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

Lehigh University

Allen: Great, thank you. And so this next question, Mary, it’s your turn to go first. So you’ll be going, taking the first swing at it. So with the age group and the career level that a lot of people are, who are considering the online MBA versus the traditional residential full-time MBA, generally they have a lot more to juggle. They’re further along in their careers, they have more family, they might be having kids. So in terms of work, life, school balance, what are some of the conversations you have with applicants and how do you advise them on taking the plunge into the online MBA in terms of life stage and just trying to balance all those things that they have going on.

Taglang: It’s such a good question, because that we do this on a daily basis with our prospective students and our applicants. And we’re really fortunate within the office itself because many of us have sat in those shoes. We have pursued our own master’s degrees as we were raising families or while we were working. So we understand what they’re going through and what kinds of choices they have to make. And so we take a lot of time with them to ask them where they are with their roles in their companies. What is it they’re hoping to achieve? How long do they wanna take? And the fact is that the program is flexible enough that if someone is getting married in the spring, they can sit out that entire semester without a penalty. And it enables them to step right back into the program and not miss a beat. The program advisor for the flex MBA is absolutely fantastic as well. And she will really, have been admitted to learn what it is that they want, how do they want to structure their program? Because they’re able to do that themselves, but we can give them that guidance that they need so that they have, they’re able to accomplish it without feeling so overwhelmed. We know how many hours outside the classroom, they need to devote to certain coursework thing. We know don’t take these two classes together or mix these two together and it’s fine, but we really help them understand what that commitment needs to be. And if they think there might be an issue, then they can bring that up early on once they’re admitted. But of course we have those same conversations with prospective students as well. What’s going on in your life and why now? And what do you anticipate? So let’s make sure that you have a complete understanding of the timeframe, the commitment that it’s gonna take for you to get through the program.

Allen: Great. Yeah, thank you. And Terri, how about it at USC? How are you all advising applicants with this question and concern?

Ignoffo: Sure. Yeah, and common question it obviously is. So the key is setting the expectation upfront in the beginning of these conversations. It’s not a check the box MBA, you work hard for it, but it works hard for you. And it is an intense rigorous program. 20, 30 hours per week estimate is what the students are spending on coursework all in. So I think setting that expectation the time commitment in terms of what’s needed, I think it looks a little different for every student. Some people they get into the program, they get in a cadence where maybe they’re heavy on the weekends in terms of preparing for those live classes each week, or meeting with their project teams. Some take the weekends off and just do it all during the week. So I think each individual has kind of unique structure in terms of works for them. I think it’s key to we obviously stress and emphasize the importance of keeping the lines of communication open and utilization of resources is key. So if you’re overwhelmed first couple of weeks, it’s natural. Those are usually the most intense, just kind of trying to get your cadence scheduled. So it’s reaching out to faculty, they’re more than readily available to help with those tips and tricks. Our current students are very much involved in the onboarding or the welcoming of the new students. So just being able to have access to those the network and people not only just in the cohort, but are enrolled in the program who have gone through the curriculum or the majority of the way through that, just to again, provide some kind of tips in terms of works for that. And so it’s definitely a sense of community. So expectation it’s gonna be tough. It’s obviously doable and let’s talk it through. Whether that be with a current student and alum, faculty, the student advising team with one another to help solutionize that obviously student success is number one.

Allen: Great, thanks. And Jen, how about you?

Arthur: We definitely recommend that students take it easy in the first semester and not overdo it, which we can do with the flexible format program. All of our students have access to our academic advisors. We’ve got a great advising team and they, each student is assigned to one academic advisor who really helps walk you through in planning out what your core sequence should look like. So in the first semester, we just don’t want people to get overwhelmed. So we say, take it easy, do what your academic advisor is suggesting to you. And I think that helps quite a bit. We have students who have a lot on their plate, in terms of their work schedule, their personal lives. And so it’s important, I think for candidates to really make sure that they talk with the key players in their lives. So family members, their boss, their teammates at work, anybody who has a big role to play and making sure that their support and understanding there when starting an MBA program or any kind of graduate study. So I think that that can help. And then just recognizing that it’s not gonna go on forever. I mean, we’ve definitely heard this from a lot of students in the program. You’re not gonna be in the program forever. There might be a time when you cut a couple of things or cut back a little bit on some things, just so that you can make time for the things that you really need to. So we try to encourage people in that way too, and let them speak with other students in the program who can give them those kinds of pointers.

Allen: Great. Yes, Angel. How about you?

Burgos: I don’t know what I can add to all of that. It’s right on target. It’s absolutely the same for us. It’s setting those expectations early on for the student. Having really frank conversations with them at the recruitment stage. Our recruiters are excellent at discussing the program options and really having a heart to heart about is this the right time for you? Do you have the family support? Do you have the systems in place to help you get through it? And then once you arrive, we have a student experience team that is also dedicated to student success. We have found in the last couple of years that when we developed the tracks that I talked about earlier, that really helped a lot. So now students can take one course at a time or two courses at a time, or two and one, two and one. And that really opened up a lot of the possibilities for students. When you say to them it’s 20 to 25 hours a week it becomes a little daunting. So the fact that you can do one course at a time really does help.

