An MBA For Under A Grand? Seriously!

Laurie Pickard

Laurie Pickard

MOOC critics wage that the massive online format doesn’t allow for meaningful interactions with other students and faculty. Pickard’s largest course had 120,000 students. An assignment to post a comment in a class-wide discussion forum resulted in a jumbled mess of thousands and thousands of messages. “There was too much going on to really engage substantively,” she says of the message board. Some MOOC students arrange city-wide meetups around particular courses, but an international student, such as Pickard, may be the only person in his or her entire country enrolled in a class.

However, Pickard’s not particularly concerned about missing the classroom interaction–something she had as an undergraduate and as a master’s student. “Because I’ve done that before, and I’ve experienced that, and I can search out experiences that can replicate that in other places, I don’t feel that I’m missing all that much from taking courses online,” she explains.


But often relationships forged in a traditional MBA program reach far beyond the classroom into the future; for many business students these networks are the key selling point of a $100,000-plus degree. Pickard readily admits that she’s not getting the same connections as a Harvard or Stanford MBA but also asserts that her situation is unique: She’s pursuing an MBA primarily to acquire skills, not connections. “My development network is more important to me than a business school network, which is why I was thinking, ‘What I really want here are the skills to move into the business end of the development work I’m doing,'” she explains.

The real elephant in the virtual classroom is how employers will perceive a business education that doesn’t come with a bona fide degree. Many MOOC courses offer a Statement of Accomplishment (SOA), often for a fee. Pickard is skeptical of their value. Most job seekers wouldn’t bring their transcripts to an interview, much less a stack of course completion forms, she points out. Plus, the levels of difficulty and quality between courses range widely, making it tricky to decipher how much credence to give a particular SOA; for instance, some programs give equal weight to homework assignments and exams. “I’m still struggling with how to present it overall,” Pickard says. “For me, at this point, it really does hinge on the blog, so I can direct somebody there to explore what I’ve done … but for a more in-depth look at what I did, since it is non-traditional, I think somebody would need to do a little bit of research on me.”

For Pickard, the knowledge is more important than the formal credential, anyway.  She has no plans to enter finance or consulting, where an MBA is often a prerequisite for top jobs. Rather, building on her experience as an agriculture and food security volunteer in Nicaragua, she plans to work in sustainable supply chain development, with a focus on coffee. She’d also like to expand her No-Pay MBA blog into a resource and community for similar-minded students looking to save money without missing out on the B-school network.

Pickard certainly has her work cut out for her. The critics of MOOCs are an active bunch with plenty of fodder to pull from. But the No-Pay MBA says these naysayers are missing the potential of an Internet education. “I’ve seen a lot of articles come out recently talking about the failures of MOOCs and people saying it’s not as good as a classroom experience … it’s not the egalitarian revolution in education that people were hoping for, but I see so many positive things about MOOCs,” Pickard says.

She’s particularly adamant that for the right person, a MOOC education can be just as effective as classroom-based and online MBA programs. “If you can learn from a book, you can learn from a MOOC, and you can probably actually learn better from a MOOC than you can from a book,” she says. Pickard’s willing to bet on it with a blog and $1000–if right, she’ll come out with a quality business education and save tens of thousands of dollars in the process.

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