Michigan’s New Online MBA Drawing Applicants From Google, JPMorgan & Tesla

The biggest news in online MBA education this year is the launch of the University of Michigan’s online MBA program this fall. While there are plenty of competitors in the online space, Michigan’s Ross School of Business will be the first top ten business school in the U.S. to offer an online MBA.

Already, the school reports getting applicants for its first cohort of 60 students from such high profile companies as Google, Tesla and JPMorgan Chase. “We’re seeing tremendous demand,” says Ross Dean Scott DeRue in an interview with Poets&Quants. “The level of talent in the applicants that we’re seeing thus far is exceptional…We’re seeing applicants from investment banks and consulting firms on the East Coast. We’re seeing folks from companies on the West Coast apply to the program. And that’s something that we, as a business school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, wouldn’t see in our part-time programs naturally.”

The program’s application deadline for its first intake is now less than a month away on May 20, with Ross promising decisions within six to eight weeks from the date a candidate submits an application. Most online students will be expected to complete the 57-credit hour program in three years. Ross, however, said it’s possible that a student can either accelerate the timetable to two and one-half years or slow it down or extend it over a five- to six-year period.


Michigan’s entrance into the online MBA market, moreover, is largely expected to increase interest in online options overall, reducing any remaining stigma to getting a degree online. Ross is certain to quickly become one of the top online MBA programs in the world (see The Best Online MBA Programs Of 2019), given its status as a prestige business school player.

What follows is an edited transcript of our interview (video above) with Ross Dean DeRue:

John A. Byrne: So you have something really exciting coming soon. It’s an online MBA program. And you’re the first top ten ranked business school in the country to have an online option. Tell me why you decided to do an online program.

Scott DeRue: Well thank you first and foremost for being here, and we are indeed really excited about this online MBA. We chose to do it really for three reasons. One is access, and what I mean by access, in this case, is reach. We know there are many people around the country that want access to a top tier MBA education but who don’t have the opportunity to uproot their family and move to any particular location for that top ten MBA program. So being able to go to them as opposed to them expecting to come to us is an issue of access and reach.

The second reason that we went in this direction was flexibility. If you think about the return on investment in an MBA, it’s one thing to dive head first into a full-time program, but we also know that there are many working professionals who for a whole variety of reasons will continue working during their education. And they need access to this world-class business education and MBA offering as they continue to work. So that flexibility matters a great deal.

Then thirdly is we’re preparing students for a digital world, for working in enterprises and with enterprises virtually all across the globe. So being able to innovate and adapt our curriculum to really fit that digital world came together to also meet these needs of access and flexibility.

Byrne: That all makes sense. The other thing about being a top-ranked program is your ability to draw top-ranked applicants. What kind of applications are you seeing?

DeRue: We’re seeing tremendous demand, actually. And what I’m really excited about is the level of talent that we’re seeing. So in part-time MBA programs, you often draw from your region because people have to drive and go on the weekends.

And in this case, we’re certainly seeing a high number of regionally based applicants, but we’re also seeing applicants from investment banks and consulting firms on the East Coast. We’re seeing folks from companies like Tesla from the West Coast. And that’s something that we, as a business school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, wouldn’t see in our part-time programs naturally.

That’s an example of us expanding access and reach by going to them. But the level of talent in the applicants that we’re seeing thus far is exceptional, the numbers are right on pace with what we expected, and so we’re really excited.

Byrne: So Scott, what will make the Ross online MBA different from all the others in the market?

DeRue: Well John, that’s a great question. And this was the challenge that we set for our team. We wanted this to be a unique offering in the marketplace and uniquely Michigan Ross. So what that meant to us was, first the brand that you mentioned. We are the only top ten MBA program in the online MBA space, and brand matters. As students think about what programs they are going to go to, they want to go to the best programs that they can go to. So the brand is certainly a point of differentiation.

The second point of differentiation is our rockstar faculty. We are using the same exact faculty in our online MBA, as we do in our top-ranked MBA program that’s residential. And not all of the MBA programs that have online offerings are using their same top faculty. So we think access to the real thought leaders that are shaping the most important conversations in business, who are unbelievable educators, access to those rockstar faculty is going to be a point of differentiation.

Then finally is the action-based experiential education that has defined Michigan Ross for so many years. We’re actually weaving that into the online MBA in really substantive and profound ways, from the synchronous sessions that students will be engaged in with faculty and fellow students to actual projects. We’re adding to our online curriculum our MAP (Multidisciplinary Action Projects) program, which is essentially our consulting projects, that is really a signature experience of our residential full-time MBA program. That is going to be a signature experience of our online MBA. Online students will be working with faculty and with leading companies all around the globe, essentially doing consulting projects on the issues that are of the most strategic importance to those firms. And they’ll be working virtually as we do in our organizations all of the time.

Byrne: Many will certainly find that very appealing, especially because in a part-time program you can’t do an internship.

DeRue: So they’re learning not only the teamwork and leadership skills to work in virtual environments, but they’re getting to work on the most important issues with the leading companies as part of the MAP program. That’ll be a signature part of this experience.

The program in some sense would be described as a hybrid, in that much of it is online. But they will come to campus several times and have these extended residencies for something short of a week, so three, four, five days. The first residency will be a leadership residency, and it’s really based on our leadership crisis challenge that has become a signature experience in our other MBA programs where students work together to navigate a leadership challenge that their company is facing. They will have to interact with real board members, and real journalists, and it’s a really immersive experience. And then we’ll wrap the leadership education around that. So it’s not just, let’s come to campus and have another class. You’ll come to campus and immerse yourself in an experience that you can’t get in any other online format.

Another residency will focus on innovation, and how you innovate from within to create value for your organization. And yet another residency will focus on transformation. How do you lead large scale transformation in really complex enterprises?

These are really experiential pieces of the student learning experience that I think are really going to set this program apart. All three are required as part of the program. As we scale the program and build in new residencies, we expect the portfolio to grow. At launch, we’re beginning with these three around innovation, transformation, and leadership.

Byrne: So it sounds like you’re taking very important aspects of your full-time program and importing them into the online experience.

DeRue: That’s exactly right, and it starts with our admissions standards. We are maintaining our standards in terms of the type and quality of student, and the culture that we’ve become known for in our residential full-time program. The student experience, the faculty, the learning experience, even access to things like career services and career development and professional development. All of that is exactly the same, yet we get the access, the reach, the flexibility that you would naturally expect in a part-time program. And we can serve students from all across the United States in doing that.

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