Why a Women’s Scholarship Matters

Why a Women’s Scholarship Matters

By Julianne Helinek, MBA Class of 2017

Stern announced a new scholarship for women earlier this month. The Advancing Women in Business scholarships will cover one year of tuition and fees for select women in the Class of 2019, and the initial $1 million fund was made possible by a group of prominent female alumnae and board members.

This sounds like a great thing for Stern, and it is, but it’s much more than a feel-good nod to diversity on the part of the administration. One million extra dollars for women could make a tangible difference in the Stern community as early as this fall. Here’s why.

Every top business school faces a similar challenge around recruiting women: there aren’t enough qualified candidates to form a gender-balanced class. A 2014 Columbia Business School study on the MBA gender gap found that, in a given year, the total number of American women who fit the profile of a successful top-school applicant (based on their GMAT scores and years of work experience) is around 2,000. That number has stayed fairly stable for the last decade, leaving schools to compete with one another for the same small pool of highly qualified women. As a result, the average enrollment of women in full-time U.S. MBA programs is around 36 percent, according to a 2015 report by the Forté Foundation.

The long-term solution to the gender imbalance in business schools is to expand the pipeline of qualified women candidates. Organizations like the Forté Foundation are working to make this a reality by encouraging more women to take the GMAT, supporting women throughout the MBA application process, and providing member schools with scholarship funds for outstanding women applicants. Some schools are also introducing initiatives to increase outreach to undergraduate women and prompt them to consider an MBA in the future; SWIB will be piloting one such event later this spring. These are important efforts, and if they succeed, schools won’t have to compete so fiercely to recruit and support women. There will be enough high-potential women to go around, and all MBA programs will benefit as a result.

Until that happens, it is imperative that Stern do everything in its power to bring more women to our program and create an environment where women can succeed. Stern’s female enrollment has held steady at 35 percent for the last two years—a respectable figure that is nonetheless outpaced by several of our peers. In 2015, a record 12 schools welcomed classes of 40 percent or more women. That number dropped to 8 schools in 2016, but it’s still a remarkable statistic, given that breaking the 40-percent barrier was considered a lofty goal in the not-too-distant past. Stern, whose female enrollment was once among the highest of any business school, suddenly has some catching up to do.

SWIB has responded to this challenge by stepping up its admissions game. Thanks to our new admissions board members, Megan Sirras and Susan Kornfeld, SWIB has held more admissions events and facilitated more one-on-one connections with prospective students than ever before. We believe every call or coffee meeting is another chance to show a prospective woman what makes Stern special and to welcome her into our community. Research shows that this personal outreach can and does make a difference in women’s matriculation decisions. Unfortunately, money is also an important factor for women who are accepted at multiple schools. In the past year I’ve met several women who confessed that they loved Stern, but didn’t know if they could afford to attend without financial assistance.

Which brings me back to the scholarship announcement. In a class of 400 students, an additional 20 women in the Class of 2019 would allow Stern to surpass the forty-percent women mark for the first time. With full-time tuition and fees at $70,000, a million-dollar scholarship fund can sponsor 14 women’s educations for a year.

That means that 14 additional women will have a big reason to say yes to Stern as they’re making their decisions this spring. It also means that enrolling a Stern class of 40 percent women is now an attainable goal. And if the percentage of women at Stern goes up, it will mean a community that looks and feels different come August.

The next time you see Dean Henry: thank him for showing how much women matter to Stern. I know I will.

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