An Analysis of Orientation Programs for Entering MBA Students to Shape Graduate Education

By Sherman, W. Scott | SAM Advanced Management Journal, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

An Analysis of Orientation Programs for Entering MBA Students to Shape Graduate Education


Sherman, W. Scott, SAM Advanced Management Journal


Declining applications for two-year Masters of Business Administration (MBA) programs has triggered some soul-searching by sponsoring institutions regarding admissions and retention of students. Improving orientation programs to enhance the students' academic and social integration could boost "self-efficacy"--confidence in being able to perform specific tasks successfully. Structured interviews with eight faculty members representing 12 MBA programs helped categorize current types of student orientations by separating those focusing primarily on administrative matters from those emphasizing self-efficacy. Pros and cons of each are discussed. This analysis became the basis for a broad, online survey, of MBA orientation programs commencing in the fall of 2013.

Introduction

This paper summarizes the first steps of a research project to examine Masters of Business Administration (MBA) orientation programs designed to help new students succeed in such programs. It also provides potential theoretical support for designing such orientations. Interest in the topic is spurred by a desire to improve student admissions and retention as well as the MBA educational experience. The median number of two-year MBA applications fell more than 30% globally between 2011 and 2012 (Korn, 2012).

One reason for the enrollment drop is growing criticism of MBA programs for failing to provide graduates with useful skills for the corporate world (Bennis and O'Toole, 2005). Traditional classroom-based MBA programs also face an onslaught from online MBA programs, accredited and not. Some traditional universities accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), such as University of North Carolina and Indiana University (Blackman, 2011), now host online MBA programs. More than 11,000 students were enrolled in online MBA programs at 90 AACSB-accredited U.S. universities in 2011, compared with 157,249 MBA students enrolled in 300 AACSB-accredited U.S. universities in 2010 (Blackman, 2011; AACSB, 2013). Online MBA students now represent about 7% of MBA students at AACSB-accredited institutions (AACSB, 2013). Online MBA programs offered by for-profit institutions not accredited by the AACSB, such as Phoenix or Kaplan, are also competing for MBA students, with Phoenix University reporting more than 30,000 online MBA students in 2013 (Byrne, 2013).

Literature Review

The literature empirically examining the success of MBA orientation programs is limited. One study examined the role of outdoor experiential exercises, such as ropes courses in MBA orientations to improve student retention (Weis and Prussia, 2002). Weis and Prussia found that adding the outdoor experiences improved retention rates 11.6 to 16.1%. However, these results are difficult to interpret because the outdoor orientation was part of an overall MBA program redesign, and it is difficult to determine whether the improved retention was due solely to the added outdoor exercise.

Another study found that an orientation program for an online MBA program that stressed both academic integration with other daily activities and social integration with faculty and fellow students resulted in improved incoming MBA student confidence and academic skills, such as time management and technology familiarity (Kanuka and Jugdev, 2006). The authors did not follow the study population over time to gauge effects of the orientation on retention rates.

The Kanuka and Jugdev study offers insight into potential theoretical support for MBA orientation programs. Building on the prior work of Tinto (1975) and Bean and Eaton (2000), they suggested that MBA orientations may improve program retention by addressing academic and social integration needs of incoming students. Integration is important to students because it links the intention to perform well and complete an MBA program to the behaviors necessary to make those intentions reality (Fishbein and Azjen, 1975). …

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