Douglas A. Shackelford is a professor’s professor. He’s a widely published scholar whose CV overflows with six densely packed pages of published papers, Congressional testimony and academic honors. A highly regarded authority on taxation, he’s been a visiting professor at two of the world’s best universities, Stanford and Oxford, and he’s been teaching at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School for nearly a quarter of a century.
So when Kenan-Flagler Dean James W. Dean Jr. began to seriously consider going into the online MBA market three years ago, Shackelford was understandably aghast. “Oh my God,” I thought, “the budget situation must be desperate. I told the dean that this is such a big bet that either he will be a hero for doing it or burned in effigy on campus if it fails.”
Undaunted, Dean plowed ahead, even appointing his initially skeptical colleague as the associate dean of the online program, MBA@UNC. In due time, Shackelford’s reservations were shed and he has since become a true convert. Now, as the school prepares to graduate its first class of online MBAs this July, the professor believes that Kenan-Flagler’s move into the online space was not only prescient. “It was brilliant,” concedes the 55-year-old professor. “Our dean really does deserve a statue.”
‘THE WAVE OF THE FUTURE’
After all, some of the best business schools in the world now offer MBAs via the Internet. Besides Kenan-Flagler, Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business will enroll its first online class this August. Online MBA programs are flourishing at many other top business schools, including Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, IE Business School in Spain, Babson College’s Olin School, and Arizona State University’s Carey School. Every other week, a new business school seems to be announcing the launch of yet another cyber-MBA program. At several schools, including Indiana and Arizona State, incoming online MBA classes now outnumber the new full-time students enrolled on-campus.
As Robert Dammon, dean of Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, puts it, “The wave of the future is the use of technology to deliver education more broadly to people. There are a large group of people who don’t want to leave their jobs and still want an MBA from a top-tier school.”
From Shackelford’s perspective, Kenan-Flagler’s move into the market two years ago has gained the school plaudits as an educational innovator and has challenged the faculty to think differently about teaching. The program has drawn an exceptional group of working professionals–some of them already earning $250,000 a year and up–and their satisfaction with the experience has been extraordinarily high. Nearly every quarter, when Kenan-Flagler opens the Internet door to a new cohort, the size of the incoming class has grown larger.
If you’re interested in an online MBA degree these days, chances are you’ll find a vast array of quality programs and much wider acceptance for online study from employers than ever before. In fact, so many not-for-profit universities have entered the market that they are now taking significant marketshare away from the for-profit players who pioneered online education years ago. Although McKinsey & Co. and Goldman Sachs aren’t yet recruiting graduates of online MBA programs, the day may not be all that far off when prestige corporate recruiters begin to routinely interview and hire MBAs with online degrees.
“The acceptance rate of online degrees as a legitimate replacement for on-campus degrees is going up,” says Haven Ladd, a partner with The Parthenon Group’s education practice. “Most HR (human resource) departments really don’t care about the differences.” Adds his partner, Robert Lytle, “The next barrier for online education is when do we see Goldman and Accenture start hiring online MBAs. It’s only a matter of time before professional service firms get comfortable hiring online graduates.”