The Simon School of Business Receives STEM Designation for Full-Time MBA

The change especially benefits international students, who could be eligible for two-year extensions of their work visas after graduation.

This summer, the University of Rochester’s Simon School of Business in New York state announced a significant change to its full-time MBA. The program, which has received a STEM designation from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), will now be a STEM MBA. All full-time MBA students can opt to pursue a STEM MBA, regardless of their specialization.

The Simon School started this process three years ago, when its faculty decided to obtain a STEM designation for its four specialized master’s programs in business analytics, marketing analytics, finance, and accounting. To meet DHS requirements for STEM designation, programs must dedicate 50 percent of their credit hours to courses in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, a bar that these specialized programs met easily. Administrators realized that the school’s full-time MBA could also meet that mark with just a few tweaks to the existing course content.

This change will be especially valuable to international students, says Andrew Ainslie, the Simon School’s dean. International students in the U.S. who earn STEM-designated degrees qualify for optional practical training (OPT) extensions to their work visas. OPT allows them to stay in the U.S. for three years after graduation, as long as they work in STEM-oriented positions. Students earning other types of degrees qualify for only one-year visas.

“When we first started thinking about making this change, its impact on our graduates’ visa status was less of an issue than it is today,” says Ainslie. “But over the last couple of years, the entire landscape in the United States has changed. We’re seeing the government request more information from even those people who’ve had H1-B visas for a year or two, and we’ve also seen occasional denials. The STEM certification is a huge win for our foreign students.”

The STEM-designated MBA and master’s programs also are attractive to domestic students, who believe such degrees will make them more competitive in the job market, says Greg Bauer, associate dean of fulltime MS and MBA programs. The school has seen enrollments in its master’s programs increase by more than 30 percent over the last three years. Bauer and Ainslie ascribe that increase in part to curricular changes and in part to the STEM designation.

Because of the school’s existing emphasis on analytics, it did not have to make major changes to its curriculum to earn the designation. However, some faculty had to change their course syllabi, which has strengthened the curriculum overall, says Ainslie. “For example, our accounting courses did not depend on data analytics as much as they do today,” he says. “Faculty have added content related to areas such as forensic accounting.”

In a move that might seem counterintuitive, the STEM MBA will emphasize soft skills more than the general MBA that came before. “It’s that interaction between leadership skills and technology skills that employers are looking for,” says Bauer.

The Simon School’s past MBA graduates also will benefit, because the new STEM designation is retroactive. As long as past students took enough courses to pass the 50 percent threshold, they can include the STEM MBA on their résumés. The school estimates that 70 percent of past graduates will qualify for the amendment.