San Diego Business Journal

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges, but the health crisis has also opened up opportunities for potential students to further their business education.

With so many economic unknowns, research from the Graduate Management Admission Council has shown that a situation like what is happening today can actually lead to an increase in graduate school applications, including for Masters of Business Administration programs.

This, according to Lisa Ordóñez, dean of the Rady School of Management at University of California, San Diego, is in part because of people’s desire for the new opportunities a business degree can provide.

Business Degrees Open Doors

“Having that business degree opens the doors to many more positions,” Ordóñez said. “The value of the MBA is that it’s really important to have those specialty skills – leadership, teams, management, and general knowledge of marketing accounting.”

A business degree can help lead students to careers related to, among other things, consulting firms, educational and financial institutions, government agencies and retail.

The MBA program at UCSD, according to Ordóñez, is also known for providing a unique set of business skills to students already in a variety of different fields.

“One thing that we’re known for here at Rady is helping the scientists, doctors, and. engineers get their business skills so that as they rise through the ranks and they stop, and, especially in engineering and science, maybe start their own business, they suddenly are no longer focused on the specific skills they started a career with and now they need those other skills and the big knowledge of how businesses function,” Ordóñez said.

While COVID-19 has institutions putting together online programs, institutions such as California State University, San Marcos are responding to the test by providing teachers with the equipment necessary to facilitate online instruction.

“We’ve provided everything that our faculty needed in terms of webcam, microphone speaker, wacom tablets,” said Mohammad Oskoorouchi, associate dean of the College of Business Administration at CSUSM. “So they can write, especially if it’s a quantitative course that they have to write the formula as they speak and show it to students.”

Online Learning

One local school already used to online-learning is National University, which offers a fully online MBA program that can be completed in as little as one year.

The private non-profit is also offering three months of free online classes - from April through June - for California students who have been impacted by COVID-19, according to the university.

“As more colleges and universities attempt a rapid shift to an online modality, there is growing concern regarding the impact this may have on instruction. National University’s decades of experience in this space, enable the University to be nimble and provide academic continuity for its students among the changing recommendations of public health agencies,” according to a recent statement from the university.

NU has been serving students through online classes for more than 20 years, and, according to Michael Cunningham, the chancellor of the National University System, the university believes it has an obligation to help students with online courses during the health crisis.

“The situation we are facing with COVID-19 affects all of us, so we’re taking this step as part of our commitment to the state and to its students, and as part of our community responsibility to support other institutions through a difficult, rapid transition to online education,” Cunningham said.

Point Loma Nazarene University is another school not entirely used to virtual-only classrooms, and while it has switched to online-only courses, Dan Bothe, the dean of PLNU’s Fermanian School of Business, described the transition as “so far so good.”

“In a lot of ways if online is done right, I don’t think there’s a whole lot of difference,” Bothe said. “I mean, you don’t have that face to face interaction Q and A, but you can replicate that online.”

Fast Track Options

In addition to adjusting to virtual courses, MBA students may increasingly look for fast-track degree options, with a goal of quickly returning to the workforce.

PLNU offers one and two year MBA programs - with the former usually geared toward recent graduates - and Bothe said the fast-track option could now increase in popularity.

“Let’s say the economy slows down long enough to affect somebody graduating this year out of undergrad or at least to get the job they wanted,” Bothe said. “I mean there’s jobs, but is it the job you wanted coming out of college? Well that might be a reason to, and I think could increase demand for a one-year program for recent grads.”

Still, for those able, Bothe said returning to higher education now could be beneficial for people aiming to be ready once the economy shifts back in a more positive direction.

“Maybe this is a good time or a good reason to go back to school now while the economy’s a little unsettled, get that degree that probably at some point in my career I would have wanted to have gotten,” Bothe said. “And that could be true for somebody that’s not coming out of school, but rather, unfortunately, gets laid off.”

Students who enter an MBA program must first pass either a Graduate Record Examinations or Graduate Management Admission Test - international students may also be required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) - and, while test centers around the country have shut down, schools are actively looking for ways to work around any obstacles.

“We’re trying to find alternative options to offer (applicants),” said Diana Agostini, interim director of graduate business admissions at the University of San Diego. “So, for us to be able to still assess the quality of the candidate and their, let’s say, quantitative skills or English proficiency, but more internal types of assessments, other alternatives that are doable for our students and applicants.”

Some companies are also offering students the opportunity to take the tests online - a first, according to Agostini, who said the economy’s downturn should lead to an increase in interest.

“If there is going to be a recession, historically whenever there’s a recession, that’s when students start looking more at graduate business programs, especially full time programs,” Agostini said.

Scholarships Exist

Prospective students who are worried about being able to financially afford a graduate-level business degree can rest assured that universities will continue to offer scholarships to support and entice interested prospects.

“It’s going to be a matter of how much schools can support students financially also with all of these uncertainties,” Agostini said. “So, scholarships have been playing a big role in the past couple of years in general for programs.”

Once in a program, the coursework for a degree in business administration helps students learn about a variety of different topics, including accounting, finance, economics, marketing and management.

Higher Education Important

Steve Gill, the director of graduate programs and director of assessment at San Diego State University, said that the down economy makes it that much more important for students to get a higher education.

“Historically, those with greater education and skills tend to do better in economic downturns,” Gill said. “And so education, graduate and undergraduate, has always been an option for those seeking work to pivot their career into a direction or advance themselves in their existing role.”

While the economy staggers, getting a business degree such as an MBA can be crucial for many different facets of employment, according to Gill.

“The skills that make MBAs hirable in general will also be valuable in trying economic times. The combination of graduate business acumen and some other underlying skills, either through work experience, undergraduate education, or both remain popular skill sets for individuals to possess,” said. “We are facing an unprecedented type of downturn should this situation materialize further.”

An important part of any MBA program, according to Gill, is for students to be able to work together, and while a switch to online has changed the way these interactions occur, Gill said the program at SDSU has handled the changes “very capably.”

“The faculty, staff and students have all adapted extremely quickly and very well given the circumstances,” Gill said. “Faculty have employed some of the useful tools available in online technology such as placing students into online break out rooms to provide the peer-to-peer interactions that are a key element of a strong MBA program. For the most part, this was transitioned within a number of days. A really remarkable feat.”

Other Options

Another option is to take classes at institutions such as UC San Diego Extension, which has a business management program that offers classes that can lead to certificates while getting students closer to an MBA.

Most of these programs are already offered online, according to Hugo Villar, the associate dean for professional and continuing education at UCSD Extension, who said the school has already seen an increase in interest since the health crisis began.

“We have actually seen an uptick in registrations right now because so many people are interested in investing in themselves now that they don’t have to spend time commuting,” Villar said.

UCSD Extension offers courses and certificate programs that can help students earn designations such as a certified public accountant or chartered financial analyst, among others.

“A lot of people will realize that the changes in the economy that this situation will produce will force them to seek new careers,” Villar said. “So, the economy’s going to change and therefore the opportunities are going to be in a different place, and you need additional training in that case.”

UCSD Extension also offers certificates in areas such as digital marketing, facilities and project management, small business management and search engine optimization.

The ability to get these certificates quickly can be important, according to Villar, who said prospective employees will want to be ready when the economy begins to rebuild.

“The next stage is as a company starts to recover, they will try to do more with less,” Villar said. “People who are prepared, ready to go, will have an advantage in that situation. So you have to be ready for when the economy reopens again and the hiring happens so that you can position yourself at the highest possible level.”