Hybrid Business Students Still Want In-Person Learning Options: Report

Graduate business students pursuing a hybrid degree want to spend at least half of their time in the classroom, according to a report.
portrait of Bennett Leckrone
Bennett Leckrone
Read Full Bio

Reporter, Business Education

Bennett Leckrone is a news writer for BestColleges. Before joining BestColleges, Leckrone reported on state politics with the nonprofit news outlet Maryland Matters as a Report for America fellow. He previously interned for The Chronicle of Higher Ed...
Published on April 22, 2024
Edited by
portrait of Alex Pasquariello
Alex Pasquariello
Read Full Bio

Managing Editor, News

Alex Pasquariello is a managing news editor for BestColleges. Prior to joining BestColleges he led Metropolitan State University of Denver's digital journalism initiative. He holds a BS in journalism from Northwestern University....
Learn more about our editorial process
Image Credit: adamkaz / iStock / Getty Images Plus

  • Hybrid learning options are increasingly popular for graduate business students, according to a Graduate Management Admission Council report.
  • Interest in online learning options has remained flat, and many prospective online students question the value of those degrees.
  • The report reflects changes in business education spurred and accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • A growing number of students across the globe are choosing to study in their country of residence rather than internationally.

Demand for hybrid business degrees is on the rise — but many candidates who want an online business degree still don't believe the degree will be as valuable as an in-person program, according to a new survey.

An online or hybrid master of business administration (MBA) or other graduate business degree can be a highly affordable option for working professionals. And many business schools have rolled out programs geared toward working professionals in recent years.

But in-person learning remains a popular option for students, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) 2024 Prospective Students Survey.

In addition to spotlighting student interest in diversity and sustainability, the GMAC report found that interest in hybrid business learning is rising — and students pursuing those programs want at least half of their program time spent in the classroom.

The global percentage of prospective students seeking hybrid program delivery increased from 12% in 2019 to 17% in 2023. Interest grew and nearly doubled in every region except Central and South Asia, where student interest in hybrid program delivery remained flat.

Most students who want hybrid learning, however, still want a significant portion of their degree time spent in the classroom.

Most hybrid candidates want to spend half or more of their class time in person and the rest online, the report reads.

Among different degree types, hybrid professional MBA and business master's candidates are more open to online delivery compared to hybrid full-time MBA candidates.

In-person learning is still overwhelmingly popular but has declined after the COVID-19 pandemic in almost every region surveyed by the GMAC. Interest in in-person learning remained static only in Central and South Asia.

In the United States, in-person learning fell from 70% of prospective students' preference in 2019 to 60% in 2024.

This year's prospective student survey adds to a growing slate of evidence that candidates' appetite for flexibility is increasing, Andrew Walker, the GMAC's director of research analysis and communications and the report author, said in a press release.

Interest in hybrid learning has grown across regions and demographic types as hybrid workplaces have also increasingly become available and expected by prospective employees. While in-person learning remains the most preferred delivery format among most candidates, its dominance among candidates is diminishing.

Applications to graduate business programs dropped globally in 2023, according to a previous GMAC Application Trends Survey, but programs with flexible and online formats fared better than in-person programs.

Additionally, highly selective graduate business applications declined — but applications to less selective programs saw an increase. Programs in the U.S. saw a smaller decline in overall applications than the rest of the world, and more than half of U.S. programs reported an increase.

Doubts About Online Degrees Persist

A growing number of U.S. business schools are debuting online MBA programs geared toward working professionals, but many prospective students surveyed by the GMAC weren't sure an online graduate business degree stacks up with a traditional in-person program.

Confidence in online business programs has grown among prospective students over the past five years, but many students will worry about the value of online degrees.

Online candidates still have their doubts about online learning, the report reads. In 2019, fewer than half of online candidates — 47% — agreed or strongly agreed that a graduate business education acquired through on-campus experiences offers same value as an online degree.

“In 2023, that figure grew to 56%, which still indicates nearly half of candidates who want to get their degrees online do not believe it will be as valuable as an in-person experience.

Although online program preference grew in many regions, it stayed static in the United States between 2019 and 2023 at 11%, according to the GMAC report.

Student Interest in Studying Internationally Declines

A growing number of international prospective business students are opting to study in their country of citizenship instead of abroad, according to the report.

The U.S. is still the top destination for candidates globally, the report reads, but the percentage of candidates who plan to apply to a business school outside of their country of residence decreased from 72% in 2019 to 67% in 2023.

As high-quality educational institutions and economic opportunities continue to rise in Asia, it is no surprise that many candidates would choose to stay closer to home instead of traveling afar, Curtis Alan Ferguson, managing partner of Ventech China and a board member of GMAC, said in the press release.

That said, graduate business programs in the U.S. and Western Europe still enjoy quite an advantage because of their established reputations of the educational systems and well-rounded preparation for candidate careers.