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Lower education

Business | Demand for the traditional, two-year MBA program is slumping

Issue: "Iraq: Bravo Company's story," Aug. 21, 2004

As unemployment figures rose the past three years, so too did the number of students seeking to raise their educational qualifications by enrolling in advanced degree programs.

But new figures reported by the Graduate Management Admission Council show demand for the traditional, two-year master's of business administration program is slumping.

More than three-quarters of programs responding to a recent GMAC survey reported a decline in applications last year. Forty-one percent reported that applications were down more than 20 percent. While Wharton and Harvard may never have to worry about filling classrooms, other schools that saw MBA programs as cash cows might.

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For-profit education companies like Career Education Corp., DeVry, ITT Educational Services, and Apollo Group, which operates the University of Phoenix, have already seen their stock values drop based on disappointing enrollment figures, regulatory concerns, and legal inquiries. "They've had very high valuations going into 2004," said Alexander Paris Jr. of Barrington Research in Chicago. "As they say, the bigger they are, the harder they fall."

With the economy improving, however, GMAC's Daphne Atkinson says student interest in MBAs may also be returning to historical norms.

Emotional drain

Every week seems to bring new reports of economists showing surprise at the latest economic data. One week the Commerce Department may release information about lower-than-expected growth, followed by a Labor Department report showing lower-than-expected unemployment filings. At the same time, corporate earnings miss the mark set by industry analysts.

Each announcement has an immediate impact on Wall Street. And filtering through these conflicting reports can leave the head of an individual investor spinning.

Recent studies suggest that many investors rely too heavily on the latest news, leading to irrational investment decisions. "That is true in terms of unfavorable, unsettling negative events, but it's also true for positive events," said Hersh Shefrin, a finance professor at Santa Clara University.

Experts say people tend to project recent patterns into the future, meaning investors will buy stocks and mutual funds that performed well last year but may be unwise investments now.

So what's an investor to do?

Create a long-term financial plan and stick with it. Rebalance your portfolio to become adequately diversified. And consider consulting with a trusted financial adviser who is a bit more emotionally detached from the situation than you are.

Balance Sheet

  • After abruptly bringing back founder Charles Schwab to rejuvenate the company, Charles Schwab Corp. announced it would close 53 more branches. With the new closures, Schwab will have fewer than 290 branches, down from about 400 offices three years ago.
  • Target Corp. plans to sell its Mervyn's business unit for roughly $1.65 billion in cash to focus its efforts on its more profitable flagship Target stores. Last month, the company sold its Marshall Field's stores for more than $3 billion.
  • Financially troubled Delta Air Lines Inc. is shuttering one of its three call centers in India, but declined to discuss whether the move was related to a survey asking customers if they would be willing to pay a fee to speak to a U.S-based agent rather than one in India.
  • New York governor George Pataki vetoed a bill to raise the state's hourly minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.15 by 2007. Gov. Pataki said a rise would have driven jobs to New Jersey and Pennsylvania. However, both the New York Assembly and Senate may have the votes needed to override his veto.
  • Despite pleading guilty to a pair of felonies in the financial collapse of his former company, Andrew Wiederhorn won't lose his job as CEO at his new company. Fog Cutter Capital Group's board of directors voted to keep Mr. Wiederhorn and pay him $2.5 million while he serves an 18-month sentence.

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