Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business expects to double the enrollment of students in its online MBA program next year. The school launched the online format in the fall of this year with 29 MBA students in its first cohort.
“We have seen enough interest and are shooting for about 60 next year,” said Robert T. Monroe, director of Tepper’s online MBA program, in a wide-ranging interview with Poets&Quants. “We believe steady state is between 60 and 100 incoming students a year and we expect to get to the lower end of that.”
Along with online programs from the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina and Indiana University’s Kelley School, Carnegie Mellon’s entry into the online space has helped to make distance learning MBA a serious option for an increasing number of prospective MBA students who want the degree from a highly ranked business school.
MOST EXPENSIVE ONLINE MBA PROGRAM ON THE MARKET
Tepper’s FlexMBA is the most expensive in the market, priced at $118,080 over the 32-month-long program. The FlexMBA is a so-called “blended program,” combining online instruction two evenings a week with one Access Weekend onsite five times per year.
“The reason it’s expensive is it is the same MBA,” says Monroe. “We are moving to a model fairly rapidly where students can move between the different delivery alternatives, including full-time onsite and part-time. We made a very specific decision that we were not going to lower our standards for the program. We will not admit anybody who we don’t make it successfully through the program without any concern.”
The inaugural cohort boasts a median GMAT score of 680, median GPA of 3.39, and a median 5.6 years of work experience. Brazil, India, South Korea, Taiwan and the U.S. are represented in the class, with 57% of the students living in the mid-Atlantic states.
‘FIRST ONLINE COHORT IS SLIGHTLY OUTPERFORMING THE ON-CAMPUS MBA STUDENTS’
“The first cohort has exceeded everybody’s expectations,” says Monroe. “The students are very strong. They have been eager to come and do it, and they have taken to this form of learning very well. Our faculty are diving in with both feet and by and large they are enjoying the intellectual challenge of teaching in this new format.
“The general reaction of the faculty is, ‘Wow, these seem like Tepper students,’ adds Monroe. “Their GMATs are ten points lower but their work experience is longer. Geographically, they are from different places. And they are slightly outperforming our onsite students in the four classes we have finished. The same professors are teaching the same classes and giving them the same exams. What is coming back is they are doing great.”
Monroe, a professor of information technology at Tepper, says the new format has brought some unexpected benefits for the faculty who agreed to develop their courses online. Professors are bringing online simulations, video and offline case discussions developed for the FlexMBA into their on campus teaching sessions. “They feel like they are improving their onsite teaching as well by thinking thoughtfully about how to help their students learn things,” adds Monroe.
INITIALLY WORRIED ABOUT BUILDING COMMUNITY AMONG ONLINE STUDENTS
Ultimately, Monroe expects 40 to 50 of Tepper’s 110 faculty members to teach online. Currently, there are 12 faculty scheduled to teach the core 12 online courses in the first-year curriculum. All of those basic courses are lockstep and taken by all the students in the cohort. Electives kick into the program in the second and third years.
Another unexpected benefit of the program, says Monroe, is the amount of bonding among the 29 students and the professors. The biggest surprise is the sense of community. We were very concerned we weren’t going to be able to recreate the onsite culture. So we built into the program these Access Weekends in trying to bring people together to do things. We have built up a strong sense of community. The faculty say that they are getting to know these students better than their full-time students because the group is smaller and they are spending an intense learning weekend with them every two months. It’s a very interactive and engaged time. They have gotten to know their students remarkably well.”