Backstage With USC Marshall, NC State, Florida International & Lehigh’s Online MBA

Flexibility is one of the major perks of any online degree program. And the schools featured in this panel have put a premium on flexibility. Lehigh University’s program is literally called the Flex MBA as it has four entry points throughout the year and gives students the options to complete the program totally virtually or come in to take some classes in-person on campus.

Florida International’s program also features one of the most flexible models on the market with five intakes throughout the year. FIU features eight different concentrations online MBA students can pick from and those students have the opportunity to finish as quickly as 18 months or take up to nearly three years.

But if you’re looking for a program that really allows students to spread out the timing of the degree, look no further than North Carolina State, which gives students up to six years to finish the program. Launched in 2011, NC State has six emphasis areas for students and also gives students the option to stay totally online or travel to campus to take face-to-face classes.

And then there’s USC Marshall’s online MBA, which was launched in 2015 and has finished first in Poets&Quants’ annual ranking of online MBA programs. A cohort-based program, USC Marshall places an emphasis on group work and getting students to know each other through teams.

The edited full transcript of the video is below.

John A. Byrne: Hi, there. This is John Byrne with Poets&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 wanna avail yourself of all those resources, go to In the nav bar, you’ll see a little tab for Online MBAs, go there, where you can go direct to Online-MBA-Hub We’re looking forward to seeing you. Enjoy the video.

Nathan Allen: Greetings and welcome to the last panel on the first day of Poets&Quants online MBA admissions webinar. And this is the last panel, but it’s an exciting one because we have programs from all over the country. We have three that are based on the West of the East Coast and then one on the West Coast and they’re varying and structures too. So really happy to have these four panelists here with us. I’m gonna go ahead and do some intros and then we can just jump right into the questions. So first we’ve got Terri Ignoffo from University of Southern California, Marshall School of Business. Welcome, Terri.

Terri Ignoffo: Thank you.

Allen: We’ve got Jen Arthur from North Carolina State University. Welcome, Jen. We’ve got Angel Burgos from Florida International University. Welcome. And we’ve got Mary Theresa Taglang from Lehigh University. I think I got all those names right. We went over it ahead of time. So hopefully it did. So let’s start easy, let’s start basic. Let’s start with, why don’t you all walk me through your structure to your online MBA program. Maybe some history to it when you all first went online, are you asynchronous, are you synchronous, what does that even mean? What percentage of it is asynchronous? What percentage of it is synchronous? Are the required meetings on campus, just as much detail as you all wanna go to, and to the real structure of the program. And USC Marshall’s is one of the newer programs. So we’ll start with you, Terri.

Ignoffo: Fantastic. Thank you, Nathan. Yeah, so USC faculty had done a quite a bit of research prior to developing the online curriculum through various focus groups, that involved prospective students, maybe some alum of the campus-based programs employers just to kind of assess what they’re looking for in hiring new employees or promoting employees and some other stakeholders, obviously that were part of those focus groups. So that’s where they came up with this very unique multi-disciplined curriculum. And the first-semester launch was fall of 2015 is when our first cohort had started. It is a cohort structured model. And the goal of the program was really to enable students to gain a mastery in all essential areas of business and business disciplines. So it won’t concentrate in one particular area, but rather look at business holistically, but drilling it down into a very interdisciplinary fashion. And what I mean by that is really looking at these courses that are integrated, looking at multiple subjects that integrate with multiple subject areas, which then transitioned into working through projects and assignments case studies discussion to really bring the interaction and bring how these business strands really integrate with one another. So it’s emulating more of how the day to day business world functions. So nine times out of 10 in an industry, there could be an issue, let’s say accounting issue that’s presented. It’s likely not just an accounting issue, but it may lend itself to bringing up some questions about marketing or social media strategies. So the program really cuts across many different disciplinary areas. So the goal of that curriculum when it was developed back in 2015 was really to achieve the same type of objective but in a classroom environment. So it’s a 21-month program. It’s five semesters long. Each semester is gonna be 15 weeks at length, 51 units. It’s really designed to cater to mid, to seasoned working professionals that have shown success professionally but are really looking at leveraging for their career growth and diversifying next steps. Most of the program will be online with the exception of a one-week residential intensive that does take place on campus. The second week that new students start into the program. Builds a nice, strong baseline of the curriculum moving forward allows for that networking connection. We understand it’s super crucial as you’re starting your endeavors in an MBA program. There’s a case competition, some networking events, mixer events, as well. After that one week residential intensive, everything will then shift to being 100% online. Most of it asynchronous in nature, no set day, or time that you need to be logged in. There’s going to be clear learning outcomes and learning objectives outlined each week, which of course we’ll have supporting readings, case studies, assignments, interactive exercises obviously wanna be cognizant of when those deadlines are due. But the program is highly interactive as well. There are two classes that meet virtually twice per week. We do utilize the Zoom platform. Those are typically in the evening from six to 8:00 p.m. Pacific time. So you’re essentially interfacing and engaging with the cohort faculty and staff for a minimum of four hours a week. One other component, I think it’s important to note that it’s a very applications based curriculum. So it drives a lot on projects which lends itself to a lot of group work. I would say within the semesters, just depending on the content, anywhere between 30 to 40% will consist of some sort of group work.

Allen: Great. Thanks Terri. And Jen I think the program at NC State started around 2011. Is that correct?