Allen: Yeah, okay, great. And then so this next question I think is, it’s not as much of a concern now just because of our current living situation and work situation, I think people have gotten a little bit more used to virtual and Zoom and stuff like that. But in terms of fostering connections and building the network among students and alumni, what are some ways in which you have really that into your program, where students will be able to come in and make meaningful connections and build their network within the program. And Terri, we’ll start with you.

Ignoffo: Great. Yeah, there’s a lot of levers in place to kind of enhance that cohesion and the networking. So of course the residential intensive that one week on campus obviously starts that initiating of kind of those relationship building, not only with the cohort but the alumni. Our current students are actively involved in that immersion and that one week residential intensive. After that, the live classes. I mean, you’re interfacing having discussions, conversations at minimum of four hours a week through live classes, which we call Marshall talk. The group work involved the project teams could be anywhere between five to seven people, depending on the semesters obviously allows you to drill down and get to know with other individuals a little bit more specifically. Once our students start the program, you’re pretty much immediately part of and get access to the networking tools and are part of Marshall Alumni Association. So you’re not waiting until you’re done with the program or halfway through the program. So you’re immediately getting exposed to those resources and obviously being welcomed by the community and using those resources. We encourage any student whether they live in the area or if they’re across the country, get involved. Sign up for clubs and organizations. You might not be able to go to every campus event or whatnot or networking event, but it’s super crucial to stay involved and utilize those networking tools. And the same resources that are available primarily for the campus students are available for the online students with the exception of the health center. And then there’s a little bit of a difference between the career services support. It’s a bit more hands-on the full-time campus program where the online curriculum, it comes in the form of more career coaching because our program is primarily made to seasoned working professionals. So yeah, our slogan is trojans help trojan. It’s lifelong and we’re close to 90k nationally and globally Marshall alum. So definitely no shortage of industry representation, academic, geographic. So those are a couple of things that we have in place to basically promote and initiate that cohesion.

Allen: Great, thank you. And Jen at North Carolina State, how are you all making sure that the online MBAs get access to alumni, but also are able to build deep connections and a network within their own cohort?

Arthur: Yeah. Well, similar to USC, we do have the in-person component that all of the students that are on online program do, so that’s the two residencies, the two three-day residencies. And that’s something that’s required for both our online and our evening. So when you go to that as an online student, you’re going to also be meeting students in the evening program and vice versa. So that really helps to expand your network a bit more that way. So that I think is a really key piece in all of this. But our students do have access to our alumni network right away as well. And working with our career management center, you’re gonna have access to that lifelong as well, as well as to the resources in our career management center. So I think that helps with keeping people in touch. We also have Facebook and LinkedIn groups. There are clubs that students can be involved in if they have the time and would like to do so. So I think those are really some of the major things. And then of course, when you’re in the online classroom, really just taking advantage of getting to know the students in your class and keeping in touch with those teams throughout your time in the program and beyond I think is a really good way to maintain those connections.

Allen: Great. And Angel, how about at Florida International? What are y’all doing to foster those networks and connections?

Burgos: All of the above, all of the above, all of the above. So my colleagues did such a great job. We try to encourage our online students to participate in a number of on-campus events. Whether it’s lectures, industry nights, professional development seminars that we offer related to soft skills development. And we also have now decided, or we started recording many of these talks, which we didn’t always do, and therefore students have access to watch something like this, for example, at a later time and connect with our alumni. We’re very strong in terms of the South Florida region. You can’t go to any organizations here and not finding FIU graduate. And we try to, we have a mentorship program. We have advisory boards, advisory councils and we try to invite our students into the fray from the very beginning. So we’ve created also a student advisory council that works with the alumni board on particular activities or networking events that would appeal to both.

Allen: Great, great. And then Mary Theresa, how about at Lehigh?

Taglang: Well, can I do what Angel just did and say all of the above? So, of course, we do all of those things with the flexibility of our program and many students who toggle between coming to campus and pursuing online, they’re already in that mode of taking advantage to events that are on campus, whether they be industry events, alumni events, and professional development. But we do broadcast on our professional development or flex in a virtual environment as well. So there’s those opportunities to not only partake in that kind of a scenario but also build some relationships with maybe different people that they don’t know. And those students can intermingle with other graduate business students as well because those are open to all of the graduate business programs. In terms of them being in the classroom itself, because we use Zoom like everyone else, they are afforded their own Zoom, breakout room that they can use at any time at all. So they can get into that session that they create on their own and use it for whatever purpose they wanna use it. So that makes it just one more way that they can really get to know one another and become good friends and become a better network that they have. And there was there are certainly regional alumni groups that individuals can take advantage of. Lehigh has a wide group of alumni, whether it’s at the graduate level or at the undergraduate level. And all of those affinity groups are out there for our students to take advantage of if they would like to do so. And one other thing that we do, and I think probably everybody else does this too, is that when we identify individuals who are in a specific region. Like you Terri, you said you’ve got a nice East Coast contingent. We have a nice West Coast contention. So it’s interesting, but we’ll connect all those individuals who may not realize that they’re maybe 10 miles apart and give them opportunities to meet in person and get to know one another and build that network on the ground in those regions.

