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Top-Tier Business Schools Following Blueprint to Increasing Student Diversity

Emory University Goizueta Business School’s student body is increasingly becoming more diverse. (Photo courtesy of Emory University)Emory University Goizueta Business School’s student body is increasingly becoming more diverse. (Photo courtesy of Emory University)

Reflective of a changing business world, students pursuing MBAs have a wide range of career goals and come from diverse backgrounds.

“There remains a lack of diversity in the boardroom in corporate America, and frankly, the business school world reflects that to some degree,” says Alex Lawrence, assistant dean of MBA admissions and financial aid at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

The long-term goal at Anderson is to have the student body resemble the general population. Most top-tier business schools embrace that goal and are laying the groundwork to make it reality.

“We have a multipronged approach to recruiting a diverse class,” says Julie Barefoot, associate dean of MBA admissions at the Emory University Goizueta Business School. “You have to be very intentional in recruiting for these different populations. If you are not, it’s not just going to naturally happen.”

In the contemporary world of business schools, people of color, women and LGBT people are encouraged to shed the long-held notion of White males headed into financial or corporate careers and explore how a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree can fit into their plans.

Business goals

Today’s students envision using their MBA degrees in many different ways. While there are still a significant number who want to venture into careers traditionally associated with the MBA, such as financial services, consulting and marketing, many see themselves working in startup ventures, nonprofits and new technology.

That has long been the case at the University of Washington Foster School of Business, says Daniel Poston, assistant dean for master’s programs. Students now seek careers in clean energy, fashion design, sustainable housing development, private space exploration, international trade and biotechnology.

“Since at least 2000 and the ‘dot-com era,’ more than half of the Foster School of Business MBA class has pursued careers outside traditional fields,” he says. “Without a doubt, across the U.S. and, to some extent, around the world, more and more people are seeking an MBA for skills to apply to a much wider range of industries and careers.”

“I’ve been at Goizueta 28 years; I noticed a shift about six years ago,” says Barefoot. “The millennials want corporations to do well and do good. That’s part of their makeup. An increasing number of students come into business school and they are interested in social enterprise.”

Through research and field work, Goizueta’s social enterprise program applies business acumen and market-based solutions to achieve meaningful and enduring societal impacts.

“Our goal is simple yet fundamentally bold: to serve as a model for inclusive leadership while preparing others to carry that model forward — not only to grow their organizations, but to maximize their impact on the world,” says Anise Wiley-Little, who joined the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management in 2014 as the school’s chief human capital and diversity officer.

“Here at [the] Kellogg School, we are equipping the next generation of business leaders to manage and leverage diversity for the sustainability and success of their organizations,” she adds. “At the same time, as an institution, we are proactively working to integrate diversity and inclusion into our people and business practices at a deeper level than ever before.”


In the fall of 2015, Kellogg welcomed an MBA class that is 43 percent women and 23 percent U.S. minorities. Wiley-Little credits this to a comprehensive approach to admissions that enables the school to attract well-rounded applicants.

Barefoot says it is common for top-tier, highly competitive business schools to actively pursue a diverse range of candidates. Goizueta outreach includes everything from tailored emails to on-campus events to participating in MBA fairs around the country. Since the average MBA student has already been in the workforce for five years, there are a minimal number of presentations to undergraduates, but Goizueta does make an exception for fellow Atlanta-based institutions Spelman College and Morehouse College, both HBCUs, although students are generally encouraged to work for a few years before applying.

A big factor in recruiting talent to apply are partnerships with organizations such as The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management (CGSM), an organization founded in 1966 with the mission of giving Black men the business skills they needed to secure positions in American corporations. That mission has expanded over the decades to include other groups underrepresented in the business world.

Today, CGSM has 18 member institutions, including Anderson and Goizueta, as well as Carnegie Mellon, New York and Yale universities. CGSM provides a common application service for candidates who meet its mission. Candidates can apply to up to six schools through CGSM. Those accepted may be eligible for fellowships, which can include a full-tuition scholarship.

Anderson and Goizueta are also among the business schools that work with Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT), an organization that helps prepare high-achieving women and men from underrepresented communities to apply to business schools. MLT fellows receive one-on-one professional coaching on how to become the best candidates for admission.

Schools also work with the Forté Foundation, a nonprofit consortium of companies and business schools working together to help women access business school and successful careers in the business world.

“Like most major MBA programs, the team-based structure of our program is most effective when the MBA class is composed of a very wide range of people from different cultures, undergraduate majors, job experience, industries and skillsets, personality types and different career aspirations,” says Poston.

Online programs

Business degree programs that have thrived and displayed distinct diversity in recent years have been online programs. Whether it is the University of Phoenix or offshoots of on-campus programs, these programs provide opportunities for people with full-time jobs, family commitments and cost considerations.

“Online learning introduces flexibility for students to attend classes, study, arrange group work and the ability to apply their learnings to their workplace the next day. Even career services can be delivered for online students around the student’s schedule. Market-driven business school degrees will increasingly need to infuse technology and deliver a high-quality learning experience,” says Jill A. Klein, assistant dean for digital initiatives and new programs at the American University Kogod School of Business. American launched its online business programs, Business@American, last fall. The inaugural online cohort is 48 percent minority students.

Kogod has developed the Bridge to Business Program, which allows students with limited business experience or a long academic break to prepare themselves for an MBA program. This program is particularly popular with nontraditional students, military veterans and mid-career professionals looking for a career boost, as well as prospective students with a liberal arts background.

Amy McHale, assistant dean for masters programs at the Syracuse University Whitman School of Management, says the online students come from diverse backgrounds, industries and geographies. Approximately 25 percent have military connections — both veterans and active duty.

“Aligning education with industry needs is critical to growing a competitive and future-proof workforce,” says Dr. Rhonda Capron, academic dean for the University of Phoenix School of Business. “Education is evolving from being degree-centric to student-centric, where highly motivated and self-directed independent learners are able to satisfy their desire to advance in business while maintaining the flexibility and technical competency of online.”

Future of business

A study recently released by the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School reports that business leaders see inclusiveness and diversity as crucial to attracting and retaining top talent and there is a commitment to creating inclusive cultures within companies. Qualities considered critical for a culturally sensitive leader include flexibility, appreciation for difference and openness.

“Through their groundbreaking work, our faculty are furthering the conversation about the significance of diversity and inclusion within organizations and teams,” says Wiley-Little, who spent more than two decades in corporate America before joining Kellogg. “They’re also demonstrating that diversity and inclusion are inextricably linked; that is, to achieve the best outcomes, organizations must create environments that attract a broad spectrum of attributes but also empower individuals to be as effective as possible.”

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