What Is a STEM MBA?

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are in high demand from employers — and business schools are incorporating those key skills into their master of business administration (MBA) programs.
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Published on January 23, 2024
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  • Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills are in high demand from employers.
  • A growing number of business schools are incorporating STEM skills into their master of business administration (MBA) curriculum.
  • STEM MBA programs focus on a wide variety of tech skills, from data analytics to information technology.
  • STEM MBA programs can lead to a high return on investment in burgeoning tech jobs.

Tech skills are increasingly important to employers — and a growing number of business schools are incorporating those skills into their master of business administration (MBA) programs.

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) cover a wide swath of relevant tech skills. That takes many forms at business schools, from degrees centered around data analytics to concentrations in artificial intelligence. Even traditional MBA specializations like finance are getting a STEM focus as the financial technology industry experiences meteoritic growth.

An MBA is already an avenue to a high return on investment for students, and learning tech skills for rapidly growing fields can unlock a host of higher-paying job opportunities for students.

Here’s what you need to know about STEM MBA programs:

What Is a STEM MBA Designation?

While many MBA programs feature STEM instruction, a federal designation from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) brings benefits beyond training in high-demand fields.

Officially, STEM-designated programs have benefits beyond just providing students with key tech skills. They also allow qualified international students to stay in the U.S. for up to three years after graduation, providing a path for students to remain in the country.

At least half of a program's coursework needs to be STEM-focused in order to qualify for a federal designation.

A vast number of schools, from large public universities to elite private schools, offer STEM-designated MBAs. MBA program cost varies from school to school and also tends to vary based on program format. A part-time, online program, for example, typically costs less than a full-time, in-person MBA.

What Will I Learn in a STEM MBA Program?

STEM MBA programs cover a wide variety of topics, but they usually include instruction around data regardless of their specialization.

The University of North Carolina Wilmington's Cameron School of Business, for example, received a STEM designation for its MBA program last year based on its specializations in both emerging and traditional fields. Those specializations include traditional areas like marketing and finance, as well as newer areas like cybersecurity and information systems.

"Embedded in the curriculum are courses that equip students with forecasting, modeling, and analytical skills, especially in the International MBA program," Cameron School of Business Associate Dean for Graduate, International, and Executive Programs Nivine Richie said in a press release at the time.

Binghamton University's School of Management (SOM) likewise earned a STEM designation for its MBA program in 2023 — and Binghamton School of Management Dean Shelley Dionne underscored the importance of STEM in a press release at the time.

"Data and technology are at the forefront of business, and this designation will help SOM students become even more competitive for a wider range of job opportunities in cutting-edge fields," Dionne said.

What Jobs Can I Get With a STEM MBA?

Data skills aren't just in demand in the tech sector. Businesses across every industry are grappling with a growing trove of data, and demand for STEM professionals is high.

With a heavy focus on data, for example, a STEM MBA program can prepare graduates for analyst positions. The demand for data experts is expected to grow rapidly over the next several years, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projecting that employment of operations research analysts alone will grow 23% by 2032.

Many STEM MBA programs, including at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, also cover high-demand tech fields like cybersecurity and information technology. That field is critical to businesses across all sectors as they look to shore up their data against cyber threats. The BLS projects that employment for information security analysts will grow 32% by 2032.

Traditional roles for MBA graduates, such as those in higher-paying industries like consulting and finance, likewise need workers with tech skills.

Financial technology (fintech) is one aspect of finance with projected meteoric growth over the next decade. Fintech is a broad term that applies to technologies that boost automated finances for customers alike — and a growing number of schools are incorporating that lucrative field into their curriculum.