Full-time enrollment at L.A.'s 15 largest graduate business programs has fallen as well as applications for the coming year reflecting a larger, nationwide decline in college students and young workers pursuing MBAs.

The drop, evident in the falling numbers of applicants and a smaller pool of students taking the GMAT test, is being driven by rising tuition costs. In addition, there has been a decline in the number of international students arriving due to immigration restrictions that grew out of the threat of terrorism in the United States.

"A lot of schools took the big hit last year, and there's a drop again this year," said Carl Voigt, associate dean of MBA programs at USC's Marshall School of Business. "There's a pendulum swing."

The improving economy also has led to an increase of on-campus recruitment, so while enrollment is down, the job outlook for graduates is much better.

"In the fall, we saw about 33 percent more companies coming to our recruiting event looking for students graduating in the spring," said Linda Baldwin, dean of graduate admissions at UCLA's Anderson School of Management. "Job offers before they finish school are up."

Locally, the top 15 MBA programs together have seen full-time enrollment decline 8.3 percent from last year. At the Anderson School, applications for fall 2005 fell 14 percent, after dropping 15.8 percent in fall 2004. USC's Marshall School expects applications for full-time programs to be down about 15 percent from the 1,693 it received last year.

Schools have had to compete for the best students and broaden their part-time and executive programs, said Rachelle Katz, associate dean of admissions at Loyola Marymount's MBA program. At Loyola, up to 80 percent of MBA students remain fully employed while in school, she said.

"When you have to plunk down $50,000, you do a lot of investigating. We have to do more to convince them, especially in an area where there are a lot of schools. It's a very competitive marketplace here," Katz said.

'Big economy'
Nationwide, applications at the 30 top business schools are down 30 percent since 1998, according to Business Week. And the number of prospective applicants who took the GMAT test in March is down 18.8 percent since March 2002, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council.

Applications boomed in 2003 following the tech wreck, when many who got laid off went to school and switched careers, Voigt said. But L.A. schools have been somewhat insulated from the trend, he said. "We're not feeling the swings as dramatically as in the Midwest and South because L.A. has a big economy."


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