Allen: Great, thank you. And we’ll flip this now in the order. So maybe Jen and Terri will be saying the everything above everything above. So, Mary, we’ll start with you on this one. I think as the online space gets even more legitimize and more programs are to pop up, employers really start to pay attention to these queries more and more. And it’s no longer a degree where people do it for promotions in their company, or to stay in the same place. People are looking to jump companies or jump industries, even. So for applicants that wanna use this online MBA to maybe change industries or change companies. What are some resources that you all have within the career management department to foster those sorts of aspirations?

Taglang: Sure. And that’s a good question. Because as part-time programs, most of us see individuals who are maintaining a career track to perhaps stay with their own company or stay with their own industry. It may be a different company. But we do offer everything that’s available to an on-campus student, to an online student. We have our own director of career services and the graduate programs office, we hold our own events, but there are also other events at the university level that anyone can take advantage of to build out that network and look for other opportunities as they may become available. We’ve been very fortunate because of the length of time that we’ve been doing and delivering education in this way, we have a lot of credibility behind us. So I don’t think our students find that that’s a big challenge for them. Our degree does not say online MBA. When they get their MBA, it says MBA from Lehigh. It doesn’t distinguish whether or not it was pursued on-campus or hybrid or completely online. So I think it is a good opportunity for students to take advantage of things that are in, that are available through our career services both graduate programs and university level. And I think what we’ll see is that more students who are looking to shift in their careers or their paths will perhaps be taking advantage of those opportunities coming on.

Allen: Great, thanks. And Angel, we’ll move to you next.

Burgos: Very similar as well. I can’t say all of the above again. But our graduate students have access to career counselors that are dedicated just to the graduate school and our business students. About 75% of our students are either supported by their organization or on track to be promoted within their organization. So we have a good chunk, which is 25% or so who wanna do something else. And they tend to utilize the career services and career management office just a little bit more. We have a number of resources within the university. We have a lot of small businesses in this area, so we have a small business development center. We have part of the university that’s called Startup FIU, which helps you with your ventures and new business ideas. So we try to push students not only to the career management office but also to the other resources that we have here at FIU.

Allen: Great, okay. Jen, you’re up.

Arthur: I’ll say it, all of the above. So yes, we definitely are more likely to see people who want to make a complete career change in the full-time program, but of course, that’s not always possible. And so we do provide resources for those who are working professionals and want to change industries or careers. So we do have a team that’s dedicated specifically to our working professionals to do one on one career coaching. Who will help with whatever is needed, whether that’s interview practice or help with resume, reformatting, networking, making those connections? And if you do want to be seeking while in the program, then our career management center can make that happen and connect students who are job seeking with employers who are coming to recruit our students. So all of those options are there. And I think it’s really a matter of dedicating yourself as a student because you’re trying to balance work and school and potentially a career change. So again, going back to the flexibility and taking it at the pace that you need to so that if you need more time to dedicate to the career search, you can do that in working with our career management center. So I think that can help move the process along.

Allen: Great, okay. Terri, last one. Here we go.

Ignoffo: Okay. Yeah, so I think it’s important to make note. I know that Mary Theresa had mentioned our USC faculty or the program was all developed in house by USC faculty. Same faculty that teach on campus also do teach online. No need to differentiate between modality of instruction. You’re still getting that same high-quality top-ranked education, whether you’re going through a residential type setting as you are in online settings. So with that said a lot like Jen, a lot of our students are pretty well established and looking for that MBA to further advance within current industry, getting into that C-level position, a managerial leadership type capacity, but not all. We do have some that come in within 10 done, please, where I am, but I know five, six years from now, I wanna be competitive, might wanna do a transition change. So that support is there. We have two dedicated career coaches that work specifically with our online community, our online MBA students. Very robust services anywhere from helping with resume building, LinkedIn profile reviews, interviewing prep, career 360, excuse me, type platform, and also to access to their network. And another resource through the network itself is just access to MBA, job postings, or job boards through the MBA exchange. And networking, networking, networking. Again, they have access to almost 90k nationally, globally. So we really thrive on the community of the network. So I usually tell prospective students this is as much as you’re gonna put into it as what you’re gonna get out of it. The resources are in front of you, you just got to grab them, utilize them. And of course, faculty are there too. They’re there for anyone on one coaching, feedback sessions and things like that if they kinda need to bounce ideas off of any of the faculty members as well.

Allen: Great, thank you so much. And so we’re at 3:56 right now, Pacific. So that means we’ve got about four minutes left and we need to leave that time to transition to breakout rooms. So that’s gonna be the final question for me. Hopefully you all get some good questions from people going into the breakout rooms, but Terri, Jen, Angel, Mary Theresa, thank you so much for your time. We’re grateful that you took the time to speak with us, answer our questions. So thank you very much. For the panelists and people who are gonna watch this later, we’ve got four more panels tomorrow with four more schools each. And so there’ll be another exciting day. And thank you very much for joining and thanks to all of our panelists, have a good rest of your evening.

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