What 2008 Taught Us About Earning an MBA During a Downturn

Clemson University MBA Program
3 min readFeb 18, 2021

In March of 2020, MBA students were rushed home and forced off campuses early due to the growing threat of the coronavirus. As graduation ceremonies were canceled on college campuses, nearly 3.3 million people were filing for unemployment benefits. These circumstances left a grim outlook for the class of 2020. While companies were pausing internships, pushing back start dates and delaying future plans for many recent graduates, economists were looking back to the class of 2008 for a glimpse of what 2020 graduates could expect as they began to enter the workforce.

Higher Education Means Lower Unemployment

According to the Pew Research Center, the unemployment rate in February 2020 stood at 3.2%, a record low since the end of World War II, but swelled all the way to 14.4% by April 2020. In March of 2009, the unemployment rate stood at 6.4%, according to EPI extracts Bureau of Labor Statistics data (Figure E). Although unemployment rates for the class of 2020 seem much less promising than those of the Great Recession, unemployment rates due to the COVID-19 downturn are lower among workers with a higher level of education.

In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, “The unemployment rate in May was lowest among workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher education.” Compared to workers of the Great Recession, the unemployment rate stayed low for those who had a bachelor’s degree or above, at 5.3% unemployment, and much higher for those who had not received a high school diploma, at 17.8%.

The Advantage of Early Recruitment for MBA Students

When it comes to achieving an MBA, graduates are at an advantage. Because recruiting starts early for MBA graduates, usually early on in their second year, almost 80% of students have been extended an offer by May of their graduation year, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Although recruitment may be less extensive than pre-COVID times, virtual networking events and online interviews have helped the MBA hiring rate remain steady throughout the pandemic.

Transitioning to Online Working

Some industries seem to be growing much more rapidly due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Nursing has seen an increase in job listings, along with e-commerce jobs rising 228 percent since March 2020, and personal consulting jobs have risen as high as 26 percent. Unfortunately, some companies like Disney, Yelp and Urban Outfitters have canceled their internship programs and large corporations have abandoned job fairs. But many companies have found ways to recruit and hire new graduates online.

Compared to the Great Recession, the job market has adapted to the COVID economic downturn much faster than the late 2010s with the power of remote work and more sophisticated technology. Telework has become a common crutch for American businesses when retaining workers, especially for workers with a higher education level. “In February, 62% of workers with a bachelor’s degree or more education had jobs that could be performed remotely,” stated the Pew Research Center in May 2020. This was much higher compared to workers who had a high school diploma or below.

Make Yourself More Employable

As stated in our Should You Get Your MBA During a Recession? blog, “the Financial Times found in a survey that students from the top programs who started degrees at the start of the 2008 downturn and who graduated in 2010 saw their salaries double.”

If we’ve learned anything from the economic downturn of the Great Recession, it’s that when you enter the job market has a lot to do with your career success. Economists have found that graduates from 2008 and 2009 faced an average of a 10- to 15-year lag in their career from entering the job market during the Great Recession.

As we move along into 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to confine the global population to social distancing, remote work, mask mandates and quarantines, but one option still offers safety for graduates who are entering the workforce during an economic downturn: staying in school. Receiving your MBA online won’t just make you more marketable and help you land more jobs, it will keep your career from being slowed down by the current state of unemployment.



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