John Weiss, Colorado State University Director of MBA Programs, said people are commonly surprised with how long the school has had its distance MBA program. 1975. That was the first year of what is now known as the school’s Online Professional MBA.
It began with a camera, microphone, and some betamax tapes mailed to a few dozen students. The tapes were a recording of the classes held in the MBA program. The distance MBA program continued with that format through the late 1980s. The students were mainly in a close proximity of Fort Collins, the hosting city of Colorado State University.
By the 1990s the off-site program was reaching approximately 100 students and by the mid-90s the business school was able to be put online and eventually spanned globally. Thirty-seven years later, the business school’s online MBA program has more than 1,500 students who engage the program through live-streaming sessions or mailed DVDs and discussion boards.
Wiess said many universities are working to add an online MBA program, but added that doing so is conceptually easier than it is practically easier.
Having started an off-campus program so far in advance than most schools, CSU has been able to stay ahead of the competition.
“We immediately went to the AACSB to get accreditation to our distance program,” he said. “It proves we have been able to give that [on-campus] same education to our online students.”
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Weiss said it is a fairly complicated system that enables students to engage the 40-credit hour course, which captures slides from the class and offers a discussion board for students to engage with each other.
With more than 1,500 students from around the globe entered into the program, students are sectioned into groups with approximately 40 coordinators, whom Weiss said are much like faculty members. Students not only engage their own group, but also their coordinator.
Weiss added that the Online Professional MBA program tries to keep up with not only it students, but also the technology industry and what it has to offer. One of the newest features the business school is currently experimenting with is real-time interaction for students.
“It’s taken a long time to fine tune the program to what most online students want,” he said. “We’re figuring out where we need to be before the students say where we need to be. We’re trying to stay out in front of this thing.”
Students are given between 21 months and five years to complete the program, which doesn’t focus on concentrations. The 40-credit hours required for graduation are made up of 36 required credit hours, leaving only four for specialized. For a concentration, there must be 12 hours and Weiss said the business school decided it didn’t want to put together a 48-credit hour program. The elective part of the program does, however, cover several business aspects including finance, marketing, sustainable business practice, and computer information systems.
“Flexibility is always a word we use,” Weiss said. “But we don’t want the program to ever be perceived as ‘come as you please.’”
He added the reason for the continual usage of the word “flexible” is not because students can access the program from a computer, but because of the time given to students to finish and the continual advancements in the programs technology to better engage students.
“We’re in a constant state of improvement, especially from a tech standpoint,” he said. “We want to give students information to make them successful for today and not yesterday.”
Follow Dustin Bass on Twitter @dbass_cmn.