Top Online MBA Programs: Penn State World Campus iMBA

Penn State World Campus iMBA

Penn State World Campus, which was set up in 1998, is the online arm of Penn State University. The school’s iMBA program is the product of four Penn State business schools: The Smeal College of Business, which is the only ranked MBA in the top 100 on the main campus, the Black School of Business in Erie, the School of Graduate Professional Studies in Malvern, and the School of Business Administration in Middletown. While Penn State says that iMBA students are taught by the same faculty members who teach in its full-time MBA programs, you’re likely to have teachers who are not from the ranked Smeal College.

Still, this online MBA program is one of the largest in the nation. For the fall 2013 semester, the total seat enrollment in the courses offered is approximately 472. The school organizes its curriculum around six business themes derived from the values and concepts found in all areas of high-performance organizations: strategic planning, process management, leadership, customer and market, human resources, and information analysis.

Students enter the iMBA program as a cohort, meaning that they take the same courses at the same time, until the program has been completed.Each term, Penn State will order your books and course materials and have them delivered to you as well as complete your registration for all courses. While enrolled in the program, you can contact a program adviser with any questions you may have, or their career services if you are looking for career-planning advice and assistance. As a Penn State student you can even search the online catalog and review databases as if you were sitting at a terminal in any Penn State library.

Two of the defining components of the Penn State iMBA are the Term 3 and Term 8 residencies. In the Term 3 residency, you will study a prominent U.S. firm by spending a week on-site, analyzing their organizational structure and strategy. In the Term 8 residency, you will participate in a team business simulation held at Penn State University Park in State College, Pennsylvania. These residency experiences put you in consulting and decision-making roles, allowing you to use the skills and tools you have developed in the program to find solutions to real business problems. At the conclusion of the Term 8 residency, you will have the opportunity to walk at commencement with the other Penn State master’s and doctoral candidates.

The average age of an iMBA student is 30, and 30.5% are female. Some 9% are international. The school says that 99.5% of its current students have prior work experience. Some 90% have post baccalaureate experience of two years or more, with the average being 101 months. The school reported a graduation rate of 81% within three years and in 2009 Penn State had a retention rate of 90% for its iMBA students. The school’s reported acceptance rate is 80%, with an average GMAT of 550 and an average undergraduate grade point average of 3.39.

In addition to the iMBA, Penn State also offers online a Master of Finance, a Master’s in Project Management, and a Master of Professional Studies in Supply Chain Management.

CONCENTRATIONS: Penn State offers one of the most extensive lists of areas of expertise for its iMBA program. They are: accounting, consulting, e-commerce, economics, entrepreneurship, finance, general management, human resources management, industrial management, international business, leadership, manufacturing and technology management, marketing, management information systems, production/operations management, organizational behavior, public policy, supply chain management and logistics, quantitative analysis/statistics and operations research, technology, and transportation.

FORMAT: All of the classes in the iMBA program are recorded and archived online for so-called asynchronous learning. Obviously, that provides maximum flexibility. On the other hand, outside of the two residencies mentioned earlier, there are no live classes. Typically, a course is divided into lessons, with one lesson being assigned per week. During each weekly lesson you will read the online material and possibly complete team and individual assignments. Individual assignments may include participating in a discussion through the course message board, reading assigned pages from a text or electronic reserve articles, answering questions and submitting them through the course drop box, and taking an online quiz. Team assignments may include the completion of a team project, writing a team paper, and discussing a case. Each course has a syllabus that contains an overview of the course and a list of all the assignments and their due dates.

The length of the courses ranges from 8 to 12 weeks. The average class size is 20, though some classes have as many as 30 students in them. The school says that all course activities, assignments, and exams, however, must be completed by their respective due dates.

COST: $59,312

START DATES: Twice a year in the spring and fall


PLATFORM REVIEW: Students in the iMBA program use a variety of communication methods, including telephone (one-on-one and conference calls), email, online discussion forums (message boards, listservs, instant messaging, etc.), real-time conferencing software (Elluminate Live!), and two face-to-face residency experiences. As the program develops, specific interaction strategies are selected by the students to best meet their needs.

RANKINGS: When U.S. News & World Report published its first online MBA ranking in January of 2013, Penn State’s iMBA was ranked 19th best–not bad due to a severely flawed and easily manipulated list. By virtue of Penn State’s overall business school rank, Poets&Quants puts this program in the top five in the U.S. due to the widespread recognition of the Penn State brand.

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