March 10, 2014

Universities build flexibility into MBA programs

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
Jose Cruz, associate UConn professor in the operations and information management department, teaches a class for MBA students. UConn wants to relocate more of its MBA courses to downtown Hartford.

Central Connecticut's top universities are building more flexibility into their master of business administration programs as more of their students are part-timers who want to keep their day jobs.

"If you can stay in your job and get your MBA, that is quite attractive," said Mary Caravella, a UConn marketing professor, who is chairing a task force analyzing the school's business degree offerings. "Leaving and re-entering the workforce is challenging … What you are looking for out of an MBA is to accelerate the ramp you are already on."

UConn is moving all of its main Storrs campus MBA programs to downtown Hartford, where the majority of its part-time MBA students attend classes. UConn has the most MBA enrollees of any Connecticut school, 844 students in Hartford, Storrs, Waterbury, and Stamford.

"That is going to do a better job of getting our students back into the workforce faster," Caravella said.

Like UConn, other popular MBA programs at places like the University of Hartford and Post University in Waterbury are adding more features like online courses, accelerated programs, and classes on nights and weekends. While being more accommodating to students, the schools want to ensure that the MBA degree maintains high standards with potential employers.

"We really want to make sure when you are getting an MBA at the University of Hartford, you are getting the same quality of degree as everyone else," said Martin Roth, dean of UHart's Barney School of Business.

The University of Hartford two years ago got rid of its accelerated and industry-specific MBAs. In their place is one program called MBA My Way, where students can choose to take courses online or in the classroom; go as fast or as slow as they want or attend year-round; and specialize in an expanding array of concentrations.

"We embedded all these concepts into one core product," Roth said.

The University of Hartford is third among central Connecticut institutions for enrollees, after UConn and Post. The University of Hartford has 425 students, and tuition for the MBA is $31,620, paid out by the credit hour.

UConn offers three MBA options: a two-year, full-time program; a part-time program that contains 80 percent of its MBA students; and an executive MBA program geared toward the older workforce. Tuition for the part-time program is $38,760, while those in the full-time and executive programs can pay less depending on whether they are in-state students and other factors.

Caravella's task force is set to make its recommendations to faculty by the end of the semester to introduce changes into business degree offerings for a fall 2015 rollout.

Among the options strongly being considered is an accelerated program allowing students to complete their MBA in 16 months or less, Caravella said. However, the school is concerned about the ability of graduates to use that degree to its fullest extent to obtain a job, since there have been concerns that accelerated MBA graduates typically don't have internships employers are looking for.

UConn now is looking at implementing a modified version of the accelerated MBA, targeted more towards people already in the workforce who want to get their degree as quickly as possible, Caravella said.

Despite concerns over accelerated MBAs, most employers and recruiters tend not to focus on the way a potential hire got their degree, said Larry Brown, managing partner for Horton International in West Hartford, an executive recruiting firm.

If a recruit got an MBA from UConn, Yale, or the Wharton School in Pennsylvania, then Brown knows that is a high-value degree, whether it was obtained through online classes, an accelerated program, or some hybrid.

However, some schools that are only online don't have the same reputation with recruiters, compared to some of the top-tier degrees, Brown said.

"Nowadays, there are a lot of places where you can get an MBA strictly online, like the University of Phoenix," Brown said. "Someone that got their degree from there isn't going to have the same appeal as someone that has gone to business school where they attended classes and interacted with other students."

Post University in Waterbury offers its MBA strictly online, and it is the second most popular program in central Connecticut with 528 enrollees. Its tuition is $31,950.

Post increases enrollment in its MBA program about 10 percent annually because it keeps its quality high by focusing on outcomes-based education and listening to what employers want out of graduates. Some coming changes include adding more data education to the curriculum and offering specialties like a healthcare MBA.

"Many schools have taught the same stuff for decades, and you can't live like that anymore," said Steve Paulone, Post's director of graduate business programs. "We are very open to suggestions."

While MBA programs are becoming more flexible, especially with online offerings, business schools are trying to maintain quality by making sure students still get the same educational and interactive experience they always have, just in different forums.

"The perception about quality and online education is changing," said Dan LeClair, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Florida trade group Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. "What we are seeing is a lot more energy where we can develop a program where students are spending more time together, whether it is online or in the classroom."

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