By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
Graduate students appear solidly behind a new online MBA program begun this year at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
“There’s been tremendous interest actually, beyond expectations,” said School of Business Dean Timothy Schoenecker. “So far, we have nearly 60 students that enrolled for the pure, online MBA program. In addition, we have had other students that enrolled in what we are now calling our flex MBA program where they can take courses on line or do some face-to-face classes as well.”
The implementation of a 100 percent online Master of Business Administration program is the university’s effort to reach students where they are, rather than have students necessarily come to them, Schoenecker said.
The SIUE School of Business’ 36-credit hour online MBA is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
The online MBA program can be completed in as few as 12 months for $17,269. Students may choose from a general MBA or high-demand specializations in management, management information systems or business analytics to prepare for higher-level roles as business management professionals and leaders.
Initial online MBA classes started on Jan. 19.
“In terms of coursework, regardless of online or face to face, the courses are the same,” Schoenecker said. “Our courses are in seven-week time blocks. There are actually six of the seven-week ‘mini semesters’ throughout the year.
T student theoretically could take two courses during each of those seven-week blocks and get through our entire program in one year. Six credit hours at a time, six mini semesters per year to get you to 36. Now, will most students do that? Probably not, because the vast majority of students are working full time and doing this part time, but some could do this in a year if they choose to,” he said.
Courses include such topics as quantitative analysis, accounting, finance marketing, management and people skills.
In addition to those core courses, there are a number of specializations students can take, such as a business analytics option, information systems or a variety of electives.
The type of person showing interest in the online option is not dramatically different than what the MBA program looked like before.
“The vast majority are working professionals,” he said. “Typically, they have about seven years of work experience. More are SIUE graduates than from any single institution, but the majority of applicants got their degree from somewhere other than SIUE.
Most of those enrolled are from the St. Louis metropolitan area, but other areas of Illinois, and other states, are represented.
Women are showing interest in greater numbers, he said.
“About half of the students that we’ve admitted to the online MBA program are women. That’s a higher percentage of women than what we’ve traditionally had in the MBA program,” Schoenecker said. “That’s another encouraging aspect of the enrollment patterns that we are experiencing. But since it’s only the first entering class of the full-online program it’s probably too early to conclude that this is a long-term trend.”
MBA Program Director is Janice Joplin, the associate dean for academic affairs. For the online MBA she is being assisted by Kristine Jarden, who is the director of executive and continuing education.
SIUE was moved to add the online option based on a decline of interest in the traditional MBA program.
“That’s not any different than what schools across the country are seeing,” Schoenecker said. “We took a look at ourselves, and historically the SIUE School of Business had been a leader in terms of trying to take graduate business education to where people are. If you look back 40 years, we were one of the first business schools in the country that delivered MBA programs at offsite locations. Then, we were the leader in offering weekend format classes. For working professionals that we target, we were always a leader in terms of convenience and making students sure could get the education they needed where they were.”
With today’s technology, online courses are often preferred to a weekend format or an offsite format, “and frankly we’d fallen a little bit behind. This was a way to for us to catch up and meet our students where they need us to be,” Schoenecker said.
The MBA program has evolved through the years in terms of requirements and waivable courses.
“We’re really not doing any more programs where we’re teaching off site right now,” he said.
So, how crucial is an MBA these days?
“I think it’s important, but I will tell you that overall applications for MBAs across the country have declined a little bit. I’m not sure I can tell you all the reasons. It’s not like (an MBA) is an absolute requirement for somebody to move up in their business careers, but certainly it’s one of the more effective tactics that somebody can do to help advance their career.”
Schoenecker said the nation’s growing economy tends to dampen enrollment for all graduate program enrollment, not just business.
“Employers aren’t quite so picky” about an applicant’s educational background when those companies are scrambling to fill work slots, he said.
A lot more corporations are also doing inhouse training.
“All those things affect MBA enrollments and applications,” Schoenecker said
When developing the MBA curriculum, SIUE worked closely with the region’s top business professionals to bring theoretical knowledge and real-world experience to the online program. Many of those same leaders serve on the SIUE advisory board, as do alumni who ensure the course work is relevant and tailored to business needs.