During the height of the global pandemic, when schools were scrambling to put their classes online, officials from the Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business were already looking ahead. Jones School Dean Peter Rodriguez believed it was clear that the world had changed–and with it, applicants’ needs–so the school hired external firms to analyze the wants and desires of prospective applicants for graduate business education.
The result of that effort is a new hybrid MBA program that Rodriguez says will aim to integrate flexibility and meaningful in-person connection. He believes this concept will be popular not only for Rice but many other B-schools going forward.
“It wasn’t easy, but we thought, ‘Why not?’” Rodriguez says. “With the programs we have, we thought: ‘Is this necessary?’ But the market suggested it was and time will tell. I think we will see other schools and see incremental programming for us that will look like this program.”
‘WE THINK THIS WILL SUIT THEM’
Rice is home to a full-time MBA program recently ranked 29th in the United States by Poets&Quants, as well as an executive MBA program, an online MBA ranked fifth by P&Q and 12th in the newly released U.S. News online MBA ranking, a Master of Accountancy, and more. This summer the Houston-based school will debut its new hybrid MBA geared toward those looking for an academic format that better meets the scheduling challenges of working professionals. The Rice Hybrid MBA will not call for weekly or twice-monthly in-person meetings, instead requiring students to meet just once a month for two to three days on a weekend. Most coursework will be provided through asynchronous or synchronous online learning during one regular weekday.
Rodriguez says research shows that evening learning is favored by prospective applicants.
“We found we do get some students who are working professionals from other metros like Dallas and Austin, but they find it difficult to make the twice-per-month, current cadence over weekends,” he says. “We think this will suit them.”
THE DESIGN OF THE NEW PROGRAM
Rodriguez points to market research showing that professionals’ flexibility in the workplace has created a desire for academic flexibility. People don’t want to be fully in-person, nor do they want to be fully remote. After learning this, he says, the school designed a program to meet those needs — a sort of “balancing act” that took about a year to design. “We thought about this for a long time to try to settle on what it would mean,” Rodriguez says.
The first question: How can such a program be implemented? Some courses, such as leadership, will be taught completely in-person. Other, data-intensive courses will be taught 60% online and 40% in-person. Rodriguez says he and his design team were mindful of what the new program could mean for the other MBAs the school currently offers. In fact, it will benefit them: “We can deliver this program on weekends we already have other MBA formats, so we can increase our elective offerings to all other groups,” he says.
Usually, a limitation of non-full-time programs is that fewer electives are offered on weekends because fewer faculty is available to teach them. But Rodriguez says that stacking programs enables Rice to deliver more of the electives students want.
“Students are increasingly wanting more technology-based electives, like Artificial Intelligence for Business or Machine Learning for Business, and we think we can deliver more of those formats,” he says.
LIKE ALL RICE JONES MBA PROGRAMS, THE HYBRID MBA WILL BE STEM-CERTIFIED
The Hybrid MBA program is 54 credits, contrasted with Rice’s full-time MBA, which has a minimum of 60. But the new program’s curriculum will feature the same rigorous dedication to STEM that since 2020 has been a highlight of all of Jones’ graduate programs, from its full-time MBA to its Master of Accountancy. Appealing to working professionals in their late 20s or early 30s, Rice University assumes this program won’t appeal to the those applying at the B-school full-time.
Students in the hybrid program are also required to stay in housing provided by the university during monthly visits, a factor included in the cost of tuition at $67,500 per year. The reason: to create a personal connection between students and, as Rodriguez says, to “ensure everyone does get to know one another.”
The Hybrid MBA program also requires attending three in-person “immersion weeks” at the beginning, middle and end of its 22-month program, which helps deliver “more intensive programing,” Rodriguez adds.
“The one at the end is the same for all our global field experience. Students will actually travel to a location out of the country where they’ll perform working with local companies,” he says.
The new program is not utilizing the services of the educational-tech company 2U as it does for its online program – MBA@Rice.
MBA@Rice was launched in partnership with 2U in 2018. The company has been used widely among many B-Schools. In exchange for its digital learning platform, some marketing and recruitment services it provides, 2U can rake in over 50 percent of a school’s tuition revenue.
Rodriguez says rather than reusing MBA@Rice courses, professors are still deciding how much content will be asynchronous. It’s quite possible that digital aspects used previously, like stimulations or self-paced exercises, will seep into the new program, but not large portions of the existing online coursework.
‘SOMETHING IN THE MIDDLE’
“We have fully in-person programs, we have a program that is 90% online, approximately, and now we will have something in the middle,” he said.
Rodriguez describes the program as a product stemming from COVID-19 learning, when every school was delivering online education and suddenly “every student has a taste of what it meant.”
“We’re already getting some interesting inquiries from students who live near and far from the university and I don’t think we would have gotten these students before. Some of them have said, ‘We’ve been waiting for something like this,’” he says.
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