You’re Getting a Master’s in What?

From church management to fashion, business schools expand graduate offerings with shorter, more specialized courses.

By Kelsey Gee

To court a generation of M.B.A.-skeptics, business schools are creating narrowly tailored degree programs designed to help young professionals hone their skills for specific industries and job functions.

At Villanova University, students can earn a master’s in church management. An M.B.A. program at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management is restricted to current and former congressional staffers. At Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, National Football League players can enroll in a program designed to help
them transition to new careers. And starting next spring, students at New York University’s Stern School of Business will embark on a one-year program in fashion and luxury-goods management.

As enrollment in general management programs across the U.S. declines, universities have augmented their graduate offerings with shorter, more specialized courses, while making the traditional M.B.A. more flexible for students with full-time jobs. Enrollment in specialized graduate business programs doubled from 2006 to 2016, according to a survey of 334 schools by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, which oversees hundreds of such programs to ensure they meet educational standards. “The traditional, two-year M.B.A. is a loss leader now for most business schools,” said Brian Cameron, the associate dean for professional master’s programs at Pennsylvania State University’s Smeal College of Business. He estimates that a new degree can cost the university around $500,000 to design and implement, even for programs that run exclusively online. Specialized programs like supply-chain management and marketing analytics are now a significant source of the business school’s income, he said.

“With freezes on further increases in tuition, these specialized programs are the only mechanism that universities have to generate incremental revenue,” he said. While tuition costs across graduate-degree programs have steadily increased in the past decade, some schools like Smeal have worked to hold prices steady, and others like Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School have experimented with offering their M.B.A. for free.

While the most popular specialty programs offer degrees in areas like finance, accounting and marketing, deans say the trend toward greater specialization will persist, driven by strong demand from young professionals for skill-based educationand growing competition from for-profit online schools and computer-coding boot camps.

Andy Rudd, a 28-year-old former product manager at New York City-based startup Dataminr, decided to enroll in the one-year technology-focused M.B.A. at Cornell University’s SC Johnson College of Business this spring. He considered a handful of more traditional business-school programs, but said he was disappointed that some of the schools he visited seemed to focus on students interested in finance and consulting careers.

Mr. Rudd will attend classes on Cornell’s new technology campus, a two-million-squarefoot site on Roosevelt Island in New York City slated to open August 1. His courses will cover topics such as startup finance and digital marketing, some of which are also available to students in the school’s graduate programs in engineering and law. The collaboration across disciplines was part of the program’s allure for the aspiring entrepreneur.

“Business schools are starting to reckon with the fact that cross-functional, interdisciplinary teams are how the business world actually works,” he said.

Villanova University’s business school never offered a full-time M.B.A, but strategic partnerships with the Archdiocese of New York and other cities and strong student demand has helped its master’s in church management program balloon from seven students to 64 in the past four years. Tuition for the two-year program is$28,800. “Students want a deeper expertise in specific business disciplines if they’re pursuing a graduate degree,” said Charles Iacovou, dean of the business school at Wake Forest University, which discontinued its traditional two-year M.B.A. program in 2014 and concentrated its resources around the school’s part-time M.B.A. offerings and its three specialized master’s programs.

“Ten or twenty years ago if you wanted to switch careers or advance in your job, the only mode available for doing that was the M.B.A,” Mr. Iacovou said. Kim Corfman, a professor of marketing and academic director of NYU Stern’s new fashion-focused program, says the new degree is a good fit for the school, given classes like “Luxury Marketing” and “Next Generation Fashion” that the school already offered to M.B.A. students.

At roughly $96,000 for tuition and fees, the program is a less-costly investment for students than Stern’s $138,000 two-year M.B.A. Ms. Corfman says the coursework attempts to strike a “delicate balance” between teaching theory and providing the kind of real-life experience that students can gain less expensively on the job.

Even as the experimentation helps to fill lecture halls, some deans caution that introducing new master’s programs could backfire, if it creates a glut of specialized programs.

“In what other industry would you handle the problem of shrinking demand for your product by growing the supply?” said Andrew Ainslie, dean of the University of Rochester Simon Business School in N.Y., which offers four specialized master’s programs and multiple part-time programs, in addition to a full-time M.B.A.

This article was supplied by The Wall Street Journal and was originally published on 31 May 2017.

AMBA student members are eligible to receive a complimentary digital membership to The Wall Street Journal for one year. Globally recognised and admired as one of the most insightful business publications, a subscription would normally cost you $350.

To activate your free subscription, you will need to redeem your individual “Redemption Code” on the Wall Street Journal website. These codes are distributed periodically, so please keep an eye out for an email from us, containing yours. If you have already received your Redemption Code but need a reminder, please contact