This spring, Emory University Goizueta Business School’s MBA program faced the same emergency need to switch to remote learning as everyone else. But unlike their peer schools, Goizueta went into the coronavirus-caused lockdown with a lame-duck administration, having recently announced the impending departure of Dean Erika James.
By all accounts, the sudden transition went smoothly at Emory. But there’s a difference between the virtual delivery of high-quality graduate business education in an emergency and doing so for the long term, says Karen Sedatole, accounting professor and interim dean at Goizueta. And correcting the few hiccups in time for the fall of 2020 became a top priority.
“We did a emergency pivot in the spring back when I was teaching in the full-time MBA program, and it went, quite honestly, remarkably well,” Sedatole says, speaking with Poets&Quants earlier this month. “However, because it was emergency delivery, it was not as well-planned and -prepared as one normally would do in an online course. And so with that in mind — and understanding the expectations of our students and, quite frankly, of ourselves — it’s going to be much higher quality in the fall.
“Our faculty are happily investing an enormous amount in training. We have an academy going on right now with all of our faculty, and they are learning not only the technology but also better instructional design. In the spring, we all essentially just took what we were doing and delivered it electronically in various ways. Now our faculty are taking a much more deliberate approach and really thinking about how the content can be delivered most effectively, really structuring and designing the course from the beginning — to not only preserve what they did, preserve their content and their delivery, but also really take advantage of and leverage online delivery options.”
APPS ARE UP, BUT SO ARE DEFERRAL REQUESTS
Erika James’ departure to The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania was announced in late February, shortly before the world of graduate business education — and higher education as a whole — experienced disruption on an unprecedented scale. Sedatole, who joined Goizueta in 2017 from Michigan State University Broad College of Business, was named interim dean in May. She was told she could be in the role for as long as two years.
“You may know that we have a new president coming in who we’re really excited about, Greg Fenves, and he will be joining us on August 1,” Sedatole says. “And it will be his decision about whether he will want to launch the dean search this year or if he will give it a little bit more time. So I will be in this position up to two years.”
Which means Sedatole will preside over this most unusual application cycle, and perhaps the next as well. Goizueta, already on a three-year application slide of greater than 10%, extended its final-round deadline to July 1, and Sedatole and Associate Dean of MBA Admissions Melissa Rapp are encouraged by the application volume so far — though Sedatole acknowledges that “it’s a little early to tell” what the final composition of the MBA Class of 2022 will look like. Last year’s incoming class was about 150 strong.
“Our applications are actually up for the year,” Sedatole says. “Our deposits are slightly down from where we were this time last year, but we’re still assessing applications and still forming the class. So we’ll see where it ends. We’re pretty optimistic that we’ll have a very strong, incoming class of MBA students.”
There have been several deferral requests, she adds, mostly from international students. Last fall, Goizueta was among the top schools in the U.S. South for percentage of international MBA students, at more than 31%, though that still represented a decline over the previous three cycles.
“We’re taking a sort of a wait-and-see stance now that admitted students see the plan that we have in place and the safety precautions that we’ll be taking and our commitment to all the face-to-face engagement,” Sedatole says. “We hope that many of them will now follow through with their commitment. We’ve had a few deferments but I think we’re pretty optimistic that the ones that are still waiting to deposit, that a good number of those will come through and will go ahead and will join us in the fall.”
‘CONFIDENT THAT THE STUDENTS WILL BE HAPPY WITH WHAT THEY EXPERIENCE’
And what about those precautions? Will Emory look like IMD, the Swiss school that has already opened, employing daily temperature checks, plexiglass partitions, and other safety measures? Or will the school take its guidance from Georgia’s state government, which has been among the most laid-back in mandating safety measures like mask wearing? According to Melissa Rapp in an email last week to the Goizueta community, the school will deliver in-person, hybrid, and online classes that vary by class, and decisions regarding class delivery model will be made based on faculty and student safety, class enrollment sizes, and “programmatic and pedagogical needs.”
Safety decisions, Sedatole tells P&Q, were made by the university with guidance from the School of Public Health and the Emory Healthcare system, with consultation with cross-town neighbors the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “And so the determination was made about safety and making sure we can bring our students and faculty and staff back to campus safely,” she says. One big decision was that it made little sense to have a Thanksgiving break and then bring students back for a couple of weeks before finals, so Goizueta will end classes in late November and conduct finals remotely in December. “I think that most schools are coming to the conclusion that sending students off in November for Thanksgiving and then having them come back right around the time of flu season is not the safest approach,” Sedatole says. “And so we have taken the approach of finishing up on Thanksgiving.
“Certainly we’re taking quite a few precautions and we’re still exploring various options of exactly what that will look like. It could include some sort of plexiglass barrier. I’m not sure, but it will include some combination of face shields and masks and social distancing. The university also has strong plans for testing and contact tracing. A tremendous amount of work has gone into ensuring the safety of the students, and the faculty and staff, when we come back.”
Sedatole says she and the school’s faculty are committed to preserving “the Goizueta experience” for its MBA students.
“We’re known for being a team-based, community-oriented MBA program. And our students, we know they want — and we want to deliver — face-to face instruction, but we’re going to do that in as safe a manner as possible. We are following all the protocols from the CDC and governmental agencies, and we have every intent of delivering a very high-quality experience, both from the perspective of the courses that will be taught as well as the extra and co-curricular activities.
“And we’ll be delivering what we think is a very equivalent educational experience to the MBA students, and doing so in a very safe manner.
“There’s some things you can do quite effectively in a virtual delivery. And so I think we’re going to see something very different in the fall — we’re confident that we’re going to deliver an excellent educational experience. It won’t be the same experience as last fall, a year ago, but it will still be the same high-quality educational content, the same high-quality faculty. We’re very optimistic and we feel confident that the students will be happy with what they experience.”