Top Online MBA Programs: Carnegie Mellon’s FlexMBA

Roughly 30% of the FlexMBA program is delivered via the Internet as live video lectures

Roughly 30% of the FlexMBA program is delivered via the Internet as live video lectures

Tepper School FlexMBA

Like Babson College, which first began an online MBA program with a corporate client, Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business has been doing online education for nearly 20 years. The school’s distance learning program began in 1996 in corporate classrooms for such companies as Goldman Sachs, United Technologies and Lockheed Martin. Starting in August of 2013, for the first time, Tepper will open its FlexMBA program to the public for the first time, expecting to enroll between 20 to 60 students in the first class.

FlexMBA Director Robert Monroe says that Tepper’s FlexMA will hold students to the same exacting rigor, curriculum and admissions requirements as the school’s other two MBA options.  If you don’t doubt the value of the Carnegie Mellon MBA, then you shouldn’t question the value of the FlexMBA, Monroe says. “The standards are high to get in, the standards are very high to get out,” he adds. “There is no asterisk anywhere on the degree.” The diploma is identical across all three programs. The same faculty that teach in Temper’s part-time and full-time programs also teach the FlexMBA students, and this helps to ensure they get the same experience, Monroe says.

The school is so confident its programs are comparable that FlexMBA students even have the option to switch into the full-time or part-time programs after the first year. The students also have full access to Tepper’s career resources and can schedule interviews with on-campus recruiters, similar to full-time MBAs. The school is experimenting with ways to make it easier for FlexMBA students to take part in on-campus interviews remotely, including new technology for long distance interview support.

The program begins with an orientation BaseCamp and then launches into “Probability and Statistics” and “Accounting 1.” Those two courses are followed by the first “Access Weekend.” Then it’s onto “Managerial Economics” and “Managing People & Teams” before students meet face-to-face again for the second “Access Weekend” retreat. After a winter break, the class schedule calls for “Optimization” and “Accounting II,” then the third weekend session before a spring break. And so on until the core curriculum is completed and a few electives kick in during the second year.

Throughout the three-year experience, online students will partake in the school’s extensive leadership development program which focused on individual assessment, reflection, action and growth. The school’s investment in leadership is extensive and a result of a relatively recent overhaul of the full-time MBA curriculum.

Another very positive and unusual part of the online program is that the school is making its Career Opportunities Center fully available to all online students, something that Indiana University’s Kelly Direct program allows. Career orientation for FlexTime students is planned for the winter/spring of  second year. FlexTime MBA students may participate fully in the recruiting process, although students sponsored by their employer must obtain written permission from the employer before participating in the recruiting process.

Like most prestigious MBAs – the FlexMBA degree does not come 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 Robert 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.”

FORMAT:  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.

Online classes will be held Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.They will feature a live video conference system that shares multiple screens with each student. Professors are able to view all students, and, as a student, you will have the opportunity to interact with your professors and classmates, both in teams and individually. Students also will work in teams and have the opportunity to collaborate via virtual study spaces. Because the Tepper School’s courses emphasize teams, the school has developed online tools that facilitate small group work.

All classes are taught and recorded in the school’s education studios. Students will have access to a library of classes for review. MBA candidates working on team projects also will have access to record their presentations, conduct video chats and share feedback with professors and other classmates. Document sharing and collaborative technology tools are examples of some of the available tools to assist with students’ study needs.

COST: $118,080

START DATES: September


PLATFORM REVIEW:  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.”

RANKINGS: Carnegie Mellon’s program is not ranked by either U.S. News & World Report or The Economist because the school’s very first class doesn’t show up for the program until August of 2013. But it is the highest ranked business school in the U.S. to offer an online MBA, making it one of a handful of top options right off the bat, along with Kenan-Flagler Business School’s MBA@UNC and Indiana University’s Kelley Direct, and IE Business School in Spain.

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