Tops in Attendance: UCLA took the No. 1 spot on the enrollment list among universities and colleges with 45,000 students.

Tops in Attendance: UCLA took the No. 1 spot on the enrollment list among universities and colleges with 45,000 students.

Enrollment in master of business administration programs at Los Angeles County colleges and universities fell last year as students sought out cheaper alternatives, according to data from the Business Journal’s annual list of largest M.B.A. programs.

The number of students enrolled in part-time M.B.A. programs for the 2016-17 academic year fell 8.2 percent to 3,469 compared with the previous academic year. The number of students enrolled in full-time programs held steady at just over 2,900, according to data submitted by the schools.

Overall M.B.A. enrollment fell 4.8 percent to 6,375 from 6,694, even as the number of degrees handed out at the 22 programs in the county rose 6 percent to 4,730 and overall enrollment at local universities and colleges grew slightly.

The drop in M.B.A. enrollment might be related to the economy nearing full employment and the changing workplace value of such a degree, according to officials with the various programs.

Typically, when the economy sours, people who are laid off turn to M.B.A. programs to repackage themselves, according to Abe Helou, dean of the College of Business and Public Management at the University of La Verne, whose M.B.A. program ranked No. 4 on the Business Journal’s list. When the economy is doing well, more people enroll in part-time M.B.A. programs to put themselves on a faster track for promotions, Helou added.

But right now, he said, while the economy is relatively strong, paths for upward mobility still appear relatively constrained.

“There’s a perception that an M.B.A. degree may not allow them (students) to move to a better situation,” he said.

The high cost of such programs – total tuition exceeds $100,000 for the top-rated programs at major universities – and the decline of tuition assistance from companies has pushed applicants to seek out cheaper alternatives as well, Helou said.

Those trends are occurring nationally. For example, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council, which oversees the GMAT test, 53 percent of two-year M.B.A. programs reported declines in applications last year.

New strategies

Local business schools have responded by offering more – and cheaper – online courses and other business-related degree programs, including master of science degrees in finance and data analytics. The result is that potential students seeking to bolster their standing with business degrees have far more options than previous generations.

Both UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business have greatly expanded their roster of business degree programs.

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