Add another top business school to the growing list of online MBA providers. After three years of planning, Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business has launched an online version of its full-time MBA with a $90,740 price tag that will start in early May of next year.
SMU is entering a marketplace with more than 250 competitors in the U.S. alone, including nearby rival Rice University which welcomed its first online MBA students earlier this year in a program costing $106,900 (see our Directory of Online MBA Programs). Cox becomes the 14th of the 50 top business schools in the U.S. to either announce or already have in place an online MBA option. This coming year along, SMU will join both the University of Michigan’s Ross School and UC-Davis’ Graduate School of Business in going live.
Cox expects to put together a first cohort of 15 to 20 students, with the objective of reaching a steady state enrollment of 480 to 500 students within three years. One unusual feature of the new offering will provide students with the opportunity to earn ‘stackable’ certificates in certain topic areas, the credits of which can then be applied to the full MBA.
For students who take a full load, generally two to three courses at a time, the cohort-based program can be completed in little more than two years. It will feature two immersions, with at least one outside the U.S. The online MBA will have the same requirements as Cox’s full-time residential version and the same pricing.
PUTTING A FOCUS ON LEADERSHIP, ANALYTICS & EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING
Cox is building the online MBA on three pillars: leadership, analytics and experiential learning, the result of conversations with key corporate partners who also suggested the stackable option. “We spent a lot of time with our corporate partners to see what they think the needs are,” explains Shane Goodwin, associate dean for executive education and graduate programs. “We have been conducting these interviews with our corporate partners, and they don’t usually talk about the hard skills. They think about developing intellectual curiosity, the ability to solve difficult problems, and teamwork. We want to make sure we are focused on that in the program.”
Online students will also have the option of taking some classes in residence. “We will ramp up with the electives and offer stackable certificates if someone wants to take four courses in finance, for example, and come back later to fill it in,” adds Goodwin. “We wanted to have the assets in place to really create flexibility. They may want to take a class in residence and then perhaps online. We still think a strong format is to go through a cohort to create the relationships with their classmates. We are going to have a much more intimate class experience with limits of 15 to 18 students.”
Each class is expected to have a weekly live session in addition to individual and team-based online learning. “The synchronous classes happen every week for an hour or hour and one half for each course, a defined time where everyone gets together in a live format where you would do a case study and get into a very substantive discussion,” adds Goodwin. “There will always be an experiential format going on. “Data analytics might include a project for a firm over the last four or five weeks of the class.”
REJECTED OTHER VENDORS TO GO WITH NOODLE PARTNERS
Goodwin says the school will offer three intakes each year. For the first cohort of the Cox online MBA, the school has set a priority application deadline of March 11th and a final deadline of April 10th for the May 6th start date.
The new program is the result of three years of planning, the vetting of potential partners and the approval of the university. “Three years ago, we knew we needed to get into this space not only from a revenue or enrollment perspective but we knew that students wanted greater flexibility,” says Bill Dillon, senior associate dean and a professor of marketing and statistics at Cox. “We saw the benefit of the technology today and the learning objectives and the faculty became convinced that this is a road that we should go down.”
Dillon told Poets&Quants that the school spent a year in discussions with a wide variety of vendors, ultimately deciding to sign a contract with Noodle Partners. Cox decided against several other vendors because some of them wanted as much as 65% of the total revenue of the online program. Noodle does not take a share of student tuition or lock schools into long, multi-year contracts that can consume the majority of program resources for years. “A 65% split wasn’t palatable from our perspective,” says Dillon. “So we found a partner with a very different business model.”
MOST IMPORTANT INSIGHTS CAME FROM CORPORATE PARTNERS
“We don’t have a business model here in terms of innovation and to keep ahead of the curve you need to outsource to folks who have their own business model and can stay ahead of the curve,” explains Dillon. “They came to our retreat and we had a variety of potential partners come to talk to us. Everyone felt really comfortable with Noodle. They are an aggregator. They manage partners, bringing all the components together and charge a per student fee. They are a manager bringing best in class providers to these areas and the school has a choice of who to work with.”
The most important insights, says Dillon, came from Cox’ corporate partners and professionals outside the business area, including designers and architects. “They often use the term ‘mystery of experience,’” says Dillon. “Every time you approach a season, it is a mystery. It is unstructured. That is what we are trying to marry into the experience here to help students deal with unstructured problems.”