Inside the Online MBA: Why An Online MBA? With Kelley Dean Idie Kesner & Program Chair Ramesh Venkataraman

A global immersion trip in Cuba by Kelley Direct students

Byrne: So let’s talk a little bit about who actually is in your online MBA program. What’s the class profile look like?

Venkataraman: So right now we have about a thousand students in our program. Active. You know, 27% are women and about 10% come from the military. Our average age is about 32 and it ranges from 23 to 58. Average years of work experience is about seven. About 10% of our population is military, including active duty military. And 100% of our people are working, and so on. In terms of geographic profile, we have about 40% from the Midwest, broadly defined. About 25% from the Mid-Atlantic, about 25% from the West and Southwest.

We pretty much have people from every walk of industry that exists in the program. Like most MBA programs, we do have our share of engineers. But we actually are not all engineers, that’s for sure. We are probably in the 40 or 50% range for engineers. And the rest come from people already in business, working in various areas or functional areas of business. We also have doctors, people who have pharmacy degrees and law degrees.

Byrne: So, we went wide and conceptual there. Let’s go deep and narrow. Give me a few success stories.

Venkataraman: There are people who have been very successful in getting promotions within their organizations and people who have successfully transitioned out from whatever role they were in into a different role. So I was on this Agile trip, our global immersion trip, in India. It’s an acronym for Accelerating Global Immersion Leadership Education, AGILE. In India, I had about 20 students with me and a couple of the success stories from there were very interesting. Somebody was in a very technical IT role, and moved into a product management role, in a non-IT company on the West coast. So that was a very typical traditional type of outcome that you would expect. There was somebody who had specific multiple promotions within the two years of the program. Without naming the consulting firm, somebody got hired into a top tier consulting firm after a career in the military as part of our program. Think the Big 3. I think success stories come in various shapes and forms. People have had global assignments that they attribute to the MBA program and the experiences they were able to utilize there.

Kesner: We have someone that I can think of who’s in the aerospace industry, came back for an MBA to deepen skills. Because there’s a lot that has happened, in terms of skill building, that’s very important for executives today. And an MBA program can be the basis for deepening those skills and making sure that you’re continuing your learning progression.

Byrne: Now many of the people in today’s work world are working really hard. So there are probably some people who wonder how they can balance a rigorous program with working a demanding job and while having family responsibilities with a spouse and children. What do you say to them?

Kesner: Out of necessity, you’re going to learn how to balance these things. You may have a few rough weeks as you sort things out and learn how to live with all of these demands. But you ultimately learn how to do that. And then, after you’ve finished this program, you go back into your organization and you go back with those skills of learning how to balance and learning how to take on even more assignments and more responsibility. If you aspire to the next level, that’s good preparation because the jobs don’t get easier as you move up. They get more demanding and more difficult, with more travel and more expectations.

At the end of the program, we have a graduation ceremony. You’d be surprised how many of our Kelley Direct online students come back with their families and their kids. It’s a real celebration. There will be mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles and grandparents and spouses and children. And I always say, ‘what are you excited about, in terms of what’s next?’ And sometimes it will be getting my wife back or getting my husband back. And what they mean by that is, this was a sacrifice for all of us, but it was a worthwhile sacrifice. They recognize the value at the end of it all.

Byrne: And the average time it takes to get the degree in the program is a little over two years, right?

Venkataraman: Two years and two quarters, approximately.

Byrne: So, per course, should one expect to spend ten hours a week doing assignments and readings? What’s the average?

Venkataraman: Yes, I would say eight to ten hours a week per course, including watching the live session. It will ebb and flow, depending on when they have assignments. Some weeks, you may only have to come to the live session and do some readings. When I have bigger deliverables, I give students two weeks with two weekends available to finish things out.

Byrne: And what are exams like online?

Kesner: Every faculty member chooses to assess students differently. Mine is, for strategy classes, actually reading a case in advance. Then you come online and you answer essay questions that have been posted. And so it’s very much exactly like it would be in a different kind of program.

Venkataraman: Some classes don’t have exams. Some classes have big final deliverables that are integrative across the whole class and much more applied. In some classes, when they have exams, they are timed. You basically open the exam and you have X amount of time to finish it and then you have to submit it by that time.

Byrne: And how about grades? For the super-competitive out there who want to be sure that they’re at the top of the class, is there a top of the class in an online environment?

Venkataraman: Just like any other program, we have a grade distribution that we recommend to the faculty. We have letter grades.

Byrne: Okay, last question. If I’m thinking about doing an online MBA, what’s your best advice?

Kesner: My best advice is to recognize that not every online MBA program is the same. Do your homework, to study it deeply, to understand the culture of a program, the format, who is your instructor in the class. Is it part of the normal faculty of the business school, or is it other people who have been hired separately? Find out what your needs are. Array the things that you want to get out of the program. It’s almost a checklist. Which of these programs fill your needs?

Because to me, it’s a matching or fit process. You may need certain things and you’re looking for the best fit. So don’t go into it thinking everything is the same. Do your homework, study what the program offers, study the opportunities you can get from that. If you do that, then ultimately, you’ll make the right choice.

Venkataraman: Talk to somebody who has gone through the program. Make sure that whatever you see in print, or on a video, you also get the perspective of the students who have gone through it. And make sure that you know what you’re getting into. Make sure the MBA is right for you and then that the online MBA is the best choice.

Byrne: Ramesh, Idie thank you very much.

Next Step: Connect with Kelley Direct Online MBA

Inside The Online MBA is sponsored by Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business

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