Backstage With Auburn, Washington Foster, SMU Cox & Minnesota Carlson’s Online MBA

This panel of representatives from the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business and Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business features three of the newest online MBAs available and one that has its roots back into the 1980s.

Auburn University first launched its distance learning program in 1989 with VHS tapes. It’s obviously evolved a lot since then and is now one of the best online MBA programs available, regularly placing towards the top of Poets&Quants’ annual ranking of online MBA programs. And then there are the programs at Washington, Minnesota, and Southern Methodist, each coming from name-brand business schools and having all launched within the past few years.

The panelists from each school go into great detail about how their programs started, the current design and structure, what sort of class profiles they are admitting into their programs these days, how cultural fit factors into building their classes, as well as details on building networks with classmates and career resources.

The entire edited transcript of the panel is below.

John A. Byrne: Hi there. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants. You’re about to watch a video live stream event that we held in August of 2020 with key players in the online MBA space. But before it starts, I just wanted to let you know that we have an incredible resource of information and analysis on online MBA programs from rankings to profiles of individual schools, to how much they cost to whether they require GMATs or GREs and a wealth of other information to help you make a really good and smart decision about which program to pursue. If you want to avail yourself of all those resources, go to In the nav bar you’ll see a little tab for online MBAs, go there. Or you can go direct to online/MBA/ We’re looking forward to seeing you. Enjoy the video.

Nathan Allen: Hello, this is Nathan Allen from Poets and Quants. I am a staff writer at Poets and Quants, and I actually do the online MBA rankings. A lot of these schools that you’re learning about today have a love/hate relationship with me and the rankings process in general. I am here to lead the third panel of the day. It’s an exciting panel. One of the reasons why I really like this panel is because we’ve got some established programs that have been around for a while, and then we’ve got some brand new programs. I’m gonna introduce the panelists and then we’re gonna get right to it. We’ve got Jodey Farwell from the University of Washington, Foster School of Business. She’s the director of their hybrid MBA program. We’ve got Jim Parrish, the Executive Director of full time and online graduate programs at Auburn University’s, Harbert College of Business. And then we’ve got Natalie Dillon, who’s the Associate Director of Admissions Recruitment and Corporate Development at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management. And Jillian Melton, who is the Director of Professional MBA and Online MBA Admissions at Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business. Welcome, everyone. Okay, so we’re going to, for the purposes of organization, I’ll try to direct questions in the same order that I introduced you. But I’m going to try and take a step back and let you all just go ahead and talk about your programs. Let’s start easy and broad. We’ll start with Jodey from Washington Foster. Tell me a little bit about, tell us a little bit about how this program got started, the background of it, the structure of it, as much as you want to share. Just generally about the history of the program and where you are all today.

Jodey Farwell: You bet, absolutely. Our program is brand new to some degree. We were started fall of 2017. We’re starting our fourth cohort this fall. It’s been an interesting development. I came on board about a year ago, July of last year. Tracy Godich, who was the original director, she and the faculty and we have a core curriculum design team, instructional design team. They developed the program extensively, it takes us about eight months to create a course. The courses are professionally developed. We have professionally shot videos. And the design of the program, and this is very deliberate, is that it’s really not an online MBA program it is a hybrid MBA program. And that was deliberate, right? Because we truly believe that it’s that face to face content when we get together at the beginning of every quarter. We have three to four-day immersions at the beginning of every quarter. And we also have a lockstep program, we’re six quarters long. We take summers off and we have 10 elective courses within our program. We’re team-based, which also was very deliberate, to have us be team-based. I think anybody who’s in an online or hybrid format knows the value of teams and especially in the kind of world we’re at now with COVID. It’s so important to be able to be virtual team skilled. And that’s something that’s very important to our program.

Allen: Great.

Farwell: Can I just jump in real quick? You asked how the programs kind of evolved. Let me just share with you real quickly. In the year that I’ve been here at Foster, what I did my first three months was just listen and observe and gather data from all the students, faculty, staff. And try to identify where stress points were or were there any indications for improvement? And the great thing about it is that what we’ve done is create more electives, we’re continuously on course development and improvement, added new electives. But we’ve also worked on developing a hybrid MBA mental health group. And I’m so glad we’ve done that because not only are graduate students, one of the most stressed group but also in this COVID situation with all the stresses that we have going on there, I’m so glad that we’ve established that. Our students feel some sense of support during this time as well.

Allen: Totally. Yeah. That’s super important now. I think everybody could benefit from some of that, for sure. Next, let’s move to Jim and Auburn. You all went online quite a while ago.

Jim Parrish: We did.

Allen: Tell me about when that was and then how you all have developed over the past, I think decades now.

