The phenomenal momentum of the iMBA from the University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business has quickly made it one of the ten most popular destinations for business students. Application volume has skyrocketed for the iMBA, elevating demand alongside renowned MBA programs at institutions such as Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, and MIT.
In fact, Gies’ online MBA – called the iMBA – saw a 75 percent increase in applications over 2019, making the groundbreaking online educational program one of the most sought-after business degrees in the nation.
So what’s the secret to Gies’ success? It’s what the College calls “online by design.” The iMBA’s course structure, activities, and assessments have all been reimagined and specifically designed for the online learner – delivering immediate return on investment for students.
The iMBA brings together top scholars with educational experts and technological innovators to create a new kind of online education, pairing a high-quality curriculum with a deeply engaging experience. The iMBA puts strategic leadership and management at the core, and then students build out leadership-level sophistication by choosing from courses and tools that develop prowess to lead innovation, shape the digital future, and stay ahead of the global curve.
“Gies set out to invent a new way of delivering a top-quality business education that would fulfill our mission of serving students in Illinois and around the world, in a way that meets their needs and the needs of today’s business world,” said Dean Jeffrey Brown. “We’ve disrupted our own industry, and the market has responded by rewarding us with demand and growth far beyond what we would have predicted.”
The iMBA curriculum includes both asynchronous content on the Coursera platform, and live, interactive sessions that both students and faculty say are more personal and engaging than many in-person classes they’ve taken or taught. The program also includes online office hours and team projects that bring together participants from around the world. And offered at just $22,000 – a fraction of what students would pay at most residential MBA programs – the iMBA earns a 98% student satisfaction rate.
“Our students are nearly all working professionals, with more career experience than most MBA students. We give them the flexibility to assemble their credits and do their work on their own timetable, wherever they are, which allows them to get their education without pausing their careers or uprooting their families. We do it at a price that removes another barrier for many working professionals,” said Associate Dean Brooke Elliott, who oversees the strategy of the College’s online programs. “But none of that would matter if we were not providing a quality education and a compelling experience — that is at the heart of all this innovation.”
College officials say student satisfaction and real-time return on investment are driving the tremendous growth in applications. A survey of 2019 graduates showed that 53 percent had received a promotion, job offer or accepted a new position during their time in the iMBA program, while graduates saw their pay increase an average of 20 percent during the course of their studies.
Gies even published a comprehensive data set designed to measure the iMBA against its own mission and goals, so that prospective students, among others, can make their own assessment of the program. In conjunction with releasing this data, the college has announced it won’t participate in online MBA rankings. College leaders say they’re not interested in being judged against the current rankings structure, which puts added value on metrics like GMAT scores that Gies does not require. Gies believes its mission, curriculum, and student body are all different from most other MBA programs, and the iMBA wasn’t designed to fit the traditional rankings.
Gies leaders are pursuing the idea of offering free-standing, credentialed concentrations, which would allow students interested in a particular set of skills to take the same courses iMBA students take, and get a University of Illinois credential for those studies. If those students later enrolled in one of the master’s programs, some of those credits and concentrations could be applied toward the degree.
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