AI and Climate Change Among Top Interests for Prospective MBA Students: Report

Prospective MBA students' interest in artificial intelligence is predictable, but this is the first time climate change has appeared in its CarringtonCrisp's top 10 most important topics.
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Published on March 31, 2023
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  • AI took the top spot for content that prospective master of business administration (MBA) students want to see in their degree programs, according to CarringtonCrisp's Tomorrow's MBA report.
  • AI shared the top spot with the "always well-performing generic course 'Business and Financial Environment.'" Both were chosen by 31% of survey respondents.
  • Climate change entered the top 10 most important topics for prospective business students for the first time in the report's history.
  • Most students preferred either an in-person or hybrid degree program.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is more important than ever for students who want to pursue a master of business administration (MBA) degree, according to a new report by the consulting firm CarringtonCrisp.

The United Kingdom-based consulting firm surveyed 1,658 prospective students from more than 30 countries as part of the annual Tomorrow's MBA report — and found that AI took the joint top spot for topics that students want to see in their degree program.

AI alongside the "always well-performing generic course 'Business and Financial Environment'" were both selected as top priorities for prospective students, according to the report.

AI took the second spot last year, and its surge to the top didn't surprise survey author and CarringtonCrisp co-founder Andrew Crisp.

"I think we knew that was going to happen," Crisp told BestColleges. "We're doing research for individual business schools all year round, and we've seen it very prominent throughout."

Add in the surge in interest in AI technologies that has changed the landscape of higher education like ChatGPT and others and the rise of AI interest among prospective business students is "entirely predictable." Crisp said.

Another notable shift over the past year is increased interest in climate change among prospective MBA students. Roughly 16% of survey respondents indicated climate change was a priority for them, moving it to the eighth most important topic, according to the report. That is climate change's first appearance in the top 10 most important topics.

Prospective students are seeing more companies embrace climate change-based positions, like chief climate officers, Crisp said.

"They're having to have a policy of all of these issues because that's what their customers are asking them for, or that's what governments are requiring of them in terms of compliance," Crisp said, "and so the students, as much as it's a trend amongst a certain age group, are also very aware that if they have some knowledge and experience of these matters, it's going to help their employment prospects."

In-Person Learning Remains Popular

Crisp noted that the COVID-19 pandemic spurred increased interest in online and hybrid learning but noted that in-person instruction remains the most popular learning method for survey respondents.

Prospective students largely preferred full-time or part-time instruction on campus: 40% indicated they wanted to pursue a full-time degree on campus, 20% indicated part-time.

Another 28% said they wanted a "blended" experience, meaning a mix of virtual and on-campus instruction. A total of 11% of prospective students indicated they wanted an online-only degree.

Crisp said the rise of online learning resulting from the pandemic has opened doors to people to pursue an MBA who previously wouldn't have been able to.

"I think what the pandemic has done has changed the nature of supply of MBA," Crisp said.

"So all of a sudden, you've got a whole raft of new entrants offering online study. And so those who previously didn't take up the MBA because they couldn't give up their job, their family circumstances didn't allow them to, now all of a sudden, you got some top name schools offering online or at least blended MBAs, and so the opportunity has grown enormously."

The report also notes that the cost of tuition, particularly at schools in the United States, has risen dramatically over recent decades. Recent inflationary pressures have driven up the cost of living, and Crisp said those costs also contribute to a growing number of students wanting to pursue online or blended learning.

The survey included respondents from more than 30 countries, according to the report, with the largest numbers from the U.S., China, France, India, and the United Kingdom. A little over a third of respondents, or 36%, said they preferred to study outside of their home country.

The vast majority of students who wanted to study abroad said the experience would allow them to pursue an international career.

Prospective students face barriers to studying abroad, however, with 43% indicating that they couldn't give up their job to study internationally. Crisp said online study can offer students an opportunity to study at international schools with limited travel.

"Blended or online offers an opportunity to study with schools internationally without having to travel in most cases, or if they do travel, they travel for short periods," Crisp said.

The rise of online learning has allowed business schools to reach more prospective students.

The Johns Hopkins Carey School of Business recently announced it would offer up to $30,000 in scholarships to recently laid-off workers amid widespread layoffs in the tech industry, BestColleges previously reported. That program would feature online asynchronous and synchronous formats.