. program, so she began lobbying school administrators.

“When I joined Booth, no one was talking about it,” Ms. Goyat said. “Once people understood what it means for international students, I think they got it.”

In September, the school announced its business-analytics and analytic-finance M.B.A.s were officially STEM-certified.

Lisa Messaglia,

associate dean for faculty and academic services at Booth, said the designations had been on the school’s radar, but Ms. Goyat was the catalyst who made it happen.

“In today’s political landscape where our immigration policy is messy, this is just one more element that gives them security in the job market,” Ms. Messaglia said of international students.

Write to Patrick Thomas at Patrick.Thomas@wsj.com

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