UNC’s $10 Million Online MBA Program

MBA@UNC students in San Francisco work on a prototype of a product

So far, UNC has signed up 134 students for MBA@UNC since taking on an inaugural class of 19 students in the fall of last year. The school enrolls a new group of candidates every quarter and on April 4th it will bring in some 45 new students in a fourth cohort. Shackelford concedes that many potential MBA candidates share his own initial reservations about an online MBA and that it has been harder than expected to attract qualified applicants. UNC had hoped to bring in 50 students for its first class, more than twice as many as it did.

Even so, the program has attracted an impressive group: The 64 students who made the trek to the immersion in San Francisco average eight years of work experience for such companies as Tata, Lockheed Martin, Deloitte Consulting, CNN, Bank of America, Charles Schwab, The Home Depot, and Wells Fargo. They have undergraduate degrees from Harvard, Yale, UPenn, MIT, Stanford and other prestige colleges. Nearly one in four already have a graduate degree, with some PhDs, a few MDs, a lawyer, and lots of engineers in the group. And they hail from 24 states, including Massachusetts, New York and Texas, as well as two other countries, Kuwait and China.

Students typically take a pair of live, or synchronous, classes a week that each run an hour-and-one-half. They also spend about two and one-half hours engaged in what the school calls “asynchronous learning,” lectures and cases that have been videotaped and archived on the Internet. Another six to eight hours a week is devoted to group projects, readings and homework. All told, MBA@UNC students are devoting 20 to 25 hours a week to the program. Each course has ten mandatory live classes in quarter sessions.


Shackelford says the live classes are far more intimate than one would think. Instead of having 70 students in an on-campus class, a typical Webinar session has not much more than a dozen. “These guys are being taught in groups of no more than 15 students,” he says. “It’s an intense experience. Everyone sits in the front row so there is nowhere to hide.”

Students who check into the MBA@UNC dashboard see a Facebook-like interface with separate places for academic and social posts and a pull-down menu for “My Courses” with every lecture or class session to date. During a live session, students hear and see the professor teaching the course as well as each other.

The archived programming varies from highly produced video, roughly 5% to 15% of the asynchronous class material, to lectures by professors videotaped in their offices via a simple webcam. Among the more produced material are taped interviews with managers and executives and on-the-ground lectures by professors outside the classroom.


For Kenan-Flagler’s faculty, getting it all off the ground has been a massive undertaking. Shackelford says it takes roughly 100 hours per credit hour for a professor to create the canned lectures. “We’ve had faculty lock themselves in the office all night long or come in over a weekend to get this done,” he says.

Kenan-Flagler’s professors have developed 32 hours of asynchronous teaching material and have another 36 hours under development. Three professors—including two adjunct hires–are teaching their live sessions from India, Israel and France.

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