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MBA Programs for STEM Professionals

Not only do the courses address a skills gap but give graduates a 36-month US work visa

It is a truth well known that America faces a shortage of workers in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math. While the nation has focused on getting more kids into coding, an equal challenge is finding managers who can work with engineers to plan well a project's strategy and finances.

Annual demand for those with data science skills, for instance, will reach nearly 700,000 openings by 2020, according to IBM.

To make matters worse, the unstable political environment is already deterring overseas talent from the US and skilled graduates are often prevented by immigration laws from securing work in the country.

But the root of the problem is a growing skills gap in education, including university, and inadequate workplace training.

Business schools have recognized the issue and are offering MBA and other master's programs specifically for STEM professionals — including the Wisconsin School of Business and University of Iowa's Tippie College of Business — that often include employer training programs.

Growing employer demand for STEM graduates

"There is a shortage of skilled workers in many different STEM fields, and there has been a particular explosion in demand in recent years for students with skills in analytics," says Greg DeCroix, director of the Supply Chain Management specialization in Wisconsin's MBA course, which is STEM-designated.

"This is why companies may look to STEM-designated programs for hiring — it signals knowledge in these areas."

The MBAs and related courses have core management modules such as accounting and sales but add STEM specific skills including data science and advanced analytics, artificial intelligence and deep learning.

Many of the courses are also officially recognized by the US government's STEM designation scheme, which has been established to help address a significant dearth of technical talent.

Wisconsin also received a STEM designation for its Operations and Technology Management MBA specialization, which focuses on technology, entrepreneurship and healthcare, as well as management science.

DeCroix says that international students looking into the program seem to be very interested in the STEM designation, "so it certainly has the potential to increase the applicant pool — which is part of the reason we pursued the designation".

Since the business school has only had the designation in place for a short period of time, it is too early to tell whether employer demand will rise. But anecdotally, DeCroix says "there have been companies looking to recruit our students who responded positively when they learned about the STEM designation".

Other, more well-established STEM programs have harder evidence of employer demand for their graduates. At the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University, 50 percent of the MBA students taking the Technology Leadership Track, which is not STEM-designated, are hired by tech companies including Facebook, PayPal and Microsoft, according to its director Tim Derdenger.

"Our mission is to educate the next generation of senior executives," he says. "Because we provide management skills as well as technical training, the shelf-life of our degree is long. Our students get the best of the both worlds. The in-depth general management education will help them move into more senior positions."

International STEM students get 36-month US work visa

A STEM course not only helps students develop the skills employers are crying out for, but can also make it possible for internationals to remain stateside for longer than they could otherwise. Graduates of STEM-designated programs can apply for an additional 24 months stay in the US after graduation—on top of the typical 12 months—and receive training through work experience.

"The designation opens doors to STEM-specific scholarships, grants, financial assistance, and employment opportunities for students and graduates," says David Deyak, assistant dean with the Tippie school, which offers three STEM-designated courses: the Master's in Finance, Master's in Business Analytics and the full-time MBA, which is being disbanded.

"We have found that companies are attracted to the idea that a student can work for up to three years after graduation," he says. "The designation provides increased stability for both these future employees and their companies."

Enno Siemsen, Wisconsin professor of operations and information management, adds: "Before the designation, international students could remain in the US for only a year before their visas ran out.

"Adding two more years to that is a real value, taking pressure off MBA students and giving companies with global operations the chance to hire employees who can go abroad but be steeped in the company culture first."

A path to entrepreneurship

While many STEM-focused courses are designed to prepare students for corporate careers, MIT Sloan School of Management focuses on technology entrepreneurship.

With more of its MBA students founding startup companies, MIT introduced a Certificate in Entrepreneurship & Innovation, in which participants develop business plans and compete in competitions for seed funding.

"They also do extracurricular classes, they travel to Silicon Valley to see startups in action," says Bill Aulet, managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship.

He says applications to the certificate course have risen by 30% this year compared with the year before, and that around 10% of MITs MBAs go on to found their own fledgling enterprises. "We give students the space, time, and support structure to launch a tech company," he adds.

Business schools offering STEM MBAs and other programs:

Wisconsin School of Business: Operations and Technology Management MBA specialization

Wisconsin School of Business: Supply Chain Management MBA specialization

University of Iowa's Tippie College of Business: Full-time MBA program

Tippie College of Business: Master's in Finance,

Tippie College of Business: Master's in Business Analytics

Caroll School of Management, Boston College: Master of Science in Finance

University of Connecticut: MS in Financial Risk Management

University of Connecticut: MS in Business Analytics and Project Management

Whitman School of Management: Masters in Finance

SMU Cox: Master of Science in Finance degree