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Demand for MBA degrees declines nationwide

Navigating a tough economy has forced workers in the business world to delay a once common long-term investment — heading back to school.

Demand for traditional two-year masters in business administration (MBA) programs has been largely on the decline nationally, according to the 2012 Application Trends Survey conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council.

At UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, admissions to its full-time MBA program have fallen by 8.5 percent this year. This trend reflects several years of declining applications nationwide.

The decline in applications is widely attributed to concern about the highly competitive, unstable job market.

Some students, such as 2011 Kenan-Flagler graduate Elizabeth Ann Ashley, have concerns about falling behind in the job market by taking time off to get a postgraduate degree.

Bob Moffat, senior channel marketing manager at Rubbermaid and an evening MBA student at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, said a job isn’t guaranteed in today’s business world.

“It’s a competitive job market — less hiring is taking place,” Moffat said. “It’s truly not a short-term game.”

Amy Wittmayer, director of the MBA Career Management Center at Kenan-Flagler, said the economic climate has made the job search for MBA graduates more challenging.

“Challenges remain in the broader employment arena, where newly minted MBAs are competing with the larger labor pool of experienced workers,” she said in an email.

Sherry Wallace, director of MBA admissions at Kenan-Flagler, said in an email that the quality of admitted applicants hasn’t decreased, and the school is working to meet the challenges of a smaller applicant pool.

“We have added more recruiting events within the United States to attract more domestic candidates,” Wallace said. “We have increased the number of receptions we host that bring together alumni with prospective applicants.”

Despite the nationally declining number of full-time MBA program applicants, the business world still views the degree as an important tool for career advancement.

Ashley, who works as a sales representative at Newell Rubbermaid, is considering seeking an MBA.

“Eventually, but not with my current job,” she said. “I feel like a lot of the people I work with have gone back a little later in their career.”

She said the potential payoff of getting an MBA would be worth the risk: “There’s a lot of opportunities to move further in a career with an MBA.”

Moffat, a 2005 UNC political science graduate, said an MBA represents a long-term commitment.

“Those who are going back (to school) and seeking an MBA are saying that they believe in investing in themselves and in their long-term growth,” Moffat said.

“It comes down to if they have belief in themselves — investing in their personal brand, so to speak. If not, then it’s obviously not worth the dedication, time and financial sacrifice.”

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