IBJ: How long have you been at SIUE?
Joplin: I first came to SIUE in 1994. I moved away to Texas for about six years but came back. I’ve been the associate dean and director of the MBA program for seven and a half years.
IBJ: Have there been a lot of changes in the MBA program over that time span?
Joplin: We’re always making changes within the academic program. You have to keep innovating and keep it fresh. Our professors are fabulous at bringing recent and contemporary corporate examples into the classroom. I think that’s one of the major things that keeps the program fresh.
IBJ: What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the world of business over that time period?
Joplin: I think it’s always interesting to look at how companies restructure themselves and how they adapt to their changing environment. It’s also interesting to watch cyclical trends: the IT bubble in the late ‘90s; the crash and then the financial mortgage bubble in 2008. The most interesting thing we’re doing right now in the school of business is we have changed the format of how we deliver the MBA program. Beginning this fall we’re moving to eight-week terms. We’ve been on a 10-week, quarter system for 30 years but we’re moving to two eight-week terms per semester. That means all of our courses will be hybrids and at least one section of each course per year will be in an online format.
IBJ: What do you mean by hybrid?
Joplin: The students will be meeting face to face from 6 to 9:30 one evening per week and about two and a half hours’ worth of their instructional time will be delivered through an alternative mechanism. Most likely that will be online but it’s the professor’s choice on how they allocate that instructional time. It may be a video lecture; it may be watching other videos; it may involve case discussions or synchronized discussions online, but there will be a combination of face-to-face time and an alternate method.
IBJ: Why is that important?
Joplin: Many meetings in corporations are held via some conferencing software, and moving to this format really provides a lot of flexibility for our students. With eight-week terms, if their travel schedule is heavy they can take a course in an online format and then maybe switch to a hybrid format the next term.
IBJ: What is your typical student?
Joplin: In our MBA program we have some students who have just completed their undergraduate degree and the majority of those students are accounting majors. They need 150 hours to sit for their CPA exam. But we started working to change the profile of our MBA student body about five years ago. We increased the average age from about 23 or 24 to around 27 or 28 years old and that’s not an easy thing to do. It takes time and we’ve worked to assure the students coming into the MBA program have some solid working experience. The program is much more meaningful to them if they do.
IBJ: So, you’ve actually been working to increase the average age?
Joplin: Yes, the faculty wanted a more typical MBA population, which is people with a good amount of work experience. Even with the undergrads who come in straight from their undergraduate degrees, we want to make sure that they’ve at least had an internship or some other work experience.
IBJ: Why is that desirable?
Joplin: I think the intellectual exchanges and conversations in class have a lot more meaning to them if they’ve actually been in the workplace and have experienced some of the things that we talk about. The theories have much more meaning to them and they can relate it to their actual work experience much more quickly. When I took over the program in 2007, I believe our average number of work years was around 2 and the average number for the last three years has been about 6 or 7. Again we’ve really tried to target students who have the work experience because of the value in the classroom.
IBJ: Where do most of your MBA students come from?
Joplin: We have a pretty good combination of Metro East and St. Louis residents. It works both ways. Some of them live in St. Louis and work in the Metro East; some of them live in the Metro East and work in St. Louis. I think we have a pretty good balance.
And we’re starting the second class at U.S. Steel in Granite City. Our faculty teaches MBA classes on site at the mill. That sort of arrangement is certainly something that we are very happy to work with. Bringing the program to them makes it very convenient for their employees.
IBJ: What’s next for SIUE’s MBA program?
Joplin: We’re looking forward to being able to offer a lot more flexibility through our hybrid and online courses for students and particularly for the busy working professionals that need that flexibility.