UNC’s $10 Million Online MBA Program

by John A. Byrne on

Marissa Hunt (Left) and Ben Walker (in green shirt) work with their team of online MBA students in San Francisco

Marissa Hunt and Ben Walker are trying hard to coax a few million bucks from four venture capitalists in a San Francisco conference room. But they’re pitching a rather peculiar idea and there’s skepticism all over the faces of the people they’re trying to sell.

The idea: a retractable shield that covers the top of a kitchen drawer when closed to keep out dust and prevent the drawer from jamming. They call the product “Drawer Shield” and the tagline they’re using to promote it is “Content protection with NO CATCH.”

“It’s made of sturdy material,” says Hunt, imagining something quite different than their prototype that is taped together from bits of Styrofoam, cardboard, paper and balsam wood. “Think of the cover on an iPad.”

“It’s really easy to install and real cheap,” insists Walker, trying to gin up some enthusiasm. “This can help sell kitchen cabinets.”

But no one is buying it. The feedback is tough.

“I personally have zero use for this,” says one potential investor.

“It’s just not a problem for me,” adds another.

Nonetheless, the four venture capitalists hand over $500,000, a pittance for the pitching pair who were hoping to get at least $2 million.


Hunt and Walker are students studying for an MBA degree at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. The venture capitalists are fellow students handing out Monopoly cash. All of them are on a weekend immersion experience in San Francisco devoted to innovation and entrepreneurial thinking. It’s one of the very few times that Hunt and Walker will be with their classmates in person because they’re enrolled in a new and highly ambitious online MBA program dubbed MBA@UNC.

While online MBA degrees have been proliferating like daisies in an open field in recent years, Kenan-Flagler’s program is significantly different because it is the first time a top 20 school has put together an online effort with the publicly stated goal of making it the world’s best MBA program delivered over the Internet.

UNC’s partner, 2tor Inc., a startup with nearly $70 million in venture funding, is investing more than $10 million into this one effort alone. It also has online degree programs in nursing at Georgetown University as well as social work and education at the University of Southern California. Kenan-Flagler has 20 of its full-time professors, many of them considered the school’s best faculty, deeply involved in the online initiative, developing and recording special lectures and teaching live classes via the Internet.


Together their goal is to make online education both respectable and credible. If they succeed, the number of MBA candidates in this $91,225, two-year program will vastly exceed Kenan-Flagler’s full-time MBA student population on-campus and the program will reach a worldwide audience.

“We’re not Phoenix,” insists 2tor CEO Chip Paucek, dissing the massive for-profit player in online education. “We’re not what you think of when you hear the word ‘online.’ Online education has been dominated by the for-profits, but nothing is even close to this in terms of quality. We’re doing this at the highest possible level.”


When UNC’s faculty voted to approve the move online, it did so with the understanding that MBA@UNC would be held to the high academic standards of its mainstream MBA program. “It’s the same faculty, the same students, and the same curriculum,” says Doug Shackelford, who teaches tax policy and business strategy at UNC and heads up the academic team for the online program. “We’re trying to design the gold standard for online MBA programs.”

Shackelford concedes that when he first heard that Kenan-Flagler was considering an online MBA program he was aghast. “Oh my God,” I thought, “the budget situation must be desperate. I told the dean (James W. Dean Jr.) that this is such a big bet that either he will be a hero for doing it or burned in effigy from a tree on campus if it fails.”

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  • Another Guest

     Not to mention it’ll naturally come up in conversation: “Oh you got your MBA from UNC?  Chapel Hill is awesome!  Where did you live?  Do you know so-and-so?”


  • http://www.facebook.com/ronnie.william.3956 Ronnie William

    The traditional campus experience will soon be only one of many ways to gain a quality education. Life is busy, most adults can’t take 2 or more years off to learn skills that can be taught online. Getting an online degree while working a full-time job and possibly even raising children may not be the old- fashioned way to increase knowledge, but it requires balance, hard work, and the ability to self- motivate.
    Campus degrees have gotten so expensive that they are not worth it for many people. Like music, books, etc., education is content that can be delivered online at greatly reduced cost. It makes tremendous sense and those that ignore this trend will ease into irrelevancy. Stanford, Yale, and MIT are offering free course content online, and skills like programming can be effectively learned remotely.
    Ask For MBA Online

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