Gies Business Students Go In-Depth On iMBA Experience

What’s it like to get an MBA degree for a mere $22,000? What do you sacrifice in an online versus an on-campus, full-time residential program?

Gabrielle Young, a director of marketing in Atlanta, has a compelling story that helps to provide some context to those questions. An MBA student in the iMBA program at the University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business, she recalls having conversations with friends attending on-campus MBA programs.

“I’m looking at their class notes,” says Young, “and they look at my notes, and they’re like, ‘what is that?’ ‘Well, actually this is a formula for my econ class, and it’s got a lot of variables in it.’ And they’re like, ‘well I took econ, and we didn’t learn that, we never got exposed to that.’ And they were like, ‘Wow, your MBA program is better than mine. They literally said that.”

And then the conversation would inevitably turn to how much her MBA will cost her.

“‘How much is your tuition?'” they’ll ask.


‘For a year?’


‘A semester?’

‘No, for the full program.’

Gabrielle Young is an Atlanta-based iMBA student

Laughs Young: “They were shocked. ‘Look,’ I say, ‘you can pay your $22,000 per semester, get in all the clubs and learn all the secret handshakes. I don’t need to learn secret handshakes, I need to learn this formula, so I can take it back to my job and apply this framework.'”

Young relays her conversations during a livestream panel discussion at Gies College of Business with four iMBA students and a recent graduate of the program. It’s the second of two discussions. The first, on how the school designed and delivers what Gies’ Dean Jeffrey Brown calls ‘The World’s MBA.’ In that first panel, Dean Brown and Assistant Dean of Online Programs Arshad Saiyed discuss how they’ve created an online MBA of high quality and high engagement for just $22,000.

In this follow-up conversation, Poets&Quants’ Founder John A. Byrne engages a group of young professionals who have had direct experience with Gies’ iMBA offering. The discussion, on the campus of the University of Illinois, occurred when the students were in town to attend the program’s annual iConverge event when students and alums gather together to take classes, network and enjoy a taste of the campus life they have forgone in favor of the flexibility of an online degree program.

Gabrielle Young helps manage a multi-million-dollar marketing budget for the Mighty Auto Parts franchise and joined the program in January of 2018. Alaa Elhawwari is an Egyptian who lives in Dubai where he works for General Motors as the auto giant’s development and training lead across the Middle East & North Africa regions. Judy Safian is a consultant based in Providence, R.I., whose husband is also an iMBA student. Grant Miller is based in San Francisco as director of channels and alliances at Paylocity, a provider of cloud-based payroll and human capital management software. And finally, Khem Singh, who works for a Nevada-based IT startup, graduated from the program in May of 2019.

What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation:

John A. Byrne: Welcome, everyone. Alaa, you’ve come all the way from Dubai to be on campus at the University of Illinois for this iConverge event. In fact this is the second time you’ve done it. Why?

Alaa Elhawwari: The family feeling you have here is exceptional. So it’s worth the travel from Dubai, to come here to see your family members. When you see the people that you connect with online in real life, it’s like an exponential factor for your relationship. So, we meet online, we work online, we stay late nights online. And, it’s hard sometimes, but it’s like real life. And then you come here to see them, to party with them, to attend sessions with them, and so it’s worth it, it’s totally worth it.

Byrne: Khem, this is third iConverge so what draws you back?

Khem Singh: Same reason, pretty much. Coming back here gives you the feeling of home, because you work with so many people online, and this is your chance to see them in person.

Of course, there are other events that happen, around town. You can meet with your friends in whichever city you’re visiting. You just throw a word out there on workplace and see who is available for a meet-up. But beside that, I think this is one marquee event for the University, where all the students come together, share their stories from all the late nights, grab a beer, and take live sessions and network with each other. I think this is a tremendous opportunity for us to get together.

Byrne: Now, two words stick out from these conversations; family and home. I think a lot of people who consider getting an online degree would never imagine that you could connect that deeply. In fact, many would think that is what they would have to sacrifice to gain the flexibility an online program affords.

Grant Miller: So, I’ll tell you about this in the context of a story. This is my third year in the program and some life events happened, I lost a bother to terminal illness. And I put the word out that I wasn’t going to make it last year. Literally the amount of support and camaraderie I received was amazing.

We got together last night at a home in Chicago, and it was a great opportunity, and literally, there were tears running down people’s faces because it’s so great to seee.each other in person. We genuinely care, and love, each other.

And it sounds a little hokey, but the opportunities to be able to do this kind of networking is amazing. Another student who happens to be a brand manager for a major liquor label, we went out to dinner the other night, and we were just trading ideas. We were riffing on what we’re doing at work. And how can I help you? And back and forth. I don’t think you can get that if you’re in a two-year program, where you’re having to give up your work life to just focus on your education. So, I think the opportunities are great.


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