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Meet Arizona State’s MBA Class of 2018

MBA students in the Class of 2018 at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University

“The Best Things In Life Are Free.”

Everyone has heard some crooner cover that number at one time. Yes, the moon and stars belong to everyone. And the flowers and sunbeams are yours and mine. Thanks to Arizona State’s  W.P. Carey School of Business, you can add a new freebie to the lyrics: An MBA degree.

Business schools fawn over disruptive business models…until dramatic change threatens their own livelihoods. While the W. P. Carey School will never turn Stanford or Booth into hollowed out office space, the school has heated up an already ferocious competition for top student talent. In an era of skyrocketing tuition and debt, the W. P. Carey School did the unthinkable in 2015: They offered free tuition for every student. Forget the bottom half paying a premium to support the upper half. Everyone shares the proverbial free lunch at the W. P. Carey School.

FREE TUITION FOR EVERYONE PRODUCES A STRONGER OVERALL CLASS

It’s a huge roll of the dice for the school, which has traditionally ranked among the Top 30 full-time MBA programs. For one, the program is foregoing tuition, which had run nearly $26,000 for in-state residents and $42,000 for those hailing from out-of-state. The school also scaled back its class size by 40% to 120 students. In the process, the school expects to lose $10 to $20 million dollars a year.

Why do it? The financial trade-off enables the school to sport a more accomplished and international student body, while fostering a more intimate small school culture. In other words, the free tuition enables the school to be more selective. The result, of course, is higher inputs like GMATs and GPAs on the front end, which should translate into better jobs and higher starting pay on the back end. For the W. P. Carey School, that means moving into a more exclusive neighborhood in the business school rankings, creating a prestige halo that heaps greater value onto all its degree programs. What’s more, the scholarships are being funded from the endowment bestowed by the school’s namesake, investor William Polk Carey. Translation: the school is implementing this program from a position of strength.

Dean Amy Hillman of ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business

What’s the catch? Is this a bait-and-switch where students pay during their second year or take on the full burden if they don’t earn A’s across the board? It’s quite the opposite, actually.  In an interview with Poets&Quants, Dean Amy Hillman described this strategic investment as the “path forward.” Ultimately, she hopes to shift the support for the program to alumni, who are expected (though not required) to give back as their careers progress.

NO DEBT HOPEFULLY MEANS BIGGER CONTRIBUTIONS FROM ALUMNI

“What we’re hoping to engender in the students is that this is like an ‘angel investor’ who has invested in them as opposed to an enterprise, and as they go out to be successful in whatever walks of life, they will make this opportunity available to those students who come behind them,” says Hillman. “It’s a socialization that started with their acceptance letters.”

For many members of W. P. Carey’s Class of 2018, these scholarships served as a life line. Take Iowa’s Matt Allbee, who holds a master’s in accounting from Iowa State before working for Deloitte as a tax consultant. While Allbee was impressed by the school’s recruiters, supply chain programs, and weather, it was ultimately the full ride that swayed him to commit to Tempe for two years. “The Forward Focus full scholarship provided me the opportunity to fulfill my dreams without taking on a significant amount of debt.”

Debt was also front-and-center for Zachary Mardoc, a Peace Corps veteran who describes himself as a “Pragmatic Humanitarian, Capitalist Dreamer.” For Mardoc, the scholarship wasn’t an enticement to choose Carey. Instead, it was his only means to make business school a reality. “The Forward Focus Scholarship at W. P. Carey made it possible for a person like me, with a low-paying humanitarian/non-profit background, to attend a high quality MBA program without taking on a crippling amount of debt.  That first hurdle of accessibility was removed.”

Even more, the program was a chance for Murdoc to experience a major business innovation first-hand. “I was attracted to taking part in a program in the first phase of a major transformation. Periods of upheaval create openings for creativity and innovation, as well as opportunities to influence the future structure of the program.”

CLASS INCLUDES AN 18 YEAR-OLD…FROM NASA

Students like Mardoc are exactly the types of people that the W. P. Carey School is targeting: highly talented and accomplished outliers who are seeking a hand up instead of a handout. “If someone has a great start-up idea, and they know they would be more successful in their venture if they had the skills and networking that an MBA would give them, they might be concerned about spending the money because it takes away from the capital needed for the start-up venture,” Hillman wrote in a 2015 statement. “We’re very hopeful that we’ll get more high-quality applicants as a result of this program, and the kinds of people who might think they can’t pursue a top MBA program.”

W. P . Carey student in the courtyard.

The Class of 2018 is the W. P. Carey School’s first cohort that is part of the Forward Focus program. Based on early returns, it has been an unbridled success. Just look at some of the students who chose the W. P. Carey School to pursue their full-time MBA. Chuka Ndukauba is one. An MD from Nigeria, he calls himself “a man with a plan, wading through the uncertainties of different cultures and continents.” Making the transition from medical care and research to business, Ndukauba is almost the archetypal W. P. Carey MBA candidate for the Forward Focus era. For him, the past six months have been a “challenging but ultimately enjoyable” transition. “It required a reorientation of my thought processes from a strictly humanitarian sense (with no realistic consideration for revenue generation) to a point where I could blend both worlds together in a rational way.”

Moshe Cavalin is another prodigy who doesn’t quite fit the traditional MBA profile — but seems destined to make a big difference in business after graduation. Picture this: Moshe earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics before he was even 15. Most recently, he was a student intern at the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, where he was successful in “commercializing collision avoidance software within six months of arriving at NASA.” Just 18, he earned his pilot’s license last year. He could just as easily be an MBA at Harvard or Stanford.

Funny thing is, Cavalin isn’t the only NASA veteran in the class. Reghenae Simmons, a film producer and engineer with Lockheed Martin, also beat the odds to intern there. Like Cavalin, she made the most of her time there. “I worked on a team to test different materials by determining the maximum stress they could withstand. I had to identify the best materials to be used by the U.S. Department of Defense in the manufacturing of combat zone vehicles and other equipment. I am especially proud of being selected for this experience since I didn’t attend one of the required colleges. I applied anyway, sent in my essays, and was chosen for the internship.”

CLASS DEFINED BY A SPIRIT OF INNOVATION

If there is one virtue that the class shares, it is that they are innovators…in their own unique ways. Sarah Green is an Air Force brat who got to watch Broadway shows for free in college free thanks to playing piano in the lobby. Drawing on her experiences as a copywriter and a teacher, she broke new ground with her educational products: Best Multiplication Songs EVER! and Best Multiplication Workbook EVER!  “My workbook won the Learning® Magazine Teachers’ Choice Award for the Classroom alongside large companies such as Disney, Pearson and Discovery Channel,” she beams.