Like so many professionals, Jeffrey Brunz had felt he hit a wall at work. Originally from Seattle, the program manager for a software company in Amsterdam has kept up with changes in his industry with a variety of certificate programs. But now in his mid-40s, Brunz believed his career had stalled.
“I felt like a hit a wall with the progression in my career,” he says. “Without the breadth of an MBA, I wasn’t able to participate in some of those conversations at a higher level.”
He had long thought about doing an MBA but his age and his professional life in the fast-moving tech field made it difficult to take two years off. “Tech moves so fast with releases and I just can’t afford to move and lose that time in this point of my career,” adds Brunz.
That was until he hit upon the idea of doing an MBA online. He wouldn’t have to quit his job and move. And he wouldn’t have to mortgage his future, either.
‘IT IS BLOWING ME AWAY WHAT I’M GETTING FOR THIS PRICE’
For Brunz, the solution was the new online MBA program from Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. Priced at just $24,000 for the entire program, it is one of two of the most highly disruptive MBA options in the world along with the $22,000 iMBA at the University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business.
Both the price, the university brand and the program itself was appealing to him. Brunz had done his undergraduate work at UC-Berkeley and has a good friend who went to Boston University and enjoyed his college experience more than he did. So he thought the new program would be a perfect fit.
He is one of 392 students in the program’s very first cohort. Six months into the experience, he has no regrets. “It is blowing me away what I’m getting for this price,” adds Brunz. “At my age, some of my confidantes are saying, ‘You are older. This is a big commitment. You’ve been out of school for awhile. Can you do this?’ I debug software every day so I have no problems being in the first cohort.”
MORE THAN 800 ENROLLED IN AN ONLINE MBA LESS THAN ONE YEAR OLD
His classmates share his enthusiasm for an experience that has in less than a year become the largest single graduate program in the business school’s history. With the newly entered January cohort of an additional 419 MBA candidates, total enrollment now totals more than 800 students in a program that is not even a year old. The school expects to enroll an August cohort this year of 500 more students. Yet, that is the only the start. By the time the first cohort reaches its final semester in the spring of next year, Question expects to have between 4,000 and 5,000 in the program, an enrollment well above the 2,300 undergraduate business students.
The lightening fast, even explosive start, along with the school’s ambitious plans for expansion, in the midst of a pandemic no less, has been one of the most exciting and challenging developments the school has ever undertaken. After all, the original expectation was to enroll an initial online MBA class of just 200 students. But at such an attractive price point, Boston University found ready demand. “When we saw the caliber of the pool and decided to increase the class size, it forced us to think about scale more quickly,” says J.P. Matychak, associate dean for strategic initiatives at Questrom. “It becamea pressure test. We felt like we were going into the deep end.”
Despite some inevitable technology glitches in the early going, the school appears to have risen to the challenge. BU did not merely convert its existing MBA into an online option. The school’s faculty reimagined what a modern MBA should be in the current environment. Instead of studying business in silos, with separate courses in accounting, finance, marketing, BU’s professors have taken an integrated approach, weaving together business concepts in a half dozen semester-long modules. The first of them delved into the topic of creating value for business and society. Each module builds on the one before it, and each one ends with an action-learning capstone experience. Everything is core. There are no electives.
‘THIS IS SOMETHING THAT BUSINESS SCHOOLS HAVE BEEN TRYING TO DO FOR 30 YEARS’
The program’s unusual design poses a significant challenge itself. “This is something that business schools have been trying to do for 30 years and haven’t succeeded at it,” says Paul Carlile, senior associate dean for online learning. “There is everything from faculty approval to cultural change. The faculty have to meet all together and decide what to include, what to not teach, and what problem to explore to bring it all together. It is forcing them to be business professors and not just a marketing professor or a finance professor.”
For BU’s first online MBAs, the integrative learning experience clearly resonated. “I like the integrated curriculum where everything comes together and there are three professors who teach a module,” says Gopi Gopalakrishnan, a data evangelist for a Canadian bank in New York. The 48-year-old professional, who has also worked at both Citibank and Deloitte Consulting, signed up for the first cohort because he hopes to some day become the Chief Information Officer for a bank. “This is something unique and I was looking instinctively for that. It takes a lot of effort. It requires several professors to come together and it has to flow naturally.”
Faculty who have taught in the program acknowledge the demanding nature of it all. So far, 24 faculty members at BU have been involved in delivering the online MBA. That represents about 20% of the school’s tenure track professors. One of them, Marshall Van Alstyne, who taught a case on the voice wars involving Google, Apple and Amazon, believes the order of work for his online teaching was far more demanding than any of his in-person courses. “You are scripted down to the word level for the videos and presentations before hand. I have taught for 40 years and never had to do that. It is four or fives times the preparation for an in-person class. It involves scripting down, coordinating across faculty, and knowledge checks. You have to provide all the answers in advance to the questions you’re asking. Everything is much more carefully scripted and integrated. I liken it to the production of a good TV series where each episode has a story line but still has to fit within the arc of the series.”