When Susan Miltenberger began taking executive MBA classes, she knew the reputation of such programs. They tend to be heavily male, filled with mid-career businessmen. But Loyola College surprised her.
"I was expecting to see like five women in my class," Miltenberger said, "and I walked in and was like, 'Whoa! We're half the room!' "
While women make up less than 20 percent of executive master of business administration classes nationwide, at Loyola they account for 42 percent of the current first-year class. The college has targeted scholarships and recruiting toward women, who historically have not sought executive MBAs, programs that meet on weekends and are for mid-career professionals with at least 10 years of management experience.
Experts say women have avoided the programs because of the schedules that require them to be away from their families, because of a professional glass ceiling that made them feel the degree would not be worthwhile, and because they have traditionally faced difficulty getting employers to pay for the classes, which can be expensive.
But Loyola is upending the national trend. The school features women in its advertising and connects prospective students with female alumnae of the program, matching them by industry and interest. When one prospective student who had a young child at home was wondering how she would fit classwork into her life, Loyola got her on the phone with a recent graduate who had a small child.
"We noticed a while ago that one of the most underserved student populations - yet one that truly needs the exposure to an executive MBA and the values and skills - is the female population," said Manette Frese, director of Loyola's EMBA program. But the programs draw from management ranks, which are still male-dominated, making it hard to boost female enrollment.
Logistics were also a hurdle for some students: Many executive MBA programs meet every other week for a full weekend, often including an overnight stay. That turns off women with children. So Loyola's program meets for one full day every week, on alternating Fridays and Saturdays.
Female students said they were attracted by the schedule but also by the emphasis on an ethical business education that comes at a Jesuit university like Loyola. Students learn leadership and ethics before getting into the hard tacks of courses like accounting.
"I'm Catholic-educated, and I knew Loyola's reputation," said Therese Brown, associate director of marketing for the publishing office of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. She met with Frese and found Loyola's program, which started in 1973 and is the fifth-oldest EMBA in the country, less intimidating than others she considered, and she appreciated the noncompetitive aspect of the class.
It may have something to do with the maturity of the class, officials said. The average age of Loyola's EMBA students is 42, while the national average is 36.
"When you come into an MBA program, you're hoping to get as much diversity as possible," Frese said. The Loyola program has had female enrollment in the 30 percent range for a few years, but didn't cross 40 percent until this year.
Another major EMBA program in the state, at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, has 28 percent female enrollment for the current first-year class. Last year's class was 38 percent female, and the class before that 28 percent. The Johns Hopkins University and the University of Baltimore do not offer EMBA programs.
Monica Barry, who graduated from Loyola's EMBA program in 2007, often speaks to prospective students at the college's request. "I share my lessons learned on how I got through it and the kinds of things to think about ahead of time to help them manage their family," said Barry, who works for the biotech company FMC BioPolymer in Philadelphia.
Barry said Loyola was flexible in adapting to her schedule. When she got a promotion at work and needed to travel abroad, Loyola taped lectures and set up video conferencing so she could participate in group work.
"If you don't know you have that kind of flexibility and support in place, you may shy away from it," she said. "By using an alumni network of females who have been in a similar situation, that gives people confidence to take it on."
Christie Brannock, who manages a lab for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, decided to get an MBA when she realized that her job was shifting away from science, which is her background, and into administrative work. Her undergraduate degree is from the all-female College of Notre Dame of Maryland, and in choosing a business school she wanted one with strong ethics.
As a mother, she liked that the Loyola EMBA was in session just one day a week. But she also found that the large number of women in her class "settles down" the guys. "It was very clear you get different perspectives from males and females in a business setting," said Brannock, who graduated last year.
At a recent microeconomics class at Loyola's Timonium campus, the women, though fewer in number, were just as vocal as the men in discussing pricing strategies for various products. The mix of students in the class - which includes employees of the Maryland Zoo, Constellation Energy and Ernst & Young - keeps it interesting, said Miltenberger, 39, who's the associate vice president for technology at Maryland Institute College of Art.
"A goal in going into a program like this is to get an understanding in many other areas," said Miltenberger, who has a bachelor's degree in drawing from MICA.
After the class, Professor Charles Scott said he's seen an increase in female enrollment since he began teaching at Loyola in 1985, and that it's been a good thing.
"I think it changes the dynamics within the teams and it opens it up. You're sensitized to a wider variety of issues," he said. "It brings a new dimension to the class."