When Mark Taylor became dean of Washington University’s Olin Business School nearly five years ago, he thought it was already too late to enter the online MBA market. He arrived in St. Louis from Britain’s Warwick Business School, one of the early pioneers in long-distance education, whose online MBA option was then ranked second best in the world by the Financial Times.
Taylor, who had been dean of Warwick Business School, had plenty of reason to think the online MBA market was overcrowded. At that time, in late 2016, U.S. News published a list of 225 different programs in the U.S. alone. Today, that number has grown to 324 online MBA options, again just in the U.S.
Ultimately, though, the pandemic changed Taylor’s view. “People had been generally wary of online education but I think during the last 15 months all institutions have been forced into teaching online and people have realized you can deliver a quality education online,” he says. “I think it has changed the perception of the value of online learning. And secondly, the world has changed. We think that the pace of acceptance and use of digital technology will be heightened and much faster because of the pandemic.”
ONLINE MBA WILL PUT AN EMPHASIS ON DIGITAL LEADERSHIP
So Olin is now entering the market with a $79,000 online MBA that will enroll its first cohort in January of 2022. The school is hoping to differentiate its online option from the competition by focusing the curriculum on digital transformation. Embedded in all the courses—from the core to the electives—will be an emphasis on how technology is changing the world of work, from blockchain and artificial intelligence to augmented reality and cloud computing.
In addition to the $75,000 price tag on the online MBA, there are also fees of $500 per semester, bringing the total cost of the Wash U degree to $79,000. That puts the program slightly above the $74,520 in tuition and fees for the 54-credit Kelley Direct online MBA at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business and well below the $125,589 charged by the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School for its MBA@UNC online program. One of the highest quality, low-cost providers, the University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business, prices its iMBA program at just $22,000.
Taylor says the school’s pricing reflects the quality of the program as well as Washington University’s brand and was set after a review of rival offerings. “We looked at the cost of delivery, the quality of the program, and what comparative schools are charging in the space,” he says. “We think it will be excellent value.” The school also plans scholarships for online MBA students in several areas: nonprofit leaders, women, military veterans, entrepreneurs, and one for diversity, equity and inclusion.
‘THE EARLY BIRD GETS THE WORM BUT THE MOUSE GETS THE CHEESE’
In any case, it was the abrupt shift to online learning all over the world caused by COVID that ultimately convinced Taylor to get into the online MBA market. “Warwick was very early into this in the days of correspondence learning,” adds Taylor. “It existed before I got there and it morphed into an online MBA. But I heavily invested in that area and we raised the rankings. When I came here I thought it was too late to enter the market. Warwick had the first mover advantage. I think now post pandemic we have to be in that market. And now we have a secondary advantage. The early bird gets the worm but the mouse gets the cheese.”
The school expects an initial cohort of about 50 students, with steady state around “a couple of hundred” online MBA students, says Taylor. Olin decided not to require either a GMAT or GRE for admission. It will take roughly 30 months to complete the 54-credit program which will be 100% online with no residencies, though the school plans to provide some opportunities to come on campus.
“It is still grounded in the core MBA fundamentals but all of the courses will be framed through the lens of a digitally driven landscape,” adds Taylor. “We have thought hard about what it means to be a digitally enabled leader going forward to bring this MBA online out. It isn’t just putting PDFs and video lectures online. It’s thinking about this new world of digital leadership and how you would use AI and big data and how you would think about remote management.”
ALSO LAUNCHING ONLINE GRADUATE DEGREES IN ACCOUNTING, FINANCE & BUSINESS ANALYTICS
In recent years, Olin has invested heavily in digital learning, originally intending to offer both certificate courses and specialized online graduate programs. A newly created Center for Digital Education is now staffed by roughly 20 people, including instructional designers. Olin also has created a subsidiary company of developers who had earlier worked at Warwick to help design a proprietary platform to deliver its online learning programs.
“We planned to launch a new suite of online programs in accounting, finance and business analytics even before the pandemic,” explains Taylor. “In those fields, you can build your degree. You get one or two certificates and can then go further if you want to get a master’s degree in those areas.”
The online MBA program will offer more than 20 electives in nine functional areas of business with a program-long “digital impact project” through which students would create what the school is calling “a high-potential digital initiative.”
ONLINE MBA TO REQUIRE FIVE TO SEVEN WEEKS OF WORK PER COURSE
In a typical week, students can expect to spend five to seven hours on each course. Roughly an hour and one-half would be in live synchronous Internet classes, with an equal amount devoted to pre-recorded asynchronous learning via prerecorded videos, submitting questions to a discussion board, pre-reading cases and writing case memos. Olin says there will be eight weeks of live classes for each 12-week semester. Students also would be expected to devote two to four hours weekly on homework, working through problem sets, take-home exams and experiential exercises applying lessons from the course.
During a semester, a student would be expected to take a pair of three-credit courses and a single-credit course. In the first semester, for example, online MBAs would have a three-credit course in organizational behavior and another in business analytics as well as a one-credit launch of the digital impact project. All told, there will be eight semesters, with the last three offering the opportunity to take six electives and complete the digital impact project.
Graduates of the program also will be able to take two elective courses for free within the first five years after completing their studies, a nod to lifetime learning.
OLIN NOW ONE OF 100 BUSINESS SCHOOLS IN THE WORLD WITH ‘THE TRIPLE CROWN’ OF ACCREDITATION
Olin will initially have two intakes per year, in January and in July, with five rounds of deadlines starting on Aug. 3 with notification by Sept. 1.
In its announcement, Olin also said it is now the first and only highly ranked U.S. business school to earn “the triple crown”—accreditation by AACSB, AMBA and, EQUIS. “This was an important strategy for us, affirming that we are the kind of business school we say we are. Additionally, it puts us in rarified company among some of the world’s elite global business schools.”
Taylor notes that only 100 business schools in the world, including INSEAD and London Business School, can lay claim to the “triple crown.” “We see ourselves as an international school and hold ourselves to international standards,” he says.