The University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business opened its first application cycle today (June 18) for the newly launched Smith Online MBA. In January 2014, the school will welcome the inaugural class of some 20 to 30 students on campus for a two-day orientation. Smith, whose full-time MBA program is ranked 31st in the U.S. by Poets&Quants, is the latest in a line of prestigious B-schools to jump on the online MBA bandwagon.
All told, there are eight business schools in the Top 50 in the U.S. that now offer online MBA programs: Besides Maryland, there are Carnegie Mellon, the University of North Carolina, Indiana University, Penn State, Babson College, Arizona State University, and Northeastern University. There are another 14 business schools in the second half of the Top 100 schools, including George Washington University, the University of Florida, and the University of Arizona, which begins its first class in September of 2013.
Greg Hanifee, Smith’s assistant dean of executive programs, sees the offering as part of a necessary evolution. “With the advances in technology and the changing expectations of students when they come in, it becomes imperative for business schools to really think about how to best meet the needs of their students,” he says. “I think this program is a perfect marriage of our aspirations to be a top-notch business school while still meeting the needs of our students.”
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STUDENTS CAN EXPECT THE SAME RIGOR AND DEGREE
The majority of the 21-month program will be taught online – students are only required to attend two in-person residencies at the school’s College Park, Maryland, campus at the beginning and end of their experience. Online MBAs follow a core curriculum similar to that of the full-time and part-time programs and can opt to specialize in accounting, information systems, analytics, finance or marketing. The vast majority of the coursework is asynchronous, with the exception of “live” hour-long sessions each week, where students are required to log on with their classmates and faculty. Smith will use Canvas, an open-source learning management system, for its technology platform.
Students can expect the same rigor and faculty they would see in the school’s other MBA programs, Hanifee says. The B-school will also preserve its emphasis on action-based learning in the online program. As a case in point, online MBAs will devote 10 weeks to identifying and addressing a real-world business problem in small virtual teams. The groups will be required to select their own challenge, ranging from starting a new company to developing an international business plan, and will present their findings and recommendations in a final presentation.
Through the program’s flexibility, Smith hopes to target prospective MBAs who fall between the less experienced full-time MBAs and the experience-heavy executive MBAs, who average some 14 to 15 years of experience. Hanifee predicts the average experience range will fall between five to 12 years for the online MBA profile. The program is designed to attract working professionals who aren’t quite ready for executive roles and C-suite coaching. “Different educational formats work best for different kinds of learners – this program is best for working professionals who can learn within a rigorous, structured program, but more-so on their own time,” Smith Dean G. “Anand” Anandalingam said in a press release.
‘WE’RE NOT LOOKING TO MAKE THIS INTO A MOOC’
The school plans to bring in some 100 online MBA through quarterly intake cycles during 2014. Eventually Smith aims to welcome some 40 students during each application cycle. “We want to keep it selective. We’re not looking to make this into a MOOC,” says Hanifee in reference to the massive open online courses that attract tens of thousands of students.
While the final cost won’t be released until July, prospective students can expect to pay nearly $80,000, plus transportation costs for the residency weekends. While still pricey, it’s a more affordable option for out-of-state MBAs than the $95,000 price tag on the full-time MBA. In-state, full-time tuition comes in at a more comparable cost of $80,300.
Hanifee is confident that the program is the right move for Smith in an increasingly digitized world. “It’s a place where we should be,” he says. “We see an opportunity to meet a growing demand nationwide.”