A Small MBA Program In The U.S. Midwest Went All-Online — And Doubled In Size

A Small MBA Program In The U.S. Midwest Went All-Online. It's Been A Big Success.

Balaji Rajagopalan was named the new dean of Missouri Trulaske College of Business on April 28. Rajagopalan has been dean at Northern Illinois University College of Business since 2016. He takes over a program whose flagship MBA went entirely online in 2020. Credit: Northern Illinois University

When Balaji Rajagopalan takes over as dean of the Trulaske College of Business at the University of Missouri this summer, moving south from his current deanship at the Northern Illinois College of Business, he’ll be responsible for thousands of undergraduate and graduate students across dozens of programs. One program in particular has earned a great deal of attention by virtue of a bold decision by school leadership that happened before Rajagopalan ever set foot on campus.

In response to a steady decline in applications, the Trulaske College paused its full-time MBA program in early 2020 and took the program — known since 2002 as the Crosby MBA — fully online in fall 2021. The move proved prescient because it came just before the world of graduate business education was thrust en masse into an all-online landscape two months months later amid the coronavirus pandemic.

More than that, it proved successful: The Crosby MBA has since doubled in size. And its director expects it to grow still more.


A Small MBA Program In The U.S. Midwest Went All-Online. It's Been A Big Success.

Missouri Trulaske’s Ryan Murray: “When we’re meeting the needs of the market and meeting the needs of our students in a more accessible, more global way, I think everyone can agree that that’s success”

“January (2020) is when we made the decision. By March everyone’s leaving and going online,” says Ryan Murray, Trulaske’s director of graduate studies. “I think it was serendipitous in that it worked in our favor as far as faculty training.”

It clearly worked in other ways, too. Since enrolling its first online cohort in fall 2021, the Crosby MBA has grown from a total enrollment of 83 students to 166 in the fall of 2022. Murray estimates total enrollment will be more than 240 in the fall of 2023.

“Over the last 10 years, MBA enrollment began to decline and more and more prospective students were asking for an online option,” says Murray, who also oversees Trulaske’s master of science in business, online master of science in finance, and online master of accountancy degree programs, as well as 10 graduate certificates. “We heard it, if not once a day, probably at least once a week.”

Missouri Trulaske was not a pioneer in taking its MBA online. Wake Forest University, Simmons College, Iowa Tippie, and others had already taken the plunge. But Missouri’s timing was noteworthy, announcing its decision to take the Crosby MBA virtual just two months before the worldwide upheaval caused by Covid. Murray acknowledges that in retrospect, the two events seem intertwined.

But it was a decision that had already been made when the world descended into chaos in March 2020, and had nothing to do with the pandemic.

“The decision making actually had zero to do with Covid,” Murray says. “We wanted to make sure our programs were globally accessible to new students, alumni, and industry partners, because we partner with lots of corporate folks. We recognized those shifts in the market and made the strategic decision to pause the Crosby MBA program in January of 2020.

“We like to make that known, just because it didn’t have to do with a global pandemic, but rather a mission to provide a program which met the needs of both students and employers in an accessible delivery format.”

That mission, so far, looks like a great success.

“I’m very happy with how things are going. It’s certainly successful in my eyes,” Murray says. “Success for me looks like a lot of different things, but when we’re meeting the needs of the market and meeting the needs of our students in a more accessible, more global way, I think everyone can agree that that’s success.”

Missouri Trulaske Crosby MBA Fall 2022 Fall 2021
Class Size 78 67
Average Age 27 28
Average Undergraduate GPA 3.43 3.34
Average Work Experience 3.75 years 4.5 years
Women 41% 45%
Students Working While In The Program 76% 83%

CROSBY MBA COSTS BETWEEN $37,300 & $47,500

The Crosby MBA is a 45-credit program that can be completed in a minimum of three semesters, or a maximum of five years, with a curriculum made up of eight-week 1.5-credit-hour courses and 16-week 3.0-credit-hour courses. The curriculum features three pillars: Business Core Foundations, 12 credits; Professional Skills and Competencies, 15 credits; and Specialty Content Courses, offered as graduate certificates in such subjects as financial management and marketing analytics, 18 credits.

Total cost for the degree is between $37,300 and $47,500 — landing the Trulaske Crosby MBA on the lower end of P&Q‘s ranking of top online MBA programs.

A key element of the program is Trulaske’s embrace of in-person events, which welcome not only current but prospective students and alumni, of whom there are more than 40,000 by the school’s estimate. It’s an essential part of building and nurturing a community, Murray says.

“We don’t want just a program where they’re online checking boxes. We’re a concierge program where we still foster a community. We still provide in-person networking events,” he says, adding that now that Covid-19 is largely in the rearview, the school is planning to schedule three or four such events per semester, with different cities — Dallas, Kansas City, St. Louis, Denver, Chicago — serving as host. “They are not required, of course, but we provide those opportunities for students to have the experience of a more traditional MBA program, whilst being online and asynchronous.

“Because with our events, it’s not just for current students. Our networking events are for prospective students, current students, and our alumni and industry partners. We invite all of them to these events.”

While the Crosby MBA will never be a giant program, its commitment to fostering community is the underpinning of the program’s Accelerated MBA, in which Mizzou bachelor’s students complete MBA coursework in their senior year, allowing them to get a head start on an MBA fresh out of undergrad. Here again, the move online made sense.

“The one thing about Mizzou is, once you have your undergrad at Mizzou, you bleed black and gold,” Murray says. “So even though many of our students weren’t necessarily able to leave their job and come back to Columbia, they certainly were looking for that online option.”

  Fall 2021 New Enrollment Fall 2021 Total Enrollment Fall 2022

New Enrollment

Fall 2022

Total Enrollment

Fall 2023 Projected New Enrollment Fall 2023 Projected Total Enrollment
Crosby MBA 68 83 78 166 80 241

See the next page for a Q&A with Missouri Trulaske’s Ryan Murray.

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