Publish or perish.
Sell or starve.
You’re either digital or dead.
The contrasts are stark these days — and the stakes have never been higher. The pandemic ushered in the ‘Great Migration.’ That’s not to be confused with the ‘Great Resignation’ from lousy jobs or the ‘Great Re-Location’ from blue states to red. The ‘Great Migration’ is the transition from cubicle to crib, on-site to online. Not surprising, the migration has reverberated into graduate business education.
Five years ago, online MBAs were the ‘MBA Lites’ — the gritty night owls who paid the bills for the more renowned full-time and executive programs. Over time, schools tailored their programming to the technology, as faculty grew more polished in front of cameras and students became more proficient with online tools. When COVID swept professionals back to their homes, prospective MBAS grew accustomed to operating on their schedules, enjoying the productivity and flexibility that came when they weren’t racing through airports or crammed into conference rooms.
For many years, online MBAs were the territory for proud publics like Kelley and Kenan-Flagler or well-funded privates like Tepper and Marshall. In recent years, big players have cannon-balled into the pool, as Michigan Ross and Rice Jones have staked their claim in the online space. As quality and capabilities rose, many wondered when a household name would enter the fray. After all, Harvard Business School Online turned digital learning into a lucrative revenue stream — and the Wharton School practically perfected the MOOC. All these schools would have to do is flip the switch and they’d enjoy a huge advantage in the online MBA space.
Turns out, Berkeley Haas became the first big name first adopter. Last summer, the school unveiled its “Flex Program, which will launch this summer. In the process, Haas became the first Top 10 full-time MBA program to compete with established online players. Catering to evening and weekend students, the program starts online for the first three semesters, which covers the core coursework. From there, online students can choose to take courses during weekday evenings or all day Saturday. Then again, they could stay online too. Adding to the program’s flexibility, students can choose to complete the program between two-and-a-half and five years, which includes three required on-site immersions and two optional ones. In terms of scale, he first cohort is projected to draw 60 students, with the Flex Program expected to quickly ramp up to 120.
Technically, this isn’t Haas’ first foray into online learning. Last year, the school rolled out its breakthrough UC-Berkeley Executive Education classroom, a technology-driven platform that enables professors to see students in real time so they can identify who is engaged, confused, or inattentive. In contrast, students could tap a hand icon when they have questions or collaborate on digital whiteboards. The success of this program is one reason why Haas had the confidence to chase after online students according to Jamie Breen, the assistant dean of MBA programs for working professionals.
“We’ve built an entire Haas digital department that works with faculty to develop asynchronous and synchronous content,” Breen explains in an interview with P&Q. “We built online classrooms last year during the pandemic that we intend to use for this program. A lot of the faculty have had positive reactions to these different modalities and how it will continue to help them teach.”
For prospective applicants, it’s all about the Haas experience and finding a convenient alternative to driving to campus all the time. “We have a really strong applicant pool to our program,” Breen adds. “But we also know from our admissions inquiries and studies and analysis of the market that there are people that would love to come to Haas and that Haas would love to have, but coming to campus either two nights a week or all day on Saturdays for three years is just hard. It’s a barrier to their ability to actually apply for and complete the degree.”
And experience is central to the online program’s appeal. After all, Berkeley Haas may be the most culture-driven program in the world. That starts with the program’s Four Defining Leadership Principles (DLPs), a code of conduct that guides every decision made at every level of the institution. Call it a cheat sheet of the Haas culture, one that helps students keep their best selves front-and-center. The four principles consist of Question the Status Quo, Confidence without Attitude, Student Always, and Beyond Yourself. For Corrine Marquardt, a 2021 MBA grad, the DLPs are hardly “marketing” fluff, but rather the real heart of the program.
“It was obvious that the students and faculty at Haas take “Beyond Yourself” to heart. Several individuals told stories of how their classmates had come together to support them through major life challenges, both professional and personal in nature. The students I met had impressive professional accomplishments, but rather than start conversations with their elevator pitches, they took the time to get to know me and what made me excited to make an impact. Their “Confidence without Attitude” was evident in their openness to share with me what made Haas important to them, even when I asked what felt like simple questions. Students were genuinely excited to “nerd out” with me about the latest digital health innovations, operational efficiency models, or startup best practices. Even alumni recounted with impressive detail their learnings from within the classroom, emphasizing the “Student Always” mentality. Finally, I met multiple students who came to Haas not to learn how to succeed in the current business landscape, but instead to learn how to mold the future of business for the better. I was inspired by their courage to “Question the Status Quo”.
Make no mistake: Haas administration practices what they preach. In a Students Always spirit, the full-time MBA program embraced change, revamping its curriculum to respond to rapidly-changing business demands. Last summer, the school rolled out three new core courses, which focused on data analytics, data-focused decision-making, and leading diverse teams.
“It’s very important for any type of program to re-evaluate, reassess, renew, modernize, and make things as relevant and useful for students as possible,” notes Ross Levine, one of the leaders on the faculty task force that developed these changes. “We worked very hard to make some changes that would help our students achieve their professional ambitions.”
Those ambitions, stoked by the program’s patented “Go for It” attitude, are only heightened by the school’s Berkeley location, notes Peter Johnson, Haas’ assistant dean for full-time MBA program & admissions, in a 2021 interview. “The tech sector has expanded from Silicon Valley to San Francisco to right at our doorsteps in Berkeley, placing Berkeley Haas at the core of the innovation economy. Simply put, Berkeley Haas is The Heart of What’s Next. We’re influencing industries that are inventing new technologies and business models that are driving economic growth.”