When coronavirus shut down campuses across the country, the part-time MBA program at New York University’s Stern School of Business was ready to pivot to all-online, says JP Eggers, vice dean for MBA programs. Students adapted well because of the flexibility built into the program, including three options for pursuing their degree.
“Flexibility,” Eggers says, “is the defining characteristic of our part-time MBA program. Right from the start, students choose the program path that best meets their needs — the two-year accelerated option, weeknight option, or the Saturday option. They can put their program on hold at any time and resume when ready within a six-year limit, a choice that was available well before the coronavirus.
“At Stern we pivoted rapidly, as did our part-time students, who suddenly overnight found themselves juggling work, school, and families, all from home.”
It helped to have an online MS program as a model, he says, pointing to Stern’s Master of Science in Quantitative Management, a part-time cohort-based program predominantly delivered online. From teaching in that program and others, faculty were able to make the switch smoothly. “Faculty have been responsive, adaptive, and eager to help students,” Eggers tells P&Q. “In fact we launched a new faculty virtual lecture series for MBAs on the business impact of the coronavirus, called Faculty Insights: Covid-19 and New York City, as an added real-time learning opportunity. This summer, we will also offer a new course for part-time MBA students called Leading in Crisis.
“Throughout this transition, we have been working hand in hand with student government. For new incoming students, our next two new cohorts begin only a few months apart from one another — in September 2020 (fall) and January/February 2021 (spring). Applications for fall have been robust. Given the current situation, we are encouraging admitted students with unique situations to reach out and have granted early admission to spring in certain cases.”
‘OUR PART-TIME STUDENTS HAVE PROVEN REMARKABLY RESILIENT’
A few years ago, speaking to P&Q about the UC-Berkeley Haas part-time MBA, Jamie Breen, assistant dean of MBA programs for working professionals, touted the importance of momentum. For part-time students who have to balance work, school, and family, it’s absolutely vital, she said: Sometimes students want to accelerate their studies, and sometimes they lose momentum and need to “stretch things out.” The Haas School is amenable to either approach, allowing students to take as long as five years to get their degree. “If they’re having a really busy time at work or there’s a lot of pressure or they’re traveling a lot, we can work with them,” Breen said.
That willingness to be flexible and attentive to the shifting needs of students has served Haas and its part-time MBA students well in the coronavirus crisis. When the pandemic began and other schools were scrambling, Haas “transitioned in less than 24 hours to remote learning, and our students have not seemed to miss a beat,” Breen says.
“A crisis this size is a laboratory for leadership and learning,” she says. “We are engaging with our students and faculty to understand how the changes we had to adopt quickly have been positive for students, and how we might continue the positive impacts into the future.
“We’ve learned some things from the experience with remote delivery. For example, people who may be more reluctant to participate in person often voice their ideas more readily on the chat function, leading to even richer discussions.”
The biggest issues facing students are lack of child care and schedule changes, Breen says. “Working from home, taking care of children, all while pursuing a rigorous academic program, is a challenge,” she says. “We have had some students adjust their course load to accommodate these new circumstances, but not a lot. Our part-time students have proven remarkably resilient.”
Breen adds that it’s too early to answer questions about Haas’ policies on deferrals and refunds, partial or otherwise.
KUDOS FOR A FACULTY THAT PERFORMED WELL UNDER THE GUN
When coronavirus hit in early March and B-schools everywhere shut down almost overnight, Minnesota’s Carlson School needed to move fast to put all of its instruction online for a population of hundreds of graduate students — and an overall student population of around 4,500.
They got it done — in four days’ time.
“From a curricular standpoint, we were actually quite prepared as a school across all programs to go online, because we’ve been developing an online program,” Phil Miller says. The Minnesota Carlson online MBA, launched in fall 2019, currently has about 45 students, a number that will be scaled up in the next cohort. “We actually have a robust instructional design staff. We’ve got pretty strong capabilities. In fact, some of the tools that the university’s using were ones we had sort of pushed hard for the university to bring into our overall portfolio technology-wise, because we needed them.
“So things like proctoring tools and Zoom, we were an early advocate of, along with some other ones. In general, we were prepared. Having said that, going suddenly online, it was a shock to the system — and a number of the faculty certainly hadn’t taught online before.”
Faculty in the part-time MBA did not get detailed direction on how to move their courses online, Miller says. Yet they all did so, and successfully.
“I’d say because we literally had four days to go online, we did not give faculty clear and specific direction on how to do it,” Miller says. “It was sort of, ‘We have tools, here are choices you can make,’ but each faculty member’s in a different situation. So, for example, even directing synchronous (courses), if we had said that everybody needs to have a synchronous component, we have some of our faculty teaching in the residential and the full-time program who literally can’t do synchronous because they have multiple small children at home during the day, and they can’t run a two-hour synchronous session.
“But they’ve gotten really great reviews for how they’ve thoughtfully engaged with some asynchronous content and virtualized things and added some simulations and did things that were really engaging — but in a different way that wasn’t as anchored to a time period.”