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At More Than 100 Leading Business Schools, Fall Reopening Plans Forge Ahead

·13 min read

Stanford Graduate School of Business MBA students will soon be back on campus, as the GSB is among the vast majority of U.S. B-schools planning fully in-person classes for the fall quarter. Stanford photo

Coronavirus was on the ropes. Things were looking so good in the United States that business schools were confident the autumn MBA intake would look more like 2019’s than 2020’s.

That was six months ago. Now, Covid-19 cases are spiking again as the summer wanes. But invested in the momentum of a return to normalcy, most B-schools are pressing forward with plans for in-person instruction, with a growing number requiring their students to prove they have been vaccinated against the disease that has killed hundreds of thousands in the U.S. and millions worldwide.

In an analysis of the top 100 ranked U.S. schools and several from Europe, Poets&Quants found that all have announced plans to open for in-person instruction when their full-time MBA students arrive in August and September. While most still are not demanding that students be vaccinated, many are — including nearly all the top-25 schools — and every school strongly encourages it.


Emory Goizueta’s Brian Mitchell: “We are looking forward to being back on campus, fully in-person for the fall semester”

Pandemic reality changes almost daily. In the U.S., widespread access to vaccines had been driving case and death numbers steadily down through the first half of 2021; that is no longer true. In Europe and Asia (and particularly India), control of the pandemic that began in March 2020 never seemed as certain; wild fluctuations in cases continue to flummox health and government officials, and by turns enervate and enrage exhausted populations.

Everywhere, people are tired of lockdowns, mask requirements, school and society closures. But a return to normalcy again seems far off — in some ways, frustratingly, further off than ever.

B-schools must look through a murky lens in deciding how to proceed in the second fall of the Covid-19 pandemic. So far, nearly all of the schools examined by Poets&Quants, including all but a handful of the 100 schools in our most recent ranking, have told their students to plan for in-person classes — but also to expect the continued deployment of such safety measures as social distancing and mask wearing. Meanwhile, a growing number — 51 of 105 schools — will in fact make attendance contingent on proof of vaccination. However, that group includes none of the five European schools we looked at.

In the top 25, vaccination as a requirement is the rule, not the exception. Twenty-two schools say if you haven’t gotten the jab, don’t bother coming to class. However, all make exceptions for medical or religious reasons.

Among the group of B-schools requiring vaccination, all are following the lead of their universities. UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business is following not just a university-wide mandate, says Pete Johnson, assistant dean for the full-time MBA program and admissions, but a UC-system-wide dictum. UC’s vaccination requirement goes into effect August 4, but there are exceptions “based on a Medical Exemption, Disability Accommodation, or Religious Objection; pregnant individuals may also request a deferral for the duration of the pregnancy,” Johnson says.

“Students with approved exemptions or accommodations may return to campus with the requirement that they remain masked in all public settings, and will be required to have a Covid-19 test every week. In the rare case that a student is unable to attend due to an approved exemption, we will make an effort to enable them to follow classes remotely, although it will not be possible for all classes.” Most of Haas’ peer schools have posted similar language.


File photo

Following a highly publicized federal court ruling Monday (July 19) in which a judge upheld Indiana University’s requirement for vaccination — rejecting students’ contention that the mandate was unconstitutional — the Kelley School of Business announced that it would follow IU’s lead in requiring all MBA students to be vaccinated before coming to campus. “We are very proud of Indiana University’s and the Kelley School’s efforts to keep our students, faculty, and staff safe and healthy during the pandemic,” Gale Gold Nichols, executive director of Kelley’s full-time MBA program, tells P&Q. “We have confidence in the ongoing measures that have been established, and we look forward to a great year ahead with our new and returning students.”

Emory University Goizueta Business School has added the Covid-19 vaccine to its vaccine requirements for students, says Brian Mitchell, associate dean of the full-time MBA program at the Atlanta B-school. However, a student may still refuse to get vaccinated, in which case they must submit to weekly Covid-19 testing. “As long as they test negative for Covid-19 they will be allowed to attend classes in-person,” Mitchell says. “If a student tests positive for Covid-19 they will work with faculty members on an individual academic continuity plan based on their individual circumstances.

“We are looking forward to being back on campus, fully in-person for the fall semester. We have had an excellent experience this summer with our one-year MBA program being fully in-person. We still require face masks when we are indoors, and we expect to hear from the university soon on whether our mask requirement will remain in place when we begin the fall semester.”

