Business Schools Still Lag on Diversity, Despite Stated Goals

 In the months after Minneapolis police officers killed George Floyd in May 2020, prompting millions of protesters to march in US cities for racial justice, the nation’s best-regarded business schools quickly responded. Most of them publicly committed to racial equity and inclusion, and many began formulating changes meant to bring more underrepresented minorities to campus.

Three years later, most of those schools enrolled a lower, or at best the same, share of underrepresented minority students in their full-time MBA programs, according to data from 22 of the top 26 schools (the Top 25, plus a tie) in Bloomberg Businessweek’s 2023 ranking. Only six reported slightly higher shares of these students matriculating in 2023 than in 2020, and a somewhat different group of just six schools enrolled greater numbers of these students.

Business schools at the Universities of Michigan, Virginia, and California at Berkeley saw some of the sharpest declines in the share of minority enrollment, posting the lowest percentages of underrepresented students in the class of 2025. At Virginia and Berkeley, the figure was 6%; at Michigan, it was 7%.

The Supreme Court’s ruling last summer banning affirmative action in university admissions decisions is undoubtedly making it harder to enroll underrepresented students, who comprise US citizens and permanent residents who identify as Black, Hispanic, Native American, or Pacific Islander, including Hawaiian. Asian Americans, while in the minority, aren’t considered underrepresented, according to standards set by the Graduate Management Admission Council. Among the 21 schools that have provided or published enrollment figures for underrepresented minority groups by race and Hispanic origin since 2020, Black enrollment fell to 16, and Hispanic enrollment to 14. Few schools enrolled any American Indigenous or Pacific Indigenous students.

Program and admissions officers at five schools say this enrollment decline at top-ranked universities should be no surprise—most of these 26 schools have lately enrolled far smaller shares and numbers of US students. Even though underrepresented groups by definition have room to grow relative to the broader population, the officials say minority students’ interest in their MBA programs tends to rise and fall with the whole.

Individual students “are going to look at some things that are idiosyncratic to them” when considering an MBA, says Russ Morgan, who leads full-time programs at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, “but there are some correlations with the larger market”—mainly, a strong job market that promises higher salaries and advancement without having to earn a degree.

The shares of Black and Hispanic students of all US citizens taking the Graduate Management Admission Test basically held steady from 2019 to 2023 (shifting from just below to just above 17%), even as the total number of US test-takers fell, according to the GMAC, which administers the exam. The share of Asian Americans taking the test grew from 15% to 21% over that period, while the White share declined.

Following GMAC’s standards, most schools publicly measure minority enrollment against US citizens and permanent residents, which presents a mixed picture. Of the 23 schools that reported or provided these figures, the share of underrepresented minorities grew at 15—and by more than 20% at seven of them. At Fuqua, the share of entering US students identifying as Black or Hispanic jumped from 15% in 2019 to 21% in 2020 and reached 26% last fall. Morgan credits this to “our DNA” and an effort at inclusivity for at least 40 years. Despite the school’s efforts and recent progress, in 2020, Duke felt compelled to establish a racial equity working group that, among other actions, recommended changes to student and faculty recruiting policies.

Almost every Top 25 US B-school in Businessweek’s ranking has made some commitment to diversity and inclusion, articulated in dedicated sections on their websites. Many have developed plans broadly similar to Fuqua’s. (At Duke, says Morgan, the goal of the working group was to “codify and create awareness of what we were already doing and try to identify areas where we could invest more deeply.”)

Diversity Means Different Things To Different Schools

Note: B-schools report student demographics to the federal government, labeling non-Hispanics who choose more than one background as multiracial—which can undercount racial groups. Increasingly, they’re also using a different method to publicize class demographics, sorting students into all groups with which they identify, potentially overcounting them. Businessweek relied on federal standards to try to avoid overcounting minorities.

So far, though, this work isn’t showing up in enrollment. Two of the schools with the lowest representation in the fall of 2023, Berkeley and Michigan, began down this path several years before most of their peers. Élida Bautista, chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer at Berkeley Haas, says the school’s Black and Hispanic enrollment nose-dived because the George Floyd moment pushed many companies to promote and retain underrepresented employees. According to Michigan Ross’ DEI director, Thomn Bell, 43% of last fall’s entering class were women, and 43% of the Americans were minorities—mostly Asian. “While we achieved a record number of representation in certain areas, we are always striving for improvements across many dimensions, including representation of Black and Hispanic/Latinx students,” he wrote in an email.

