Why Berkeley Haas’ New Flex MBA Program Is So Popular

 

 

The entire class of the inaugural Haas Flex program. Photo: Jim Block

During the same time two days a week, a row of TV monitors lining a Berkeley Haas classroom flip on. Class is officially in session, and standing in the room is a lone professor who faces a wall that’s sensitive to motion and sound, so that the virtual heads peering back can tell exactly where the instructor is looking. Each student has their own box among the display of TVs, and there’s a small icon so they can raise their hand.

Haas’ immaculately-designed virtual classroom comes fully equipped with even more impressive features, like a shared whiteboard a student or professor might scribble on. More than 70% of students in Haas’ Flex MBA option, a new option within its Weekend & Evening MBA, hail from different states and continents, some from so far away that it’s the middle of the night while they are attending class.

At Haas, they like to call this environment “live online.” Its Flex program offers greater flexibility with a little bit of synchronization. The goal is to accommodate part-time or working students. Students can take core business classes remotely and have the option to pursue their electives in-person. It has allowed entrepreneurs, caregivers and parents alike to get a Haas degree from pretty much anywhere and to have a little autonomy over their in-person attendance. Of the Flex signature immersion events, three of five put on throughout the three-year program are mandatory.

INAUGURAL COHORT INCLUDES STUDENTS FROM EGYPT, JAPAN, UAE

Haas’ Leah Rozeboom: “I really feel like this kind of scheduling option is the future of education just because I think it allows greater access to education but still maintains the pieces of our programs that are so integral”

Haas began offering its online option last year, along with New York University’s Stern School of Business, which also offered a similar online experience in its part-time MBA program. These two highly ranked and admired business schools join hundreds of other U.S. schools with online MBA programs, from online pioneer Kelley School of Business at Indiana University to the disruptively priced online MBA options at Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois and Boston University’s Questrom School of Business.

At Haas, the inaugural cohort  is made up of 69 students, hailing from the U.S., Canada, Egypt, Japan, the Netherlands, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates. And it’s already seen soaring popularity among applicants. Both this year and last year, Flex Director Leah Rozeboom says they’ve received more interest in the program than they have spots available, even though the total cost of the program is The total program cost is a hefty $148,386, the same figure as Haas’ Weekend & Evening MBAs. Haas has been able to prove that prospective students are willing to pay premium prices for its premier brand, superb faculty and its ability to draw among the best students.

“We know we have a limited number of spaces in the flex scheduling option,” she tells Poets&Quants in an interview.

Some applicants have delayed even an entire year to get a spot in Flex.

“We typically encourage people to apply in earlier rounds so that they have a better chance at getting the flex scheduling option if that’s the only scheduling option that works for them,” says Rozeboom.

A ‘WORLD-CLASS EDUCATION’ OFFERING FLEXIBILITY

A car salesman turned pharmacist, Tony Lee found himself somewhat “pigeon-holed” by his career. And business school seemed like the right option. He is hoping to one day have his own pharmacy chain or company and venture into the vast corporate world of Pharma. But during the beginning of his journey, suddenly the pandemic hit, and he had also just become a single dad. Based out of Calgary, he didn’t see a lot of suitable options in Canadian schools and pursuing a full-time program was simply not an option. He wanted to be present in his son’s life.

“I really wanted to pursue a world-class education. But I also really wanted to have a global impact,” says Lee.

The program appealed to Tony Lee because as a parent and professional, it fits into his busy schedule. Photo: Jim Block

In his research and planning, Lee happened to attend one of the Flex information sessions and met with some faculty and Haas students, which ultimately solidified his decision to enter into the program.

“I was amazed with the caliber of the faculty, and also the students. I was really attracted to the fact that they don’t treat it as an online MBA. They really put you in as like part of that evening weekend cohort and I was able to access all the resources that other full-time or evening weekend MBAs could. For me as an international student that was a huge plus,” says Lee.

So far, Lee says it’s the camaraderie among the cohort that has stood out. Lee and another Flex student founded a start-up together called AidRX.

