Face Time Key To Hybrid MBA Battle

Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business is ranked 16th among the best B-schools in the U.S. by Poets&Quants.


The University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School uses “Global Immersions” to provide online “MBA@UNC” students with human-to-human education interaction. Of four trips offered annually to cities such as New York, Johannesburg, Singapore, Sao Paulo, and London, candidates must take at least two during the 18- to 36-month program. Course work during these three-day events mixes students with professors and business leaders.

UCLA Anderson School dean Judy Olian, in an article on the school’s website about its MBA Flex hybrid program, say that “students may absorb theory from their computer screens, but on campus – whether in groups or in class – they’ll discuss the ambiguity of case studies, or challenge each other’s strategic recommendations in vibrant debate.

“You don’t want to compromise that essential ingredient when the goal is deep learning.”

However, Philip Regier, dean of Arizona State University, whose Carey School of Business launched an online MBA in 2003, contends in EDUCAUSE Review Online that more non-traditional learners are flocking to higher education because online learning allows them to get degrees without serious disruption to their lives. Regier believes success of online programs hinges largely on training professors to teach effectively over the internet. Students in Carey’s online MBA program are required to make only one campus visit, a three-day orientation at the start of the two-year program; all other education is delivered online.

The University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management has been adding online content to its part-time MBA program for the past several years, in response to student demand, and by next year, students will be able to complete the program entirely online, says Carlson dean Sri Zaheer. While school officials’ want to give students as much flexibility and convenience as possible, Zaheer says she’s not convinced an MBA delivered completely over the internet can match one that includes campus work and on-site projects.

“Our intention is not really to create an online program,” Zaheer says. “Online can get you up to a certain point, but I don’t know if it can deliver the full goods.”

Carlson’s “enterprise” programs that see teams of MBA candidates hired out to companies are an example of on-site education that would be difficult to replace via the internet, Zaheer says. She questions whether it’s possible to teach leadership, judgment of unclear situations and teamwork as effectively online as in person.

Penn State’s iMBA takes students away from their computers for two week-long residencies, one doing on-site analysis of organizational structure and strategy at a U.S. firm, and one on campus involving teamwork on a business simulation project.


Paul Danos, dean of Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, predicts that students who can get into the “very best residential programs in the world” will continue attending them.

“For candidates who don’t get into the best programs, however, or for mid-career professionals or others who can’t leave their cities, a hybrid program could be very appealing,” Danos writes on the Tuck website.

Danos sees elite schools possibly providing the educational fodder down through the ranks, thanks to technology.

“A relative handful of top professors could create highly produced online courses that other schools would pay to use as part of their degree programs,” Danos muses. “The elite schools are likely to be producers rather than consumers in this market, but the non-elite schools will feel great pressure to accept courses designed and produced by the most highly regarded experts in their fields.

“Schools would have the option to outsource courses, or even whole departments. An institution could choose to specialize, concentrating its resources to attract top-tier professors in a chosen discipline while relying on virtual proxies to teach other subjects.”


Letting his imagination run, perhaps a little wildly, Danos goes on to envision “a time in the not-too-distant future when virtual reality makes it nearly impossible to tell whether you’re sitting together with colleagues or in a different country altogether.”

To be sure, for some MBA students, less time on campus is better. A survey commissioned by the Executive MBA Council, a worldwide business education group, found that EMBA programs with less frequent on-campus periods produced the highest levels of student satisfaction, with programs requiring in-person attendance more often than every three weeks receiving the lowest approval ratings.

“The EMBA category is particularly sensitive to format,” Westerbeck says, “because of their professional and personal constraints.”

In the old days, of course, Grok and Trog clubbed each other silly during tug o’ wars over prospective primitives to fill their business schools. Now, the battle is fought with different weapons, on broader ground, but many would-be business students will still base their decisions about where to study on how much time they get to spend inside the cave, er, classroom.


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