More often than not, many of the most innovative things happening in the MBA space don’t occur at the big brand schools like Harvard, Stanford and Wharton. The latest proof comes from the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
The school is launching next fall a $74,800 hybrid MBA program, half of which will be delivered face-to-face on campus with the remaining half online. The on-campus portion requires a weekend in Madison every month where classes start at 8 a.m. on a Saturday and end at 4 p.m. on a Sunday.
But it is the design of the program that is the secret sauce. After the first year of core courses, the program requires that MBA students take four “badges” consisting of a trio of two-credit courses in a subject. The badges will focus on such topics as innovation, analytics, health care, marketing, manufacturing, corporate finance, social responsibility, and international business.
AN UNBUNDLED APPROACH TO ALLOW FOR MICRO-CREDENTIALS IN ANALYTICS & OTHER SUBJECTS
Don’t want to yet commit to the full MBA experience? No problem. Wisconsin is also unbundling the traditional MBA by allowing students to simply sign up for a badge which results in a micro-credential, the credits of which can later be applied to the MBA. So if you are wanting to do a deep dive in business analytics, you can take the three courses and earn the badge now, opening up a path to the MBA later.
What Wisconsin has done is bring together in one place three key elements of a business school’s portfolio—an online MBA, an Executive MBA, and executive education—into a single platform. The monthly weekend sessions on campus borrow from a more typical EMBA format. The badges can be taken as if they were standalone executive education certificates, yet they count toward the MBA degree. And since half of the content will be delivered online, the program creates online options at a school that has yet to dip its toes into distance learning.
Longer-term, the “badge” concept opens up the business school to interdisciplinary collaborations with other schools and departments at the University of Wisconsin in computer science, environmental studies, public affairs, and medicine and public health and more.
‘THIS IS THE FIRST TIME WE DESIGNED A PROGRAM FROM THE CUSTOMER PERSPECTIVE’
The program is the brainchild of Enno Siemsen, associate dean of MBA and master’s programs, who led a market research initiative tapping into the needs of current and prospective students, alumni, and employers that led to the school’s first foray into online education. “This is the first time we designed a program from the customer perspective,” he says. “We asked our target audience what they wanted. Based on that feedback, there was a moment when I knew all the things I wanted to do. I laid down on the couch, took a nap, and after I woke up the whole structure took hold in my head.”
“Like any innovation, however, it is a team effort. I have assembled a group of dedicated staff members and faculty and we worked on this for a full year. If you take a group of people who really believe in the organization and empower them, good things happen.”
Siemsen, who joined Wisconsin three years ago from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, is aiming for a first cohort in the fall of 2021 of about 60 students. The goal is to quickly move to two cohorts of 120 students a year. They can take as little as two years to earn their MBAs from start to finish or stretch it out over five years.
STUDIED FLIGHT PATTERNS TO ALLOW FLY-INS FROM CHICAGO & ELSEWHERE
“The program gives us broader geographic reach,” adds Siemsen who said that the timing of the monthly weekend sessions allows for students to fly in on Friday evening and fly out on late afternoon or early evening on Sunday. “We spent a lot of time analyzing flight patterns for the chance to get people to be here. By ending class on Sundays at 4 p.m., there’s just enough time to give people time to take the late afternoon and evening flights out of Madison.”
If a student is going at the accelerated pace, it would require a commitment of ten weekends in the first year. Each badge of three courses would require another three weekends. Students would stay overnight in the school’s executive education center.
For the online portion of the program, faculty will work out what content they deliver virtually and whether that will be asynchronous or via live online classes on Wednesday evening. “I want to force every instructor to think carefully about what content should be delivered face to face and what should be delivered online,” says Siemsen, who has a team of four instructional designers at the ready to work with professors on developing their courses.
‘FLEXIBILITY & ACCESSIBILITY ARE KEY GOALS’
“Flexibility and accessibility are key goals of this program,” he says. “We also wanted to create a program that allows us new ways of marketing our content and creating channels into the MBA. We have a very large undergraduate population of 4,000 students with 800 graduates every year. Some of them come back and they have a strong affiliation with Wisconsin, but we don’t make it easy for them to come back for an MBA apart from the fact that we are in Madison. It is a big network and now we have an option for them in this professional MBA. If we have a large group of people who want to do this out of Chicago or New York, there is nothing that stops us from offering a badge there.”
That was part of the appeal of the modular structure Siemsen’s team created. “The badges create a new pathway into the program. We often get requests from companies to run an MBA program, but our experience is that very few companies can sustain that from year to year for a whole program. But if we can create a structure so we can loop people in with a badge in a company-specific way, then we can create that pathway toward an MBA. It is the whole aspect of lifelong learning. The badges allow them to come back and gain new skills they need.”
Wisconsin will launch with four badges, moving to six in the second year, and eight in the third. “Some of these badges we will designate as pre-core so we will not assume that people will need the core courses to take them,” says Siemsen. “The more we can create these touchpoints, the more we will get to the point where we can deliver quality education just in time for when they need it.”
GMAT AND GRE TEST WAIVERS AVAILABLE
The school will consider test waivers for applicants with five or more years of professional experience or for active-duty military or veterans with undergraduate degrees. Anyone with a terminal degree—a JD, MD, PhD or the equivalent—also can opt-out of the GMAT or GRE test for admissions.
Thinking longer-term, Siemsen views the program as an opportunity for greater connections the business school can forge across campus. “If you think of this program as a platform you can make it an open platform for campus partners,” he says. “Would computer science do a badge for us on cybersecurity? I think so. We provide the scale and the platform and they can link into that. Many of our students would have a real benefit. In the long run, we could turn this into a platform for the university.”