Parrish: Thank you, Nathan, and again, thank you for having us today and being a part of this with these other schools. We love being working with Poets and Quants, so we’re excited to be here. But it’s true, we’ve been in the space for a very long time. I think we, we go back to 1989 in terms of doing distance education. I think depending on certain items you read or look at, we may be the second oldest established distance education for MBA. In ’89 we were mailing out VHS tapes. And those were going out to our students and as technology has evolved, so has how we do our programming. But I would say that our program is it’s a great experience for our students. We provide a student experience that is similar to the on-campus students but provides that flexible delivery that people are looking for. The established program means we have a long time in the space to work on certain things. And in terms of current events, when some programs were changing to online, we had been constant for that period of time. There wasn’t much we really had to do to provide the content. We do a couple of modalities on how we deliver instruction. We do a lecture capture model for some of our coursework that we deliver to our online students. The online students in that space do see the full-time professors, they have the same requirements, they have the same expectations as you would in the full-time program. But the flexibility is definitely there. We’re also producing studio-driven content that’s delivered for the online students. The faculty are in a highly functioning and very state-of-the-art television studio, where we’ll produce content for our students. If you’re a student of our online program, you will see those different modalities. But a lot of our students talk about the flexibility of how they receive our program. They talk about the value add and definitely the ROI based on our price point and what we’re doing in this space and the returns that come from being part of our online MBA. Our program is 39 credit hours. And you can go through this program at a flexible pace in about two and a half years. We have been in the space a very long time and we’ve been able to pivot and do certain things more fluidly because the foundation is very, very strong. The Auburn and Harbert name is recognized in that online space is really being a leader and helping students achieve their goals for what they have set forth before them.

Allen: Right, thank you. And I was alive in 1989 whenever the program was launched, but just barely. Next, I want to hear from the University of Minnesota. Natalie, this program is also a pretty new one. Why don’t you tell me about how you all launched and where you are right now?

Natalie Dillon: Yeah, definitely. We have a little bit of an interesting history, definitely not as long as 1989. But this is our second iteration actually, of an online MBA. We dabbled in the space back in the mid-2010s with doing what was called a part-time distance program. And that was, of course, a modular part of our regular part-time program, where students could take courses online at a distance, but through that same high-grade valued part-time MBA program that we offer. And then as the industry has changed, and many of my colleagues know this, is over the last five years, we’ve partitioned and moved that program away from being a part of the part-time program to be its own freestanding online MBA program. That has done a lot of good for our program. And the fact that we’ve been able to create a community for our online students. But they can also still come back and connect with our part-time, full-time and our executive students. It’s created its own brand awareness and its own sister opportunity to be able to use the Carlson network as well as the resources that we have. I call it the sister program to the part-time program. And the fact that the two curriculums are almost identical, they’re both a 52 credit program. They both have the same access of career services, same access in terms of networking. You have the same faculty across those programs. And similar to my colleagues, they’re delivered in those great TV studio, studio structure content, and course materials. But just, of course, again, adding that flexibility of being able to opt in to take your courses from wherever you are in the world. With our curriculum, like many of my colleagues, we’re gonna have a really great focus on the core courses. You can round out your business acumen. Really gain that management and leadership experience. But one thing that really sets, I think our online MBA apart, is our specializations. We have a couple of them, in particular, because of our focus in location in the twin cities area, really well known for our CPG organizations and our medical industry, that you’re gonna find some really great elective options within that. I think like a lot of my colleagues, you can have that great base, but be able to shape that MBA experience that you want to. And then able to connect with your fellow colleagues or your alumni wherever you are from the world. We find that that’s a really great value, especially for our students that are wanting to connect again with the Carlson network and use that Minnesota name to potentially get into a different career path or continue to accelerate. But also be able to do their degree in a different location at a distance as well.

Allen: Very cool, thank you. Jillian, same question except for Southern Methodist.

Jillian Melton: Yes, well, we also are kind of one of those new kids on the block. We launched our online MBA program just under two years ago, but we are actually celebrating our hundredth anniversary of business education with the Cox School of Business. We’ve been around a long time as a school. So certainly experts in the MBA space and really happy to be able to launch this new modality through the online program. And similar to what some of my colleagues have mentioned, the online MBA at SMU Cox is very similar in structure in terms of our other programs, same faculty, same access to on-campus resources, both on campus as well as virtual through things like our career management center, different speaker series. But what really sets it apart, of course, is that flexibility. And one of the things that we wanted to make sure when we were launching the program is that we are keeping that very small class size and high touch. Each of our students, when they’re taking their courses, each course they’re taking will meet live each week for about 90 minutes in small class sessions of 15 students. One of the things that we joke is that everybody in the online MBA program is certainly in the front row. You’re getting that really good hands-on instruction from our professors, getting to know your classmates really well. We also feature two different immersions throughout the program. Students are able to take advantage of those both global and domestic immersions, where they can get to know students and faculty a little bit more in-depth, and then do consulting projects with local companies or local nonprofits. When we created the curriculum, I mentioned, it’s very similar to some of our other programs on campus, but the three pillars that really we have organized our curriculum around are leadership and business analytics, and then that experiential learning piece. Those are three things that as I’m talking today, you guys will hear a lot about how those three areas really come together through the curriculum.

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