The one-year full-time MBA programme, standard at most business schools in Europe, is starting to become a more prevalent offering in the US as American institutions strive to court a different target market.

Applications to MBA programmes are historically counter-cyclical to economic conditions: applications rise in bad times and fall in good. But the recent global economic downturn has been a different story. According to a survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council, applications to two-year, full-time MBA programmes declined in 2011 for the third consecutive year.

As a result, some schools are accelerating their offerings to try to draw a broader clientele. But some in the industry worry that the depth of a one-year programme versus a two-year programme is not the same.

“European programmes for the most part require significant pre-enrolment work experience,” says John Fernandes, president and chief executive of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the industry body.

“Wtih this, a one-year programme may be fine for some students who are mostly interested in returning to and advancing within their current company. For students with little or no professional experience, it is a stretch to get all they need in one year.”

Schools that offer accelerated courses tend to appeal to an older, more seasoned student: not quite the mid-career professional who is the focus of Executive MBA programmes, but someone more experienced than the 20-something seeking a dramatic career change, the sweet spot of the traditional two-year MBA.

One-year programmes are especially attractive in lean economic times, schools say, as many prospective students are mindful of the opportunity cost of leaving the workforce for an extended period. The cost of a one-year programme is also slightly less.

“It’s a certain type of student that’s drawn to the one-year programme,” says Katie Lloyd, an admissions officer at Emory’s Goizueta Business School. “They’re more focused.” There’s a lot of self-selection goes on.”

Some schools, like Goizueta, have offered an accelerated programme for years; several top-tier schools, including Cornell’s Johnson School and Northwestern’s Kellogg, have one-year programmes. Others are new to the scene: Rutgers Business School in New Jersey recently introduced a one-year programme and Bentley’s McCallum Graduate School of Business plans one for the next academic year.

Mike Page, Bentley’s provost, says the school has had success marketing its programme to professionals taking a sabbatical from work – especially those who have an employer willing to sponsor their degree or at least reimburse some of their tuition costs. “As companies have cut training and development budgets this is an appealing programme,” he says.

For students who are not sponsored, the recruiting timetable poses a challenge. Students on one-year programmes graduate with those on two-year programmes but have not gone through an interview cycle, nor have they had a summer internship.

“They have to work a bit harder to find jobs,” says Randy Allen, associate dean for international and corporate relations at Johnson.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle is the compressed schedule. Officials in the US concede that teaching the nuts and bolts of an MBA education and still managing to squeeze in additional courses in subjects such as entrepreneurship and ethics is tricky.

“The experience is different,” says Ms Allen. “The core is done in a condensed time frame.”

In light of this, most schools require applicants to have a strong financial background. Students on the one-year programme at Pepperdine’s Graziadio School of Business and Management in California, for instance, must have completed core business courses with a grade of B or higher, while Babson requires applicants to hold an undergraduate business degree.

But these requirements are not enough to quell concerns by some that a one-year programme is not long enough. “I don’t think they’re a good idea in terms of what the employment market wants out of business graduates,” says Mr Fernandes. “A lot of the traditional schools are shaking their heads.”

But he concedes that business schools have to make tough choices. “The economic realities are forcing schools to make do the best they can.”

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