Experts disagree on effectiveness of one-year master's in boosting female enrollment

BY JENNY EARL | MARCH 07, 2012 6:30 AM

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Some schools are seeing a jump in female students when they increase the number of one-year specialized master's business programs. But University of Iowa leaders say they aren't headed that direction.

"I would not promote them here," said Gary Fethke, a professor of management sciences and economics in the UI Tippie College of Business. "In fact, I worked to get rid of several one-year M.A. programs."

But Bob Ludwig, director of media relations for the Graduate Management Admissions Council, said one-year specialized master's programs are important to increase the number of women in graduate business schools.

He said the council annually administers an application trend survey, which in 2011 found 83 percent of master's finance programs that took one year to complete reported an increase in applications nationwide over the previous year.

Such one-year specialized master's programs are usually less course-intensive and are more specialized in a specific area. Ludwig said the programs typically do not require prior job experience, which attracts women to enroll after completing their undergraduate degrees.

But UI officials said there are other options.

Colleen Downie, the senior associate dean of the Tippie School of Management, said its part-time M.B.A. program is a good alternative for women compared with the two-year options.

"Part-time is flexible," she said. "You can finish the degree from anywhere to two-and-a-half years to 10."

Women made up 41 percent of those who took the council's Graduate Management Admission Test, a new national high, Ludwig said, and the results don't correspond to enrollment rates.

"While women taking these tests are increasing, we're not seeing the numbers of [business school graduate students] grow in sync with the number of women taking those tests," said Elissa Ellis-Sangster, executive director of the Forte Foundation, a national consortium of business schools and corporations.

Locally, the numbers have remained static. Last year, the number of females in UI graduate business programs only increased from 315 to 316. Currently, there are 996 graduate students in the UI College of Business.

UI officials said they used to have more one-year master's programs, but they were eliminated more than a decade ago, and officials aren't sure if the benefits would outweigh the costs of bringing the programs back.

"Generally, we have decided not to pursue this routine primarily due to cost considerations," said Dean of the UI Tippie College of Business William Hunter. "Should the economics of the situation change, we may certainly consider this option in the future."

Currently, the UI only offers a one-year master's in accounting, but does not have any one-year degrees in the M.B.A. program.

But sex balance is always considered, Hunter said.

"We are mindful of the need to have good gender balance — and international balance as well — in our M.B.A. programs and work hard in our recruiting processes," he said.

UI officials said they don't believe the addition of these programs are ideal for the UI specifically.

"For me, [one-year programs] distracted our resources from our mainline M.B.A. programs, which now enroll about 1,000 students," Fethke wrote in an email. "So my feeling, when [I was] dean, was that the one-year programs did not align strategically with what we were doing at Iowa. This does not mean that they aren't a good idea for others."

UI officials said one-year master's programs are completely different than two-year M.B.A. programs.

"It all depends on your career goals," Downie said. "Choosing a master's over an M.B.A. should be a decision you make on your career goals. Which of those two programs will lead you to those skills needed in the marketplace?"

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