And at Michigan Ross, where faculty and staff are preparing for a return to in-person learning this fall, all students should plan to be back on campus. Those who do not live on campus are not yet required to be vaccinated, says Dana Alger from U-M Public Affairs, but that many change by the end of July.

“We strongly recommend that our students, faculty, and staff get vaccinated,” Alger says. “As University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel announced, the university will require vaccines for all students living on campus. We will continue to monitor the visa processing and travel restrictions situation for our international students and do everything we can to support and advocate for them so they can pursue their studies this fall.

“University officials continue to monitor the important measure of vaccination among the U-M community, along with an assessment of the spread of Covid-19 in the local and regional communities, in order to make a decision regarding fall masking requirements in classes by July 31.”

Another year of COVID at INSEAD


After most efforts to have consistent in-person course delivery in 2020-2021, an academic year that ended with most B-schools unable even to have live graduation ceremonies, all the schools in the P&Q ranking plan to bring their students to campus this fall. Only a few have announced plans to use remote delivery in special cases, such as international students unable to get a visa on time.

“As of now the presumption is that all university classes that normally take place in person will return to that model,” says Colin McEwen, assistant director of media relations at the Case Western University Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio. “Weatherhead does have an online MBA, so of course that one will not be in-person.”

“We are only offering in-person courses this year,” says Mike Mannor, associate dean of the Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business MBA, “as we feel that the most powerful and impactful learning experiences that define Notre Dame can only be fully experienced in person.” All Notre Dame MBA students must be vaccinated, he adds.

At another Midwest B-school, vaccinations are not required, but in-person attendance is. The University fo Minnesota Carlson School of Management can take this approach because of the size of its cohort, says Phil Miller, Carlson’s assistant dean of MBA & MS programs.

“Beyond the mode of delivery, we run programs whose size allows us to know and interact with each student closely,” Miller says. “Residential programs like the full-time MBA will be in-person with no formal streaming of courses. Conversely, working professional students have significant demands on their schedule, whether that be time or location/travel. For these audiences, we are providing modality and schedule choices (online, Hyflex, in-person) as their learning needs are quite different from residential, full-time students.” He adds that Carlson will not leave international students out in the cold. “Our support for international students at an individual level has been outstanding, particularly as they seek to understand their immigration and employment status.”

Another school that is not requiring students to get vaccinated is getting creative to incentivize them to do so. At Penn State University’s Smeal College of Business, when students submit their vaccination status they become eligible for a weekly drawing for prizes, including cash payments, gift cards, and autographed footballs.


HEC Paris’ Andrea Masini. File photo

In Europe, the top schools will not require vaccinations, per se, but they are planning to enforce severe restrictions that should convince all but the most intransigent to get their shots.

At HEC Paris, following strong urging by President Emmanuel Macron earlier this month, HEC Paris expects to require all students to attend classes in-person, says Andrea Masini, associate dean for MBA programs. “The HEC Paris MBA will strictly follow the recommendations issued by French authorities,” he tells P&Q. “Based on the most recent guidelines issued by the French Ministry of Higher Education, all MBA courses are expected to be delivered in-person, and participants will be required to attend classes in person.

“However, exceptions will be granted to participants who — for reasons of force majeure — will be unable to reach the HEC Paris campus or attend courses in person. For all these participants, we have put in place a continuity plan that will allow them to follow courses remotely, i.e. through a hybrid system. In that regard, and to maximize the quality of the MBA experience, our lecture theatres have been equipped with state-of-the-art technology to offer a seamless experience to these participants.”

Students will not be required to be vaccinated — but they will be strongly incentivized to do so, Masini says.

“In accordance with the most recent guidelines set by the French health protocol, a ‘Pass Sanitaire’ (vaccination certificate) will be required for all activities that take place in bars, restaurants, or hotels with a public area where people can gather in large groups,” he says. “Therefore, all students who wish to participate in activities organized in such spaces will be required to produce a certificate. While we are still awaiting further guidance regarding the possibility of requesting students to produce a vaccination certificate to access classrooms, all our students will be encouraged to get vaccinated.”

If a student refuses or is unable to be vaccinated, what contingencies are in place to deal with them?

“All participants who are unable to attend classes in person for reasons of force majeure will be given the possibility to follow classes remotely, in a synchronous manner, and will receive the recording of the sessions they attended.”

At IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain, MBA classes will continue to be in-person in the fall after IESE was alone among top MBA programs in offering in-person classes from day one of the 2020-2021 academic year. “Due to the pandemic, students who could not access campus for health reasons could follow their classes online. That will remain an option in the coming school year,” says Billy Gray, IESE international communications and English content editor.

“We are strongly recommending to all MBA students that they get vaccinated, although it will not be a requirement,” Gray continues. “If they have been fully vaccinated, students will need to provide proof of that with an official certificate that will allow them permanent access to campus without completing a daily health questionnaire. If they have not been vaccinated, they will need to complete a daily health questionnaire, and periodically provide the results of an antigen test to show they are Covid-free.

“Students who are not vaccinated will have to complete the daily health questionnaire in order to access campus. And the entire IESE community will continue to comply with our campus health and safety protocols. IESE will do all that it can to arrange vaccinations in Barcelona for those students who are unable to be vaccinated in their home countries.”


Students at INSEAD during the pandemic

INSEAD will use much the same strategy as its European peer schools, says Chris Howells, communications director for the school with campuses in Fontainebleau, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, and San Francisco. But the school is ready to pivot back to hybrid or remote if the pandemic worsens and circumstances require.

“Our plan for the fall is for in-person instruction to be the default with the appropriate classroom capacity limits in line with local safe distancing guidelines in our various jurisdictions,” Howells says. “INSEAD follows the national government guidelines for campus operations per country/campus: Europe (France), Asia (Singapore), Middle East (Abu Dhabi), North America (San Francisco). Throughout the past year, we have conducted classes in hybrid mode or fully virtual as the Covid-19 situation has shifted. We will not hesitate to pivot when necessary to hybrid or fully virtual again if the situation requires it. The health and safety of our entire community is our highest priority.”

INSEAD will not require vaccination from its students, he adds, but “we strongly encourage individuals who can to get the vaccine to protect themselves and those unable to vaccinate for underlying health reasons.” Regardless of whether students are vaccinated, a negative RT-PCR test is required for access to INSEAD’s Middle East Campus; for those entering its Europe Campus in Fontainebleau, “we offer testing at the campus for those who are not vaccinated or unable to get vaccinated and strongly encourage testing before entering the facilities. At our Asia Campus in Singapore, testing is not required for campus entry. Mask wearing and social distancing is mandatory indoors at all our facilities.”

Even if fully vaccinated, INSEAD will enforce strong social distancing rules, Howells says. Students “must continue to follow health and safety guidelines, as it is still possible to transmit the virus and infect others.” Among the guidelines — common among business schools in Europe and North America — are safe distancing, avoiding large gatherings, mask wearing, and frequent hand washing.

See the next pages for a complete chart of more than 100 business schools and their stated policies on type of instruction this fall and whether students will be required to be vaccinated.

Fifty-one of the top 100 U.S. business schools are requiring their students to get vaccinated in order to attend classes this fall

“WE ARE VERY PROUD of Indiana University’s and the Kelley School’s efforts to keep our students, faculty, and staff safe and healthy during the pandemic,” says Gale Gold Nichols, executive director of the Kelley School of Business full-time MBA program. “We have confidence in the ongoing measures that have been established, and we look forward to a great year ahead with our new and returning students.”

India has been among the hardest-hit countries during the pandemic — a fact that directly impacts business schools, most of which admit large numbers of Indian nationals to their MBA programs. File photo

"WE ARE ONLY OFFERING in-person courses this year," says Mike Mannor, associate dean of the Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business MBA, "as we feel that the most powerful and impactful learning experiences that define Notre Dame can only be fully experienced in person."

"THE FALL 2021 CLASS MODALITY DECISION is based on guidance from the CDC and the current vaccination information and trends," says John Gresley, assistant dean and director of the University of Florida Hough Graduate School of Business MBA. "UF and UF Health continue to monitor conditions and the health status of the campus and will suggest alteration as needed. The course offerings for international students enrolled or admitted to the MBA programs meet their specific requirements based on our conversations with them and/or they are able to travel to campus."

"FOR THE FALL SEMESTER, the Auburn University Harbert College of Business MBA programs currently offer students the option to take classes on campus, online, and in a hybrid format," says Charles Martin, senior editor at Harbert's Office of Communications and Marketing. "The college offered these options prior to COVID-19 as well. At this point, the university is not requiring students to be vaccinated."


The post At More Than 100 Leading Business Schools, Fall Reopening Plans Forge Ahead appeared first on Poets&Quants.