When you make a change, do you use a scalpel or a sledgehammer?
Do you surgically remove bits-and-pieces – or do you start over?
A few years ago, the D’Amore-McKim School of Business was grappling with this dilemma. On one hand, the school had launched one of the first online MBA programs in 2006 – one that had remained popular over the years. Still, faculty and administrators could see as an earlier mover the gaps in the marketplace. They wanted to create an online alternative grounded in hands-on learning and personalized programming. At the same time, they hoped to cater to changing tastes, where students could use business fundamentals to tackle social issues. In the end, they used neither a scalpel or sledgehammer. Instead, they applied a different tool: a “blank sheet of paper.”
This freed the school’s faculty to create something entirely new.
“We were one of the pioneers in the space and I think we designed and ran a very good program but the world has changed a lot and we decided it was time for more than just a refresh or update to the program,” explains Emery Trahan, interim dean of the D’Amore-McKim Business School, in a 2022 interview with P&Q. “It was time to reimagine the program for the future. The production of the program is different. The way the courses are delivered is different. We are building on our long history of experiential education and really leveraging something very significant into an online, scalable program and the price point is very different.”
By price point, Trahan means slicing the price nearly in half to $45,000 in comparison to D’Amore-McKim’s legacy program.
Technically, online learning – the computer tools, classroom techniques, and ongoing support – is the school’s core expertise. However, D’Amore-McKim brings something altogether new to the venture. At the undergraduate level, the school is revered for its co-ops – six-month paid internships where students gain experience working for companies. Such school-employer partnerships are rarely integrated into online education. Looking at D’Amore-McKim’s experience and capabilities, Kate Klepper was left with a more profound question than simply the scalpel vs. sledgehammer quandary…
‘If we can’t do this, who can?’
“We do this probably better than anyone,” Klepper asserts. “It is our core competency. If we are not willing to double down on it, then we really need to think about what we are doing. We have committed resources to lean into our vast corporate partners and alumni who are raising their hands and asking how can we help?”
Tapping into these resources, the school created experiential learning projects that account for 20% of the online programming. In one project, student teams are given a challenge and work alongside retired senior executives to develop solutions. In addition, students complete a course with a project involving a social challenge such as sustainability and diversity.
“Young professionals are very keen to have a positive impact on the world,” adds Klepper. “And in this case, the students will get to roll up their sleeves and tackle a project. This is not a fad. It’s real. And we came to the realization that we should be jumping on it right away.”
In online education, flexibility is often defined as having the option to take either live or recorded courses. While D’Amore-McKim provides these options, they prefer to think of flexibility in terms of customization. In their new online MBA program, students can choose from three concentrations: Business Analytics, finance, and Innovation and Entrepreneurship, where students complete four electives to gain deep expertise in a particular area. In fact, student-chosen electives account for 29 of the program’s 50 credits. What’s more, students can take 18-36 months to complete the coursework, while enjoying the same intensive career services support and access to faculty as their on-campus counterparts.
The program launched in October, with a new cohort joining in April 2023. For Mark Dockser, a D’Amore-McKim professor who helped develop the program, the OMBA caters to a particular profile of student. “[They are] students who have a fair amount of business experience already, that are making a commitment to come back in and saying, “I want these skills. I want to be able to move to those levels,” he told P&Q in December. “I think that is a specific group of folks for whom we can provide the right experience at the right time, and then at the right price.”
Overall, employer-driven and personalization are baked into D-Amore-McKim’s graduate programming. The two-year, full-time MBA program includes paid corporate residencies, which last anywhere from three to 12 months. At the same time, students can pursue MBAx concentrations. After completing core courses, students can pair a standard business discipline concentration, such as Entrepreneurship or International Business, with a discipline outside the business school. These include Experience Design, Biotechnology, Bioinformatics, Visualization, Game Design, and Media Innovation. Last year, the school announced a partnership with the Mayo Clinic College of Science of Medicine to deliver an online Master’s in Management degree in Digital Healthcare Transformation. A year-long program, the Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim and Bouvé College of Health Sciences faculties have joined forces with Mayo Clinic faculty to co-teach a series of courses. In the process, students master the various sides to healthcare finance, service innovation, and supply chain management. Like other Northeastern business programming, it is driven by employer insight and career outcomes.
“We have people who have clear insight into where healthcare is headed―spanning the continuum of care, including in the home, and others who know how data and analytics drive better, more personalized care,” explains Marc Meyer, a professor of entrepreneurship at D’Amore-McKim. “The frameworks and methods we will teach will help students synthesize creative design, medical science, and digital technologies to do some good for the world. That is what makes healthcare transformation, and this program, so special.”
Indeed, D’Amore-McKim is looking to the future at every level. Be it online or in-person, the school has staked a clear position – and built programming around it – to prepare students for it. As history shows, they aren’t afraid to disrupt what works to produce matters.
“We don’t know yet what 20 years from now is going to look like,” adds Kate Klepper, “but being agile, being a critical thinker, being somebody who knows how to identify a problem, dissect a problem, put pieces back together in new and interesting ways – those are skills that are going to help in the future regardless of what is coming.”
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