The Diminishing Employer Demand for the Traditional MBA

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In a recent survey of 500 employers, 77% said that universities needed to reinvent the MBA. 

What’s wrong with the foundational degree of business schools? And what would it look like if we did reinvent it?

Andrew Crisp, Co-Founder at CarringtonCrisp, joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to discuss their recent study, The Future of Lifelong and Executive Education, and the reinvention of the traditional MBA that employers are demanding.

Future of Lifelong and Executive Education

People are staying in the workforce longer.  Extended years require regular re-skilling and upskilling. 

As a result, established employees need what higher education has on offer.


According to CarringtonCrisp’s study, business educators are not providing the marketplace with the executive education and lifelong learning resources employers expect. At least, not at the MBA level. 

In cooperation with LinkedIn, CarringtonCrisp surveyed about 2,500 individual learners and 500 employers from around the world about how the market for executive education is evolving. 

The results homed on a single disheartening fact: 

The MBA is broken.

What’s driving the call for change to the MBA?

The MBA has become a brand, but brands change. 

Look at the automobile market for a real-world example. You have Mercedes and Jaguar, established luxury brands. But now, those cars are also available as fully electric vehicles. Times changed; they changed.

In the same way, the MBA brand needs to transform itself.

For employers, two factors are driving this argument.

  • The skills they need in their businesses
  • What their customers are saying

Let’s look at each in turn.

A decade ago, corporate finance was a mainstay of the MBA. It’s not today. 

Is corporate finance still important? Yes!

Does accounting still matter? Yes!

But …

And this is big…

Everything is technology driven and digitally derived. The skills employers want from MBAs are different now than they were 10 years ago.

Regarding what customers are saying, Andrew and his team found that business is playing a wider societal role than it used to. 

“To that end,” he told us, “we’re finding time and time again that issues like ethics, ethical leadership, responsible management, diversity, equality, and inclusion are much more to the fore in terms of what customers are talking about.” 

Consequently, businesses expect MBAs to deliver on those values for their customers

Why Employers Are Spurning the MBA

Consider consultancies like Accenture, Deloitte, or McKinsey, the historic homes of freshly minted MBA graduates. Now, they all have their own training academies. 

If your company is a customer of one of these agencies, then the chances are they’ll also be selling you some training, some development. 

It’s not just big companies and consulting firms that are bringing their executive education options in house. A number of corporations are launching their own academies, too. A great example is Union Bank of Switzerland, which originated to train UBS staff. But today, anybody can go online and take a short, simple, inexpensive program through them.

For some employees that boils down to either paying $99 for executive education through UBS, a valuable brand to have on your CV, or shelling out thousands for an MBA that takes two years to complete and no one seems to care about anyway. 

Providers in the marketplace are working in a way that employers are interested in.

Traditional business schools aren’t.

But online education is okay with employers, right?

Over the last 15-18 months, employers have had to work online. They’ve seen that productivity has kept pace or even increased. Consequently, more companies are willing to embrace the delivery of development and learning over the internet. 

Of course, online learning offers a lot of cost savings to employers, too. No travel, accommodation, or time off work to pay for. There are big benefits for employers to follow online learning alongside traditional educational routes.

How to Build Lifelong Learning Pathways

Listen first.

Talk to employers. Hear what they have to say. Understand how learning moves through an organization and a career. People need different things at different times. 

Don’t expect to go to an employer and say, “We do this.” Expect to go to an employer and say, “What is it you want? We can probably help.” 

You can’t think in the way of traditional degrees that start and end at certain times of the year. Modern students need flexibility. They may want to do part of that degree, and then stop… and then come back and do another part of that degree. 

“The other thing that I ought to mention is brand,” Andrew said. “Brand is going to be

important going forward.”

Employers are certainly open to online learning, but the one question they ask is, “Who did you learn with?” 

Educational providers don’t have to be uber-sophisticated, but they can’t be fly-by-night operations either. Employers want to know the provider’s reputation, understand the quality of the content, and put a value on the impact of learning.  

That means they’ll work with branded providers, those who know the business of learning and the content required.

The spoils go to the institutions that listen to employers. 

Next Steps to Partnering with Employers on Learning

First, stop thinking of postgraduate students as 22-24 year old learners fresh out of college. When you market to today’s post-baccalaureate students, you’re actually dealing with companies, not just individuals. That means moving from a B2C mindset to a B2B mindset. Make sure you have marketing people who understand how to do that.

Second, experiment. Take risks. 

One of CarringtonCrisp’s survey respondents at Oxford University told him they had never run an online program before, certainly not a short-course, non-degree online program. But they went to the marketplace, and they ran their first one on FinTech. 

1,000 people signed up. 

Now, they have 20 programs running throughout the year, and it’s a significant part of Oxford’s revenue stream. 

But they had to take a risk

They had to accept that not everything was necessarily going to work the first time. That’s important for universities to understand because they tend to be quite conservative otherwise.

Third, online offers opportunities. Your customers don’t have to be on your doorstep anymore. They could be on the other side of the world. Understanding this learn-anywhere-at-anytime marketplace that is now evolving is really important if you’re going to make the most of the opportunities that it might bring you.


This post is based on a podcast interview with Andrew Crisp of CarringtonCrisp. To hear this episode and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.