A New Milestone For Michigan Ross’ Online MBA: Its Very First Graduate

Wally Hopp, associate dean for part-time MBA programs at Ross, in a live online MBA class


The Business Innovation Residency, meantime, explored how entrepreneurs go from an idea to execution. “They had prototype building and did pitches in front of a group of judges,” explains Russo. “We do have a couple of entrepreneurs in our class and it was useful for them as well. Taught by Stewart Thornhill and Rashmi Menon, the exercise culminated in a competition among student teams. Two groups won top honors: TidySite, a software-based product that signaled when airport restrooms need cleaning, and VentGen, a way to plan and put on social virtual events.

The residencies—devoted to leadership, business transformation, innovation and global strategy—are a mandatory part of Ross’ online MBA, with at least three of them required by graduation. The Thursday-through-mid-Sunday sessions are on campus in Ann Arbor, though the school plans to host its global strategy residency in Shanghai/Hangzhou, China, next May. That immersion will be led by strategy Professor Brian Wu, who had been named one of Poets&Quants‘ Best 40 Business School Professors under 40 in 2016. Ross also is planning future residencies in other major cities around the world.

With the first online MBA student almost through the entire program, what has Ross learned about delivering a degree program online? “One of the things we learned was that students most prize the time they spend with faculty members,” says Russo. “Our classes have live sessions, and we have recommended to faculty to rethink having students present in a class. So they moved those to online so students could have more time with the faculty. The other thing is we know that in the online program one of students told us to ‘please remember that for the majority of our program we are alone. We have to go to the computer. We have to learn things on our own and that is a really key point with an online program.’ It has affected the type of people we choose for the program and the way the faculty design the program. A lot of times students are alone, having to figure things out. So you want to make sure you are a presence there and just a phone call or click away for assistance.”


Though many assume an online program is best suited for professionals who want to accelerate their careers in an existing company or industry, Ross has found that a significant number of its online students hope to do career switches. “At the start, it’s about 60/40 on people looking to accelerate their career vs. those who want a complete career change. As they go through the program, it sort of flips and you have more people looking at new horizons,” says Russo. “A lot of that occurs because your mind has opened up and you start to see what a big world is out there and want to do something different. At our price point, if you are looking for that kind of transition, you probably want something big out of it.”

While Ross was more generous with standardized test waivers during the pandemic, the school intends to return to a more typical admissions policy on waivers, according to Russo. “We do have.a stricter test waiver policy now which requires a terminal degree like a JD or an MD,” she explains. “In August, we will announce another way to waive the test for the winter intake. One of the things we think the test measures, which is particularly important for a part-time student who might be out of school for awhile, is a student’s ability and bandwidth to study and to take time for a program. We think it is a good ramp-up to a part-time program. In our interviews, if I ask an applicant why their GMAT score is low and they tell me they were really busy at work and didn’t have time to study, I say, ‘Well, what do you think is going to happen if you come into the program? It’s not just a test. It is also reflective of what your plan when you get into a rigorous program.”

Over the next five years, one thing is certain, according to Russo. The competition among schools in the online MBA market will only intensify. “If you look at full-time programs, you have low price players and high price players and the people who are in the middle and trying to figure out how to differentiate,” she says. “You will have people offering great value like the University Illinois and Boston University. There are a lot of programs out there that have a lot to offer. Indiana Kelley is excellent value for the money. Carnegie Mellon has very nice and frequent residencies. Before part-time MBA programs were tied to geography, and now that is gone. That raises the bar. I think it is already very competitive and I would be a fool if I thought there wasn’t going to be more competition in the future.”