“Investing in and being committed to diversity is not just a year-by-year play,” says Shari Hubert, Duke’s head of admissions, adding that the competition for underrepresented students is fierce. “Because this population is small, it is going to be much more difficult because they’re a highly sought-after group of talented individuals,” Hubert says. “We need to grow the pie.” Indeed, if the theory of the case for investing in DEI holds true, it seems plausible that as more schools roll out inclusion programs, individual schools will find it even harder to recruit underrepresented minorities, at least while the pie remains small. None of the school administrators contacted by Businessweek, including Hubert, would acknowledge this.

At the University of Rochester’s Simon School of Business—where underrepresented students dropped from 37 of 126 total students in 2020 to 13 of 96 in 2023—Rebekah Lewin, senior assistant dean of admissions and programs, said by email that the growth in diversity initiatives “doesn’t seem to be the primary driver for demand to pursue a full-time MBA program relative to economic and employment trends.” Lewin added that when students who identify as multiracial are counted, a category the school didn’t use until 2023, the number of underrepresented students rises to 18.

Among the first changes many schools made as part of their equity initiatives, beginning in the fall of 2020, enrollment figures were published broken down by race and Hispanic ethnicity in class profiles or annual reports. “That was somewhere where we saw an opportunity for improvement, just being more transparent,” says Duke’s Morgan. All of the top 15 schools in our ranking—except for Cornell University’s SC Johnson College of Business—now publish class figures, as do the B-schools at Rice University, Rochester, and UCLA. Several declined to provide Businessweek with figures predating the new transparency policies.

While school-published enrollment figures track changes over time at any given institution, they’re often not useful for closely comparing schools. For one thing, schools often publish the figures as a share of US citizens and permanent residents—though sometimes they’re presented ambiguously—but don’t disclose the denominator, making a conversion to shares of the total class impossible. (This reporting includes only schools where Businessweek can determine shares of the total class.)

Moreover, schools use different methods to calculate the minority numbers, and they don’t always explain them. Some schools publish the figures they report to the federal government, in which each student is counted once and labeled multiracial when they choose more than one racial background. This can appear to undercount specific racial groups (some schools count multiracial students as underrepresented). Others use a multidimensional approach developed by GMAC that counts students in all racial groups with which they identify, potentially overcounting them. Some schools present both. For this reporting, Businessweek relied on figures calculated using the federal standards and excluding, when possible, multiracial students.

For all these efforts, the key to increasing representation of Black, Hispanic and Indigenous people may lie beyond the reach of graduate schools. At Duke, Hubert and Morgan say one persistent structural barrier between minority groups—and women—and business school is the pay gap separating White men from everyone else, which makes the cost of enrolling harder to justify. “Creating more equity in the professional world for both women and underrepresented individuals is a start,” Hubert says. “People need to see that the MBA is a path for future success for them,” adds Morgan. “They have to see they would be valued in the employment market similar to people in current positions.”

The calculation surely takes on even greater weight at schools such as Duke, where the total cost of attendance exceeds $200,000. Many schools are trying to address this over the long term by training future managers with revamped curricula that include offerings like Berkeley’s required course on “Business Communication in Diverse Work Environments.”

A bigger challenge remains a persistent education gap. “When you come to graduate school, an undergraduate degree is a requirement,” says Shelly Heinrich, an associate dean managing MBA admissions at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. According to a recent GMAC study, only about a quarter of Hispanic and Black people aged 20 to 34 hold a bachelor’s degree, compared with 34% for non-Hispanic whites and 52% for Asian Americans. “So we have to start early at building the pipeline,” Heinrich says.

At selective schools, DEI initiatives may be the best inoculation against the Supreme Court’s affirmative action decision, since it at least signals a commitment to enroll diverse candidates even if admissions officers can’t consider race explicitly. That is, it might keep the applicant pool from shrinking. Georgetown’s Heinrich, for one, holds out hope.

“We are in the industry, all of us because we see the value in educating the next generation of leaders and we see the value of a diverse workforce,” she says. “If I felt it was insurmountable, I don’t think I would be motivated.”

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post