FEATURING FAMED FACULTY 

Flex has been in the works since 2014, and Rozeboom says that it wasn’t something just merely born out of COVID. It was important for the school that in chasing accessibility, it still remained the quality education Berkeley is known for. Some faculty teaching in the program include Anastassia Fedyk, named a P&Qs 40 under 40 professor, who teaches Introduction to Finance. Maria Carkovic, the Macroeconomics instructor, received the 2023 Earl F. Cheit Award for Excellence In Teaching award from Haas. And Flex Microeconomics instructor Ricardo Perez-Truglia, another on a P&Qs 40 under 40 recipient.

Leah Rozeboom, director of Flex. Photo: Jim Block

“I really feel like this kind of scheduling option is the future of education just because I think it allows greater access to education but still maintains the pieces of our programs that are so integral,” Rozeboom says.

PURSUING GROWTH & CONNECTION 

On a holiday in the wine country, Maeve Peterson slid away to the hotel room to write her application essays in secrecy. Though getting her MBA wasn’t all that surprising for someone with a background working various storied jobs in Silicon Valley, she didn’t want people to know in case it didn’t work out. Of course, it did work out. Peterson has a knack for organization and a real insight for connecting with people, she comes from a creative background, and she enjoys quants. It involves one of her favorite things: solving little problems.

Her first job as an undergrad in New York was for Rent the Runaway, a platform where you can rent or buy designer clothing. Then she ventured all the way across the country and took a job at a Y Combinator start-up that eventually failed. Next came was a job at a Pre-Elon Twitter doing a lot of user research and marketing. But later, it was when Peterson had settled working with marketing science and data at Snapchat that she saw her GMAT was about to expire.

“I thrive in an in-person environment normally, so I wanted to see what that would be like,” says Peterson.

During the school year, classes take place every Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-6pm, and the rest of the content is asynchronous.

“But also, I wanted more flexibility. It’s not necessarily that I want to graduate more rapidly, it’s that I want to be able to have a lighter course load in case something in life happens and I have to reallocate,” says Peterson.

CASUAL MEETUPS & IMMERSION EVENTS

Sometimes, Peterson admits, it’s tough not having in-person, social interaction. But there are opportunities for casual meet-ups with cohort members located nearby or visiting in the area. Peterson is also a cohort rep that organizes such events, including gatherings in the Bay Area and in San Diego.

Professional faculty member Jennifer Caleshu teaching storytelling to Flex students during an immersion event. Photo: Jim Block

Over the course of three years, Haas hosts three required immersion events in the Bay Area that include an initial orientation, a second-year “re-launch” event and an academic retreat later that year.

A WORKABLE FORMAT FOR EXECS

Another intentional element of the program is how content is dispersed. Rozeboom says in pre-planning stages, they wanted class time to be meaningful through interaction. Thus, they tacked off two hours of lecture time that could be covered through online homework. Most of asynchronous videos are short, on average running 4-10 minutes, and featuring graphics and animations from their digital team. The virtual classrooms even saw tons of practice ahead of Flex from its executive MBA programs.

Student Brijesh Patel describes the asynchronous videos as “bite-sized” modules that he can consume over and over again as he prepares breakfast for his kids or drives them places. Patel runs a healthcare tech company called InquisitHealth. He spent the last ten years growing the company to the point where now they have over 50 employees. He says he always knew he wanted an MBA but struggled to find a program that could work with his work demands, on top of having a family and wanting to spend as much time as possible with them, he locates in New Jersey.

“I’ve done a lot of research into executive MBA programs, traditional MBA programs, part-time MBA programs, but there was nothing that really worked for me with the executive format, which I found to be a good fit on many of the variables that I was looking at,” says Patel.

But a lot of the programs he researched were lock-step curriculums that required work on the weekends or an inordinate amount of the time during the week. Most configurations were found unmanageable.

But Flex hit all his points. He says the set class time biweekly allowed him to organize other priorities around it and finish the rest of the homework on a flexible basis, like the weekends. He makes it a point to spend 30-45 minutes a night doing the readings, which he has now made a family affair.

“Berkeley set this up through a virtual classroom where you actually feel like you’re in the classroom. It’s not as if you’re sitting there and there’s a video playing and you could just be dotting your eyes around anywhere else, you actually in the class and they’re watching you and you’re watching them. So that feeling is just different,” says Patel.

Don’t Miss: Creative Destruction Lab, Once A Refuge For ‘Misfit’ MBAs, Has Generated Billions For Science-Based Startups & The World’s Most Popular MBA Programs

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.