We responded to a question on an online board about someone debating whether they should accept an offer at an online MBA program. UNC Kenan-Flagler is a pretty good business school (their real estate MBA is especially strong) and they’ve recently announced a big push into the online/distance learning MBA world.
Are they blazing a trail in the world of business education? Or is this a misuse of resources that could possibly be a disservice to the students?
The standard question is, is it a real MBA? And the hidden question which is sometimes not expressed is, will anyone know I “just” did the online program? There’s definitely some stigma to it — sort of like online dating used to be, right?
Here’s what we basically posted to this other Brave Supplicant, plus additional color added in.
First off, if you go through an online program, it’s still an MBA degree. There will be no way for future employers to know that it was an online MBA or a traditional butt-in-seat 2-year program. An MBA is an MBA is an MBA, and it’s highly likely that the degree you get and the fancy diploma you’ll receive will just be “MBA”; no one will know the difference. This is a question you might want to pose to the schools, of course, but this is how it’s done at other schools that have various “flavors” of MBA (P/T, F/T, etc.). So down the road, you’ll have the degree listed on your resume just like anyone else would.
The biggest disadvantages about the online programs — and these really are significant, if you ask us — is that obviously you don’t have the face time with professors and peers. The classroom experience — and the out-of-classroom social opportunities — are really really a big part of what bschool is about for most people. How can you do a case discussion in an online chat room? How do you complete a team project when you’re scattered around the planet? How do you network with managers, executives, future mentors when you’re accessing the education mostly through a computer?
Yes, there are also advantages to the online option, in terms of convenience, and the fact that you can usually keep your job and not uproot a family, etc. And yes, it’s generally easier to get into these online programs. And, most or all of them offer several extended on-campus sections embedded within the curriculum, so you do get to meet your classmates etc. But the jury is still out on how it’ll all fit together for the students.
But the other big (BIG!) factor that may be overlooked is, what about on-campus recruiting? Besides the long-term value of networking and relationship-building and mentorship that you can receive when you’re in person on campus interacting with real-live people, the other huge benefit from most traditional two-year MBA programs is the on-campus recruiting opportunities. We have not fully explored what these online programs offer — they’re definitely geared more to working professionals, so perhaps there isn’t the intention to help graduates secure new jobs, at least not with the same focus that a standard F/T residency program has. But this is an important consideration to look at in terms of why you’re getting the MBA in the first place.
If your career is fairly well established (and you like it!) and you’re literally looking to build skills in order to advance within the same field, perhaps even at the same company, then the online version could be a great fit. But, if you’re looking for bschool as a means to launch out of some miserable hell-hole of a job that you just cannot stomach for one minute longer… then obviously the online program is not the best way to go. The grey areas? Those people that are in between. Maybe you plan on keeping your current job while you complete the MBA, but then you were looking to make a big switch. If that’s the case, ask some direct questions of this prospective school about what type of recruiting/placement programs they have available, particularly for someone who lives where you do (or where you want to live after you graduate). If those places are nowhere near where the school is, and if it’s a down-the-rungs-of-the-ladder school like some of these that are lanching online programs, then you’re gonna be a little disappointed, we suspect, if you are expecting the school to have that many resources or opportunities available to really assist you in connections for this post-MBA job.
We are undecided as to whether an online MBA has the same ROI as an in-person traditional program. The online versions are generally cheaper — they’re trying to attract candidates, and their costs are at least marginally lower. So it could be easier to turn a positive ROI there, especially when you’ve got lower opportunity cost since you’re not moving to a new city, and you’re not giving up your job.
But there are huge advantages to being on campus, sitting in the classroom with this full crop of other motivated students, rubbing elbows with smart people, chatting up professors, networking with CEOs who come to speak on campus, etc. Yes, most of the online programs have on-campus weeks scheduled into the curriculum, so you don’t miss out on it entirely, but this is a new animal. None of it’s been proven. Perhaps in just a few years, we’ll all look back and think we were foolish for even worrying about these things. Maybe butt-in-seat face-time classroom learning will become an antiquated thing of the past. (We’re sure it will, at some point, just how long that takes — and the quality of the experience that replaces it — are open questions.)
Until that time, it’s gonna take a brave few (hopefully not a foolish few) who help the schools with the experiment, who let them work out the kinks, and report back.
If you decide you’re ready to be the guinea pig, then go for it, Brave Supplicant! But also be prepared for taking control of your destiny in a really big way as you move through the process.