Prospective students of an online MBA program usually have many questions filling their minds before they start. What will an online experience be like? How will the online education be different from being a residential student? What does the MBA program entail? Will future employers respect my online degree? Will my job prospects expand? Will the program be worth the time, money and effort I put into it?
Online MBA Today is sitting down with Jeffrey Brown, the Dean and Professor of Business for the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, to help answer some of these important questions. Celebrating their Sesquincentennial (1867-2017) and located within the twin cities of Champaign and Urbana, this university has almost 47,000 students pursuing all levels of degrees both on campus and online. This 72-credit hour Online MBA Program features an accessible tuition rate and has concentrations in Digital Marketing, Global Challenges in Business, and Innovation: From Creativity to Entrepreneurship. The College of Business receives its regional accreditation through the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and its excellent worldwide accreditation through the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). Illinois’ Online MBA is consistently ranked, seen in Online MBA Today’s Top 50 No-GMAT Online MBA Ranking, Top 50 Best Value Online MBA Ranking, Top 50 Online MBA Ranking, and the Top 50 Online MBA Programs in Entrepreneurship.
Online MBA Today: What are some key differences between an online MBA and a residential MBA that prospective students should be aware of?
Jeffrey Brown: An online MBA, beyond being flexible, has the potential to connect professionals from all corners of the world and with a diverse set of backgrounds and industry experiences. The perspectives gained from having such a varied and diverse cohort make for an extremely valuable experience—one that is not as easily possible in an on-campus program. An online MBA also allows for more flexibility in a student’s schedule. And there is the beauty of being able to attend classes from your own residence, from your neighborhood coffee shop, or from anywhere in the world. The degree is the same, but the delivery method is different, and that delivery method makes all the difference for some students.
Online MBA Today: What do you think are some advantages of an online MBA program versus a residential program?
Jeffrey Brown: I just mentioned one advantage: flexibility. Students can take in lectures around their work-life schedule. An online MBA allows professionals to pursue a degree while maintaining their career. Many professionals simply can’t make the commitment to take on a residential MBA. It doesn’t work in their lives or their schedules. So it follows that another advantage is you don’t have to relocate to earn an MBA. A few online MBA programs can offer a rich diversity through its global classrooms.
Online MBA Today: What makes your program unique among online MBAs?
Jeffrey Brown: The Illinois online MBA, the iMBA program, is unique in at least four ways:
- The iMBA program is an open system, the first online MBA to leverage the power of MOOCs in partnership with Coursera. Courses offered include two parts: the first part is a MOOC open to all, an interactive multimedia textbook and the second part is only open to degree students for graduate credit (for a higher charge, but heavily discounted from face-to-face college credits) and involves live interaction with faculty, group work, case discussions, exams and other assessments. The open system means that MBA students get ongoing interaction with people from all walks of life all over the world–whether in a village in India or a big city in Brazil, they learn with the world. This brings all kinds of voices into the classroom from working professionals, customers, partners, and so on continuously–something you don’t get if you’re in a regular online MBA program that only has peers similar to you in work experience and socioeconomic class. The Illinois team has created ways to bring MOOCs, which enroll thousands, to human scale–creating small cohorts to interact with and learn from each other while also enabling the interaction with the broader segment of learners.
- The iMBA redefines the concept of active-learning packages and made the program stackable. Online, we don’t have to go by academic departments but we go by how business works in the real world. We divided the 18 courses required to graduate into six Specializations. Each Specialization is a thematic set of three courses with a capstone project. Each Specialization is a building block to the degree. Stackable means you can take what we call a Specialization in whatever order you want. The reality is that flexibility and real world needs matter tremendously to this kind of learner. Stackability means you can take the sequence you need when you need it – if you have some digital projects coming up at work, start your MBA by becoming an expert in that focus area and build from there.
- iMBA re-defines what a business school “subject” is in many cases. Rather than simply taking our offline content and transferring it directly online, we’ve looked for opportunities to blend content from multiple subject areas together in courses. We not only bring different parts of the Gies College of Business together in this way, but different parts of the University as well. This makes for new types of richer learning experiences. Our Specialization in Digital Marketing, for example, brings together Gies College of Business faculty, College of Media faculty, and we also bring in working professionals. Our Digital Marketing specialization includes a senior executive from Google, for example. We see the online world as an opportunity for fresh thinking, not necessarily being restricted to the traditional structure of a university.
