THE FLEXMBA DOES NOT COME CHEAP
Like most prestigious MBAs – the FlexMBA degree does not cheap. Students entering in August can expect to pay $118,080 in tuition – the same as Tepper’s part-time program and nearly $5,000 more than their full-time program. Although hotels and meals for in-residence weekends are included, travel costs are not. The program is also some $25,000 more than UNC’s online MBA. Dean Dammon says the upfront costs to launch the program are significant: the school is investing about $500,000 in marketing and another $2 million in faculty time. Besides, he adds, “if we cut the price we would give the impression that we are providing something that has been cheapened. So the biggest hurdle is to overcome the perception that you can’t get the same quality education that you can get online.”
To deliver the curriculum, FlexMBA combines video conferencing, in-residence weekends and self-directed learning in a hybrid model. Thirty percent of the program takes the form of on-campus Access Weekends, which are held every seven weeks in Pittsburgh, New York City or Silicon Valley. Here, students spend an intensive three-day period taking exams and attending introductory courses for the next mini-term – there are 16 two-class mini-terms to total. FlexMBA students also squeeze in meetings with leadership coaches and career services staff. Dean Dammon says the school is especially targeting Silicon Valley engineers with the program. Carnegie Mellon has a facility in San Jose, Calif., where it will fly in faculty for the Access Weekends.
Another 30% of the program is delivered via live video conference. Students tune in over the Internet to view one live evening class per week. The remaining 40% takes the form of self-directed learning, such as reviewing recorded course material, study time and team projects.
TECHNOLOGY ISN’T THE ‘SECRET SAUCE’
The technology is nothing particularly special. Most of it is out-of-the-box and already in use in the regular MBA program, Monroe says. “Rather than deploying it here and there, we’re making it the centerpiece of how you interact in these classes,” he says. “But it’s not the secret sauce. The technology is an enabler just like it is in our regular MBA program.”
Monroe says the school will maintain its low student-to-teacher ratio, and high-touch approach. “We feel it would not be a Carnegie Mellon MBA if we got away from that,” he adds. The school is still admitting the first class, but Monroe estimates they will welcome anywhere from 20 to 60 students in the fall. The incoming group will be divided into 20-person sections. “If you get too much bigger than that, people just get lost,” Monroe says. He adds, if necessary, they’ll limit the first class to just 20 students, rather than lower admission standards. Dammon says he does not expect the program to have more than 100 students.
So far the applicant pool reflects the engineering and business types who typically populate Carnegie Mellon’s classrooms. “We definitely attract the quants,” Monroe says. However, the average age skews a bit older for the FlexMBA cohort, he adds. Likely because the remote learning option attracts established businesspeople who have careers and families that prevent them from picking up and moving to Pittsburgh.
The school retooled its curriculum last fall and built up its leadership development programs as part of the reshuffle. Students in the FlexMBA will take advantage of these changes. They undergo leadership assessments at the beginning and work with coaches throughout the program to hone their management styles. “The idea is that it does help to soften our techies a little bit,” Monroe says.
WHO SHOULD CONSIDER THE FLEXMBA?
The hybrid degree isn’t for everyone. Monroe contends it’s a great solution for students who want a Carnegie Mellon MBA, but don’t live in Pittsburgh – especially if they’re not willing to quit their jobs. It also requires a certain level of self motivation. For someone who needs in-person interaction and external direction, the program isn’t a good fit, Monroe says. Students also have to put more work into building their networking. With only five on-campus weekends for face-to-face interaction, networking most certainly happens less reflexively than during in-residence programs.
But if Tepper is any indication, these limitations won’t stop students from signing up in droves. In fact, Monroe is confident that hybrid education is only just beginning. “I think we’re going to see some very, very innovative new ideas in how you go about giving a business education, and that’s just starting to play out,” he says.