University of Iowa looks to phase out full-time MBAs

Shift will clear the way for part-time, specialized offerings

The Pappajohn Business administration Building on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City. (Gazette file photo)
The Pappajohn Business administration Building on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City. (Gazette file photo)

IOWA CITY — Citing declining enrollment and a shift in student interest, the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business is phasing out its full-time Master of Business Administration program to make way for more part-time and specialized degree offerings. The college on Tuesday announced its last traditional full-time MBA students will graduate in 2019 amid plans to grow part-time programs, expand online options, and introduce more specialized master’s programs over the next three years — like a finance degree in Fall 2018.

The move, in part, aims to increase the college’s investment in Iowa MBA programs that serve working professionals — like its part-time professional and executive MBAs.

“We are still in the MBA market,” Tippie Dean Sarah Gardial told The Gazette. “We are just moving our resources toward the programs that are the most demanded by those investing.”

The changes, which will be presented to the Board of Regents next month, are a direct reflection of market shifts in student and business needs, according to Gardial.

“They are asking for more flexibility,” she said. “Stepping out of the workforce for two years is a high price to pay, and they are signaling they have other ways they’d like to get an MBA.”

The university’s full-time program, offered only on the UI’s main Iowa City campus, typically takes two years to complete. Its enrollment has been falling in recent years, from a total 140 in 2010 to about 100 in the last academic year. Gardial said the last admitted class of full-time MBA students, who started this week, has 53 students.

The university offers three part-time programs — an executive, professional, and Hong Kong-based program. Those programs — through a hybrid of evening, weekend, and online courses — are available in Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, and the Quad Cities.


Part-time enrollment has been rising, reaching 1,100 — a record high, according to university officials.

Tippie also has a full-time program in Italy, and two specialty degrees — masters of accountancy and business analytics — with the one in finance on tap. Gardial said those who do want to commit fully to an MBA increasingly are drawn to “the focused education provided by master’s programs in specific subjects.”

Thus, the university is considering a forth specialized master’s degree in management.

“We will look at see where demand is,” Gardial said.

Although the college might reassign or shift faculty in response to the changes, no one will lose his or her job. In fact, Gardial said, she expects graduate enrollment will climb — increasing faculty demand.

“We will easily serve far more students with this new set of programs and for more Iowa students with these new programs,” she said.

Tuesday’s news comes as higher education institutions across the state and nation navigate significant shifts in how they’re funded, how they’re marketed, and how they’re led. All three of Iowa’s public universities are proposing tuition hikes over the next five years to make up for floundering state support.

UI President Bruce Harreld has asked the Board of Regents for more control in setting tuition and in other areas, enabling the school to better pursue its specific mission. Last year, Harreld gave deans like Gardial more control over their department budgets — charging them to prioritize competitive compensation for top faculty recruitment and retention.

“What President Harreld asked us to do was to be very strategic about how we allocate our resources,” Gardial said. “And we realize we can reallocate our resources in a way that increases access to our programs on this campus and across this state.”

A specialized finance program, as proposed for 2018, would emphasize “real-world experiences” like student-managed equity portfolios and consulting projects for business clients. Also under development, according to the university, is a student-managed fixed income fund, which would be the first of its kind in any master of finance program.


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One of the university’s newer specialized programs — the business analytics major, launched three years ago on the Cedar Rapids campus — has taken off, expanding to branches in Des Moines and the Quad Cities. Enrollment in that program has spiked 517 percent.

With new professional certificates, off-campus locations, and expanded online offerings — and the expectation the entire professional MBA curriculum eventually will be available online — the college’s part-time professional and executive MBA programs now attract more than 91 percent of its MBA enrollment.

“The college has always been an innovator, anticipating the business education that students and employers need to thrive in a changing economy,” according to Sue Curry, interim executive vice president and provost.

By phasing out the full-time offering, Tippie joins business schools like Wake Forest University and Virginia Tech, according to the university.

The proposed changes at the graduate level won’t impact the college’s undergraduate program, according to university officials. And Gardial stressed the university’s full-time MBA program “is highly regarded.”

“Nothing is broken,” she said. “This is us being attuned to the needs of the workplace.”

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