- The iMBA is a widely accessible and affordable program–at less than $22,000, about 1/3 the cost of online MBAs from comparable institutions–representing a democratization of the MBA.We’re seeking to advance the mission of great land grant universities, broadening access to top-level education–including the quality of research/teaching and the value of the alumni network. Online MBAs are priced way out of reach for huge swaths of high-potential business talent. Indeed, iMBA is a way to democratize education by reducing financial, geographic, and other barriers. The iMBA provides exceptional students the opportunity to earn a high-quality degree from one of the great business schools in the country while continuing to work and raise families.
Online MBA Today: What do you look for in successful applicants to your program?
Jeffrey Brown: Our successful applicants come from all walks of life and from all over the world. They are engineers, marketers, physicians, entrepreneurs, accountants etc. We look for talented students who are trying to expand their knowledge base, who want to learn from the real-world experiences, and can demonstrate why an MBA from Illinois is crucial for their personal and professional success. We look for students who want to explore, who are innovative thinkers, and who simply want to be future business leaders who are not only willing to learn from our phenomenal faculty, their peers, but also can contribute to the cohort’s iMBA experience. It’s exciting to see what happens when we place such students into a cohort and see what these brilliant minds from across the globe can cook up on their team projects!
Online MBA Today: What has been the experience of your graduates in the job market?
Jeffrey Brown: We are very excited that our first cohort will graduate in the coming months. Most of our students are working professionals and we are already hearing how they are leveraging their MBA to better opportunities within their own companies or different ones. I can’t speak to specific job market outcomes yet, but this cohort has consistently shown itself to be highly intelligent and motivated. I’m certain a year from now I could talk about them all and the impact they are making in the business world.
Online MBA Today: Anything else you’d like to say about your program?
Jeffrey Brown: I am extremely proud of our iMBA. It has gotten off to a tremendous start—currently we have about 800 students from more than 48 countries since we launched in January 2016. Poets & Quants named our iMBA as a Breakthrough and one of the most innovative business school ideas of 2015, and it named the Gies College of Business as one of the 10 business schools to watch in 2017.
Professor Aric Rindfleisch had the Most Coveted Coursera Certificate Course in 2015 (Digital Marketing). He is the only faculty to have two courses in the top 50 MOOCs of all time. Professor Madhu Viswanathan won Coursera’s 2017 Transformation Award, Coursera’s top award among its Outstanding Educator awards.
We aimed high at the beginning and we hit our mark. And now we’re aiming higher. We will continue to innovate and grow the program, because it serves a unique and important purpose in business education.
Big Take Aways
Diverse Connectivity: The way the Illinois online MBA, the iMBA, program is setup allows for students to be in contact with people, students, and professionals from all over the world with all different kinds of knowledge, experiences, working and learning environments, cultures and backgrounds. This encourages students to deepen, broaden and widen their perspectives on all levels which helps them become a diverse business professional. This is an incredible asset that sets this program apart from other online MBA programs and on-campus programs. Giving students this level of access through this open system and the amount of diversity a student receives in this program will not only deeply increase their knowledge in a rich and powerful way, it will greatly positively impact the way they enter into or work in the professional world. The iMBA program assists students in connecting internationally with others while earning a master’s degree without having to spend the time and money to travel to different countries.
Stackability: The iMBA program is setup in a way that works for different kinds of learners. It doesn’t just follow a set order of classes, it allows for setting up a sequence of courses that works specifically for each student, which they call stackability. This innovative arrangement helps a student learn and obtain their degree in a way that is best for them.
Democratization: The Gies School of Business is working hard to democratize the education they give to their students. The iMBA program, in its innovative structure, is a huge tool to help make this happen. Being that this program has students, professors, and professionals connecting from all over the world, helps it minimize geographical barriers. With having one of the most affordable online MBA’s, costing 1/3 of other comparable programs, it helps minimize the financial barrier. The direction Illinois is going with this iMBA program is definitely aligning education for all people, being inclusive of all cultures, and beneficial to people worldwide.