Serve adult students with alternative business credentials targeted to pandemic-increased needs

Expert Insight

Serve adult students with alternative business credentials targeted to pandemic-increased needs

Alternative business credentials teaching high-demand skills offer just-in-time training for working and unemployed professionals. Develop high-value skill sets like crisis response, remote technology support, supply chain management, and business strategy within short time frames and convenient formats to aid your local economic recovery.


Number of institutions which report MBA completions in 2019
Number of institutions which report MBA completions in 2019


Average tuition cost for a two-year 
MBA program
Average tuition cost for a two-year MBA program

As the coronavirus crisis continues to disrupt the national economy, significant opportunities remain for professional and adult serving units to fulfill regional business needs. However, the traditional MBA, which had historically attracted significant enrollments and provided institutional revenue, continues to struggle during the pandemic-era recession, with employer demand declining, competition intensifying, and student demands evolving.

While MBA programs still represent the largest single graduate degree granted, high costs and competition limit its impact and effectiveness today. The opportunity to attract students and help your regional economy recover instead is non-MBA alternatives, including short-format, alternative business credentials and degrees in high-demand fields.

What we know now: Specialized, often pandemic-related, business skills increasingly valued in a declining business market

Since the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown in March 2020, employer demand for professionals with at least a bachelor’s-level degree declined 5.61 percent on average nationwide. Demand for professionals with general business skills and at least a bachelor’s-level degree declined at a slower but steep rate of 4.71 percent on average over this time. However, despite the declining demand for general business skills across the past few months, some business skills such as crisis response and business strategy have experienced high growth during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Growth in High Demand Business Skills, March-July 2020

Decision-Making and Crisis Response

  • Organizational effectiveness +10.43%
  • Business continuity planning +3.45%

Remote Technology Support

  • IT security architecture +7.74%
  • Network security +3.67%

Supply Chain Management

  • Supply chain planning +5.13%
  • Inventory control +4.10%


  • Market segmentation
  • Competitive analysis +5.11%

Many of these skills may already be taught within your current business offerings; emphasize those programs now to prepare professionals for today’s economy, as well as pull this content out as standalone, just-in-time trainings. Many business professionals need technical skill development in supply chain management, network security, or advanced marketing to manage their current organization effectively or find a new role in the shifting economy. Develop short-term, non-degree programs teaching these specialized skills to help these professionals execute on evolving job expectations as soon as possible.

Invest in specialized degree program development and revitalization to provide more extensive education in these needed and increasingly desirable fields. Degree completions from emerging business fields, including supply chain management and business analytics, have more than doubled over the past decade. During the same period, established business programs, including the MBA, graduate-level general leadership and management programs, and master’s degrees from traditional fields (e.g., accounting, finance, marketing) have demonstrated limited degree conferral growth.

Degree Completions for Master’s-Level Business Programs by Field, 2010-2019

0.06% increase in number of MBA programs, 1.89% increase in traditional specialized fields, 9.38% increase in emerging specialized fields, and 1.11% increase in leadership programs. Alternative business Credentials

What to watch: Will business trends during the pandemic recession mirror the Great Recession?

In contrast to previous recessions, the pandemic era professionals with the most education are the most likely to remain unemployed as the economy begins to recover. Workers with less educational attainment are more likely to work in service jobs: public health mandates drove unemployment, and employment has bounced back as these mandates relax. This presents an opportunity for universities to offer upskilling opportunities for these highly educated professionals to stand out from the competition and return to the workforce.

Gains in Total Number of Employed Persons by Education Level (April-July 2020)


Less than HS diploma


Some college, no degree


Associate’s degree


Bachelor’s degree and above

During the Great Recession, employers recruited early and mid-career managers rather than senior staff to lower costs, a practice likely to resurge today. However, many organizations expected these new leaders to possess advanced management skills that young professionals had not yet learned. Professional and adult education units stepped in to provide short-format and non-degree management training to help these young leaders upskill and remain effective in their organizations. While just-in-time leadership education continues to serve the needs of business professionals, your unit must continue to analyze employer and skill trends in your region to develop the right professional programs and alternative business credentials for your students.

We will also continue to watch how the pandemic recession impacts pre-existing business student trends. During the Great Recession, the growth of conferrals within specialized business programs (e.g., business analytics) continued with limited disruption from the declining economy, while the decline in MBA degree completions amplified. Continue to evaluate your business programs’ fall inquiry, application, and enrollment numbers to see student demand impacts at your institution.

What this means: Specialized master’s degrees and alternative credentials could capture adult enrollments during the pandemic recession

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated trends which already existed within your business program portfolio. Today’s working professionals prioritize low-cost, short-format, and outcomes-focused programming. COVID-19 amplified specialized skill needs to manage during the pandemic, such as IT security architecture, and for traditional skills applied in a new context, such as business strategy skills to remain successful through a pandemic and recession.

What’s next?

We’re continuing to watch job postings trends as well as adjustments to employment projections, and to monitor trends our partner colleges and universities are reporting. Expect updates to this analysis as we learn more this year.

In the meantime, access our previous analysis of MBA program performance during the pandemic and check our regional profiles to see what roles rank among the most demanded jobs for your area. Additionally, you may be interested in our COVID-19 Resource Center for professional and adult education units.

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