When the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School enrolled its first online MBA class in July of 2011, there were all of 19 students in the class. The school was the highest ranked in the U.S. to offer an MBA via the Internet, and it went to market with a strong value proposition.
Online students would be taught by the same faculty who teach in the school’s full-time MBA program. They would get the same core curriculum and the same MBA diploma that full-time graduates receive. And admission standards would remain high. Indeed, so far, UNC’s acceptance rate ranges between 40% and 55%, depending on the admission cycle. A spokesperson notes that admissions, however, does a lot of pre-application counseling that impacts the number of applications it receives.
Keeping that level of quality high and partnering with 2U Inc., an educational startup that claims to have invested $10 million in the UNC program, has paid off. Two years after enrolling its first class of 19 people, the school expects to have admitted 450 online students in total.Each quarter–there are four entry dates for MBA@UNC–enrollment continues to climb, the result of greater awareness and the program’s success. This October, the school expects to enter a class in the 120 to 140 range.
What will your classmates look like? The median years of work experience for MBA@UNC students is about seven with a median age of 31, though the range is broad with people as young as 24 and as old as 55. Slightly more than one in five students already have advanced degrees on their resumes. Roughly 26% are women and 22% have military backgrounds. The program is drawing also is drawing from a large geographic area, with students from 35 states and 24 countries, including Belgium, China, India, Israel, Sweden, and Turkey.
As is typical in nearly all MBA programs, you will start with the core classes in finance, strategy, marketing, business communications, and operations before moving on to electives that can allow you to concentrate your study in a specific area (see below). You’ll need to take 34 credit hours in the basics. There’s a heavy dose of leadership development in the program, with career building courses and workshops, career coaching, alumni connections, and networking.
UNC says MBA@UNC includes resources to support one-on-one career consultation, job search services, career management education and online resources, and lifelong alumni career support. But it does not provide centralized recruiting and interviewing which are reserved for the school’s full-time, on-campus MBA students.
In addition to the weekly synchronous class sessions, the school advises students that they should expect to dedicate approximately 10 hours per week per class to study, preparation and asynchronous sessions. By taking two courses per quarter, you will be able to complete the program in 24 months. Students, however, have the flexibility to complete the degree in as little as 18 or as many as 36 months.
“Student satisfaction is extremely high,” says Susan Cates, executive director of MBA@UNC. “Students feel they know each other well, that they have great access to the faculty and that they are being challenged. They’re telling us that it feels exactly like a program from a top-tier program ought to feel.”
FORMAT: There are weekly classes online – interacting face-to-face with your professors and a small cohort of 10 to 15 classmates. All of the courses are recorded, so you can revisit them at your leisure in case you are not able to attend a class or want to review a class session. There are numerous high-quality, faculty-designed videos to complement the coursework that enables you to study anytime and anywhere – on your own schedule. UNC offers 24/7 access to course materials, upcoming assignments and web-cam office hours with professors. You also communicate with faculty members and classmates via discussion boards. There are break-out sessions and case study exercises with classmates and even online clubs that will you connect with other MBA students.
There also is a 3-day weekend immersion at the end of each quarter, hosted in select cites all over the world. Upcoming immersions include Chicago, Ill., Istanbul, Turkey, Johannesburg, South Africa, New York, and India as well as the home campus in Chapel Hill, N.C. Two residencies are required as part of the program, but you can also sign up for all of them while you are in the program. The immersions are used to help you to form deeper relationships with your classmates but also to engage in live simulations, mock interviews and other hands-on experiences.
CONCENTRATIONS: Corporate Finance, Entrepreneurship, Global Supply Chain Management, Investment Management, Marketing, AND Sustainable Enterprise
START DATES: Four times a year in July, October, January and April
TIME TO COMPLETE: 24 months, but you can expand it to 36 months if necessary
PLATFORM REVIEW: Largely due to its partnership with 2U Inc., which is also offering online degrees with Washington University, the University of Southern California and Georgetown University, MBA@UNC arguably has the best technology platform of any online MBA program. 2U claims to have invested $10 million developing the UNC program alone, so the accompanying video class sessions are exceptionally well done with high production values.
“We’re using the technology to help us do the same things that we do in the face-to-face program: challenging class discussions, group projects, team consulting assignments, and simulations,” adds Cates of UNC. “In an MBA program, learning from your classmates is important. So is working in teams and learning how to effectively negotiate. Students should assume they should get these kinds of things in a good online program.”
RANKINGS: MBA@UNC was not ranked by U.S. News & World Report in its debut ranking of online MBA programs in January of 2013. The reason: The school declined to participate in the project. And when The Economist last examined online MBA programs in 2010, UNC wasn’t in the game. Given the prestige of the school’s full-time MBA program and the effort to maintain the highest standards possible online, this is without question one of the three best MBA programs online in the world, with Indiana University’s Kelley Direct and IE Business School’s global MBA program. Time will tell if Carnegie Mellon’s new program can match the overall quality of MBA@UNC.