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As Economy Struggles, National University Thrives

Tough economic times have helped National University seize the top spot on the San Diego Business Journal’s list of MBA Schools for three consecutive years.

“Amazing irony, and is often the case, if there is an economic downturn, we see increases in enrollment,” said National University President Patricia Potter.

The Business Journal’s 10-school list is ranked by fall 2010 enrollment of students in San Diego County, the most recent data available.

National University had an 11 percent increase in fall 2010 enrollment from the fall of 2009. NU is bucking a nationwide trend of declining enrollments for most full-time master’s programs, according to a 2011 study by the Graduate Management Admission Council.

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MBA applications historically trend counter-cyclical to economic conditions; as the economy improves, the number of applications goes down, the GMAC study says. When the most recent global recession began in late 2007, application volume once again rose, growing in 2008 before peaking in 2009. In the years since, programs have reported comparatively slower growth.

“There has been a decline in enrollments for the School of Education, which has dropped dramatically because of the economy and the state budget cuts we all read about,” Potter said.

Potter added that part of the rise in enrollment is from active-duty military and veterans. This is due in part to a recent $622,000 grant award to NU from the Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education. FIPSE is a government program to address the needs of veterans in college.

State Budget Woes Impact SDSU

Experiencing a decline in enrollment of 20 percent from 2009 to 2010 is No. 2 ranked San Diego State University’s College of Business Administration.

“During that period, the Cal State system was required to limit enrollment due to significant state budget cuts on public universities,” said Michael Cunningham, dean of the College of Business Administration. “Clearly we have the capacity to accept more qualified students, but the current financial crisis has impacted the number of students we can accept.”

Cunningham added that there has been a spike in the number of MBA applications from new graduates with non-business degrees, suggesting that students are realizing that a solid business education is essential, regardless of their discipline.

Investing in the Future

UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management is ranked No. 3 on the list. Enrollment increased 9 percent from 2009 to 2010, and 29 percent from 2006, the first year the university appeared on the Business Journal’s MBA list.

“Rady is seeing a slight uptick in interest in our FlexMBA for working professionals, particularly in the FlexEvening MBA,” said JoAnne Starr, Rady School of Management assistant dean for MBA programs. “We believe the improvements in the economy are encouraging working professionals, who were ‘hunkered down’ in their jobs during the worst of the downturn, to look at investing in their futures.”

Starr said that in addition to an increase in military applicants, Rady has a strong international student representation in its full-time MBA program, which is a reflection of San Diego’s innovation-driven, entrepreneurially focused economy.

“Innovation is, for companies big and small, established and emerging, critical for surviving and for succeeding in this marketplace,” Starr said.

Ranked fourth on the list, San Diego-based Alliant University (formerly Marshall Goldsmith School of Management) saw its enrollment decline 3 percent from 2009 to 2010.

Some Growth

“Alliant continues to see growth in international and female students,” said Chet Haskell, dean of Alliant University’s School of Management, “all of whom seek a broad-based degree that will increase his or her capacity to deal with constantly changing and uncertain future employment opportunities.”

The University of San Diego, No. 5 on the list, had a 14 percent increase in enrollment from 2009 to 2010 and a 20 percent increase from 2006.

“More students than ever before come into the program with an interest in thinking strategically about organizations, starting their own firms, or even new ventures within existing corporations,” said David Pyke, dean of USD’s School of Business Administration.

Pyke added that interest in USD’s Evening MBA program has been strong.

“Two years ago, the evening program attracted those seeking to enhance their career, but our most recent students seem to be about 50 percent career enhancers and 50 percent career changers,” Pyke said.


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