The digital degree movement has begun to make headway in the education industry as many higher education institutions slowly but surely gravitate to the digital movement, be it in their classes, textbooks, or other forms of student engagement. The online MBA is part of that movement although some of the biggest names in business education, such as Harvard University, Stanford University, and the University of Pennsylvania have yet to give way to an online MBA or even a hybrid form of earning an MBA.
Despite the fact many prestigious universities and business programs have embraced the online MBA, including the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Thunderbird Global School of Management, and Babson College, the online learning system is still considered by some institutions to be in a phase of trial and error.
“One of the critical components of an MBA is a great deal of hands-on active learning in groups,” said Debbie Laverie, senior associate dean at the Rawls College of Business at Texas Tech University. “To mirror this experience online and to do it well is very time consuming. However, the market potential is large. It is an endeavor with a huge amount of up-front cost in manpower and technology.”
The points brought up by Laverie are under consideration at every school — those that have launched and have yet to launch any type of online MBA program. According to Carla Hayn, senior associate dean of the Anderson School Management at the University of California-Los Angeles, it was several years of contemplation before launching a hybrid section of the school’s Fully Employed MBA program. The school started the hybrid section in early 2012.
One section of out the five of the Anderson part-time MBA program is offered 50% online and 50% in a classroom setting. Hayn said there several reasons for initiating the program.
“First, the faculty were very much aware of the fact that there were a number of professionals in California and nearby states who would like to join our MBA program but who could not do so due to professional demands, family responsibilities and logistics that made it difficult for them to get to the UCLA campus once a week,” she said. “A schedule that required them to be on campus just once a month seemed ideal for this group. Second, the faculty were very much aware that our existing students could benefit from online interaction that would supplement material covered in the classroom. There is just so much that can be covered during a regular classroom session. Developing online material could thus serve two purposes: broadening our reach to new students and better serving our existing students. The third reason the faculty decided to offer a hybrid section was that it realized that providing education via different modes was fast becoming an accepted, and in some cases preferred, form of delivery. A decision was made to be leaders in this area rather than followers, and to be early adopters of the hybrid format.”
Hayn added that the faculty at the Anderson School of Management believe it is becoming increasingly important for students to be able to access educational content online.
“With the recent economic difficulties in the U.S., our part-time students were working harder than ever and found it difficult to leave their jobs for an afternoon or evening class,” she said. Further, the traffic problems in Los Angeles are not getting any better. If students can learn from a distant location and not have to spend unproductive time commuting to and from campus every week, this is a huge payoff. It definitely makes getting an MBA a more attractive and more obtainable goal.”
But not every business schools express these same views and according to J. Todd Rhoad, managing director for Bt Consulting and author of the Henry Series for MBAs said there are several reasons why some business schools have not made the digital changes to their educational format.
“Some school administrations still subscribe to the old way of education because it’s all they know,” he said.
He said he wondered this when he discussed digital textbooks at a university bookstore where they were still using physical textbooks, yet his 8-year-old daughter had yet to use anything but digital textbooks.
“It got me to thinking about why an elementary school is more advanced than a university, which charges a great deal more for their education,” he said. “Being physically on campus with a physically present professor studying a real paper book, is the way it all started and it’s become a good business model. When they need more money, they just raise tuition. It’s easy. No one in the system wants to change because it could mean the end of their position.”
A resistance to change may be one of the dividing factors between schools with online or hybrid MBAs and those without. But as aforementioned by Laverie, there are a number of obstacles that hinder schools from launching these initiatives.
Hayn acknowledged that the Anderson School of Management viewed these obstacles in much the same way, but assessed the destination’s positives would outweigh the journey’s negatives.
“While UCLA Anderson enjoys a strong reputation around the world, the faculty felt that it wanted to be on the cutting edge when it came to using technology effectively,” she said. “Faculty members were willing to invest the time, and the administration was willing to dedicate the financial resources, to ensure that we would be in the forefront of what appears to be a significant and growing movement in higher education.
“Some of these schools are happy to rest on their laurels. As we’re finding out, it takes a lot of energy on the part of the faculty and a lot of financial resources to launch hybrid educational sessions. Some institutions apparently feel that they will attract students whether they are innovative or not, based on the strength of their reputation.”
She also added that there should be no reason why an MBA with online components cannot provide the qualitative aspects enjoyed by students in traditional MBA programs as long as the program is well designed, there is a high level of teacher-student engagement, and students become immersed in the subject material.
“Differences of opinion about the quality and value of an online MBA are typical when one looks at the resistance to technological innovation over the last 200 years,” said Robert Mittelstaedt, dean of the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. “Early adopters of any radically different way of doing things are generally more willing to acknowledge the weaknesses of the current system and view the future differently from those who have the most to lose from the threat of new technology.”
Arizona State University began their online MBA program more than a decade ago and had its online MBA program ranked #2 in the country by U.S. News and World Report.
What’s in a Name?
According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, the average starting salary for MBA graduates has remained idle at $90,000 since 2008.
However, at University of Chicago, Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern University, Stanford University, Duke University, University of Michigan, University of California-Berkley, Columbia University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Bloomberg Businessweek’s, top 10 business schools,showed increases in starting salaries, while the rest remained the same.
But does a name really help an MBA graduate land a job in their potential career field?
“I’ve interviewed thousands and hired hundreds over the years,” said Mark Joyner, founder and CEO of Simpleology. “I stopped being impressed by titles and degrees when I found that many people used them as a smoke screen for a lazy work ethic and incompetence. I have seen zero correlation between the pedigree of one’s institution and star performance. What matters to me (is) are they highly competent (and) do they have heart? Will they stick it out when the going gets tough and will they treat people well?”
Robert Braathe, professor at Saratoga College and business consultant for Braathe Enterprises and Capital Business Advisors agreed that it comes down to the MBA graduate themselves, not the name of where the graduate earned their MBA.
“As a recruiter of college interns, I could care less where a student goes to school — or their GPA for that matter,” he said. “What truly makes a candidate stand out at the MBA level is the variety of work and activities.”
Elle Kaplan, CEO and founding partner of Lexion Capital Management, echoed the sentiment of hard work and determination over the pedigree of a business school.
“Names don’t impress me as much as actions do,” she said. “Someone who didn’t attend a Tier 1 school, but worked the whole time and paid their own way, might make a better impression than someone who only has a big-name degree.”
With the influx of prestigious schools joining the online movement for MBAs, it appears to be leveling the playing field with schools that still refuse to create, or have yet to implement, an online MBA.
“A famous example from industry is the Baldwin Locomotive Company in Philadelphia that in 1949 recommitted itself ‘to making the finest steam locomotives in the world,’” said Mittelstaedt. “The ‘test period’ is over for online MBAs — we’ve been doing it for a dozen years, and it is a refined and respected product