As Business School Applications Drop, Associate Deans Need Time to Focus on Strategy, Not Logistics

RJ Nichol
Nov 1, 2018

You’re an associate dean at a business school. For years, you never questioned that your school would fill the seats in its classrooms. After all, the admissions process was highly selective, with demand always far outpacing supply.

But in October 2018, recruitment is suddenly an issue. Applications to U.S. business schools are down for the fourth consecutive year, including a 7-percent decline from 2017 to 2018, according to a Graduate Management Admission Council study. The year-to-year drop in applications for international students is even sharper, 11 percent, amid an uncertain policy landscape on immigration. Your traditional MBA program is facing increased competition from specialized master’s programs in different areas of business.

Now, let’s say you’re an associate dean at Harvard Business School, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Stanford Graduate School of Business or any other elite program. Surely, recruitment isn’t an issue. Your brand name speaks for itself. Right? Not so fast. Even the Harvard, UPenn and Stanford business schools saw declining applicant pools this year — drops of 4.5 percent, 6.7 percent and 4.6 percent, respectively. You’re completely blindsided by these shifting dynamics.

In fact, your colleagues nationwide are acknowledging the recruitment dilemma. An Association of MBAs survey conducted last year ranked “recruiting sufficient numbers of students” as the second-biggest challenge facing business school leaders. And of course, you don’t just want any applicants. You want the best, brightest, most ambitious applicants — the next generation of top business leaders — who will maintain and elevate your MBA program’s reputation.

What should you do to stem the tide of declining applications? It could be more about determining what you shouldn’t do. And what you absolutely can’t afford right now is getting bogged down in the logistics surrounding the admissions process. It’s time to take a step back and focus on the bigger picture — to brainstorm with your staff, and to think strategically about your business school’s profile, curriculum, program offerings, use of technology, approach to diversity and all the other factors that attract the best students.

This is precisely why you devote time to attending professional development and leadership conferences, like November’s AACSB Associate Deans Conference in Phoenix. These gatherings are, in AACSB’s own words, “an off-campus retreat—an opportunity to reflect on the key purpose of your position.” On campus, it’s difficult to engage in such reflection and strategic thinking, when you’re consumed by myriad day-to-day job responsibilities.

But you won’t have time to take the long view, let alone to attend three-day conferences, if you’re always caught up in operations — even if internal business school operations are your core job responsibility as an associate dean.

That’s why you need an efficient solution for application services, so you can acquire the luxury (or these days, the necessity) of time to focus on strategy, not always on logistics. This is where Liaison’s BusinessCAS™ comes in, streamlining your processes so you can spend time on what matters most — recruiting, admitting and enrolling best-fit students.

The BusinessCAS application services include processing services and verification, coursework entry, applicant support, document storage and test score and foreign credential evaluation. These are exactly the time-consuming tasks that distract you from more strategic work, and also tasks that are best suited for a partner that has perfected and refined its process through serving thousands of programs and hundreds of campuses. An internal solution is not the most efficient solution.

Temple University says it shaved 75 percent off application review time by implementing one of the 42 different Centralized Application Services (CASs™) offered by BusinessCAS. Yet aside from saving you time, using a CAS can actually address the root of your problem: declining applications. Dominican University leveraged BusinessCAS to help increase its applications tenfold with no additional marketing expenditures, thanks to benefits such as “streamlining [our] process, tracking applicants at all levels, reporting within the university, communicating with applicants and supporting national visibility,” says Carsi Hughes, Ph.D., director of the university’s postbaccalaureate premedical program.

University of La Verne, meanwhile, nearly doubled its out-of-state applicants in just one year with a CAS, as the school has been empowered by its newfound ability to “easily pull all of the information that goes into the CAS application, whether it’s related to applicant gender, diversity in different factors or geographic area.”

Come see us at the BusinessCAS table at the AACSB Associate Deans Conference to learn more about how BusinessCAS can streamline your application processes, expand your MBA program’s reach and help you, as a business school leader, find the time to think strategically.

RJ Nichol

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Over the last three decades, Liaison has helped over 40,000 programs on more than 1,200 campuses more effectively manage admissions through its Centralized Application Service (CAS™) technology and complementary application processing and support services. The higher education technology leader supports its partner institutions’ total enrollment goals by pairing CAS with its Enrollment Marketing (EM) platform as well as the recently acquired TargetX (CRM) and advanced analytics software Othot.