Jen Arthur: That’s correct. Yes, we started back in 2011. And we’ve definitely seen a lot of changes in growth since then. We currently have two intakes per year, so we’re taking students in the fall and the spring. And our program is meant to be a very flexible format. So you can complete the program in 21 months or you have up to 72 months to finish. So you’re really doing it at your own pace. Throughout your time in the program, the average student is probably gonna finish in 33 to 36 months. But you work with your academic advisor and plan out the course plan that’s gonna work best for you and your schedule. With our program, it’s gonna be primarily asynchronous. So you’re gonna be able to watch the recorded lectures and submit your work each week within the deadline that’s been given to you. There are some synchronous components depending on the course and when in the semester, but they’re also office hours. They’re usually optional synchronous components. If you want to participate in a class discussion as a group that’s usually something most professors will give you the option to do. You can complete the entire program online, but you do have the option of taking face to face courses. If you live in the area or you’re able to travel to the area. So we have evening classes that are an option, and then we have some Saturday classes that are an option. If you have two back-to-back Saturdays that you could dedicate to doing an in person class, that is an option for you, but if you would prefer to be all online, you can do that. The only time that you would really need to come face to face would be for our two residencies. So those are two, three day residencies that you would do during your time in the program. Typically one in your first semester and usually one sometime in your second year in the program. The program has six different areas of emphasis. So you would choose one of those in the program to give you your focus area. So we have those in bio-sciences, entrepreneurship, finance, marketing, innovation, and supply chain. So you would choose one of those. And then you would also do a practicum as part of the program where you’re working with a company essentially in a consulting type role with your classmates. So it’s really collaborative. Even though it’s not cohort-based, you’re gonna be working in throughout your time in the program. So that’s really a big part of the focus but also just really maximizing that flexibility as much as possible for our students who might need it for their schedules.

Allen: Yeah, great. Thank you. Okay. And Angel, one of the things that I like about the Florida International Program is how flexible it seems at least. Five different intakes I think you’ll have to correct me if that’s wrong, eight specialized tracks to pick from, and a bunch of different pacings that people can do. So tell us a little bit more incorrect to any of that, if that was wrong, but I think that’s off the top of my head.

Angel Burgos: Nathan that was correct on all fronts. So thank you. Thank you very much. At Florida International University, we started our program in 2010 and it was a traditional MBA program, where students took two courses per eight weeks semesters, and it has evolved significantly since then. As you discussed, we now have five intakes per year. We have eight specialization areas, which we’ve developed in the last couple of years. And students have a lot more flexibility in terms of the pace of the program. So you can complete the program in as 18 months or even up to 33 months. So students have the option of taking one course at a time or two courses at a time, or what we call the two, one, two, one. Where you can take two courses and then another course in a different semester. We try to balance it out. So the heavy-duty quantitative courses you take usually in that one-semester category. Our program is fully asynchronous. So students are remote and doing all the work in teams and individually. Discussion boards of course are heavy used as well as case studies. We use a lot of technology, mostly Zoom or our lock-in Canvas. And in addition to we’ve just added a Zoom session, an optional Zoom session for every course that a student can participate in. That’s live and interactive if that is convenient for them. It is certainly designed for the working professional. We have close to 500 students in our program and this year our largest intake has been or is this fall, this August, we started with 150 students yesterday.

Allen: Wow, okay. And can you tell me any more about was there a reason behind that increase and why you will have the biggest class now?

Burgos: Sure. I think it’s a combination of what’s going on in the world. And I think in many instances, students have decided that it’s important to remain competitive. And this is a time if you’re working from home where learning is attainable and doable. We have a number of other programs at FIU. We have about nine specialized master’s programs and eight versions of our MBA program. And while our in-person programs are also quite healthy in terms of enrollment, I think students have really look to online program more so than ever before. Because of being at home and because of the pandemic if you will.

Allen: Yep, makes sense. And not to one-up you, but Lehigh’s hybrid MBA is literally called the flex MBA. So I’m guessing it’s pretty flexible. Mary Theresa, tell us about it.

Mary Theresa Taglang: Yes. It’s really flexible as a matter of fact. an art program. Actually, we’re no strangers to distance education and providing education to first the corporate, our corporate partners. And then from the online platform of Zoom, we started over 25 years ago with our satellite programming. And we were able to leverage that into our synchronous Flex MBA program. And this program enables students to come in at various times during the year. We have four different times that we can intake students and pursue the degree in as little as 2.5 Years, or as long as six if they need to do so. They can toggle between coming to campus and pursuing it 100% online or they can do from week to week, month to month or semester to semester and decide what’s best for them based on what’s going on in their lives, what’s going on with their work. And so it makes it very easy to pursue the degree. Not saying the degree is easy because it’s a really rigorous degree, but makes it very convenient for individuals who need to find some kind of balance between their work and their life. Our program is not cohort-based. But what we find is that during our required orientation, individuals will end up forming groups and kind of self cohort as they go through the core. And the core curriculum is an integrated core curriculum. So a total of 36 credit hours for the program relatively short, but on the core curriculum consists of 21 credit hours. And that is an integrated course. So much like Terri was saying there are so many ways that business functions don’t exist in silos. So we integrate that curriculum across the core. And then throughout the core, there’s a thread that results in the final course which synthesizes everything that was learned in the core. There are several concentration areas. We have seven different concentration areas, but we find that the most popular is no concentration. Just pursuing a general concentration. So that enables students to kind of get a touch and a feel for all the different areas. It makes it very broad for those individuals coming through the program. We, one of the things that always impresses me ’cause I’ve worked at several different universities is the quality and the quality of the faculty, certainly, but also the ability of the faculty to really make connections with the students in the program. It’s very, very personal and the support that’s received from the staff as well as extremely personal. So even though individuals may be pursuing this in an online environment, they feel like they’re part of a community. And Lehigh has always been known for being, we’ve always called it, the Lehigh family. And that doesn’t change, even though it is in a virtual environment. So transitioning right to satellite to Zoom based online education was a no brainer. We already knew how to do what it was really, really an easy thing for us to just migrate to.

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