How Technology Is Reviving Part-Time MBAs

Part-time programs have seen falls in application numbers. Could digitization arrest their decline?

The part-time MBA has had a rough ride recently. Created to help the growing hordes of time-poor managers earn the degree without quitting their jobs—or their salary—the part-time MBA has many merits. But a combination of more stingy employers cutting back funding, a dearth of diversity among part-time cohorts, and the millennial desire for community have seen application numbers to the courses sink.

Yet technology is now reviving part-time MBAs. The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business in August said it will offer an MBA for working professionals delivered mostly online. And in July, Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business added greater flexibility to its part-time MBA via technology.

By studying content online, students can take less time out of work, and schools can reach more global audiences. “Students can learn on their own schedule, and they can ‘rewind the professor’ to review difficult concepts,” says Gonzalo Freixes, associate dean of UCLA Anderson School of Management’s Fully Employed MBA. “If their work or personal life does not allow weekly attendance, online provides a way to deliver the program.

“More material can actually be covered online than in a live class, since there are no interruptions for questions, and multiple videos can cover more subjects, and provide optional learning opportunities.”

Georgetown McDonough has also strived to offer its part-timers greater flexibility with its recent course redesign. The traditional timeline to complete the program was three years, but can now be completed in as little as 28 months or as long as five years. Students who have completed prior graduate coursework, can transfer up to 12 credit hours to the MBA, to shorten the duration.

“Our new Flex MBA is a reflection of market research and feedback we’ve received from prospective students,” says Shelly Heinrich, interim associate dean for MBA admissions. “The need for greater flexibility often comes from work responsibilities that vary in intensity through the year, impending military deployments or changes in duty station, the desire to complete a degree while balancing demands of raising a family, and budget constraints. The Flex MBA meets these needs so our students can focus on what’s most important to them.”

What’s more, online learning can better prepare people for a world of work that is becoming increasingly tech-driven, because they work in teams remotely. “We are deeply committed to preparing students for success in the ever-changing world of business,” says Scott DeRue, dean of Michigan Ross.

The school’s new part-time online MBA includes a mixture of online learning opportunities and three in-person residences on campus that focus on leadership, business transformation and innovation. Michigan Ross calls these 'MAP' projects, and more than 12,000 students have participated in projects held in over 98 countries. “We’re delivering the same high-quality Michigan Ross education using a flexible design,” Scott says.

UCLA’s course is also a hybrid—a mixture of online and in-person elements. All core classes and many electives are available online, with approximately 22-to-25% of the students opting for the hybrid format in any given quarter. “Students seeking a part-time MBA desire to expand their network and leadership skills, and are coming to realize that a purely online program can’t do that,” says Gonzalo.

“Offering a hybrid program allows for the opportunity to network and interact with faculty and peers; a pure online program does not.”

He goes on to say that this method of learning can ultimately attract more applications, hopefully stemming the part-time MBAs decline over the past several years. “We surveyed our hybrid section after three years and discovered 80% [of students] would not have come to UCLA FEMBA [Fully Employed MBA]” without the hybrid format, he says.

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