A Texas Flex: A&M’s ‘Compact, Fast-Paced’ Flex OMBA To Open For First Applications Soon

A Texas Flex: A&M's 'Compact, Fast-Paced' Flex OMBA To Open For First Applications Soon

Q&A WITH MYRA GONZALEZ, DIRECTOR OF THE TEXAS A&M MAYS FLEX ONLINE MBA PROGRAM

Poets&Quants: How did Texas A&M determine there was a market for this? Have students been clamoring for it?

Myra Gonzalez: We have had quite a few inquiries about it. Of course, the world changed after the pandemic, and so there were requests where students in our existing weekend programs were saying, “Hey, I’d really love the flexibility to do some of this online, either because of daycare or work issues or things like that.” We are definitely listening to the market.

Will faculty teaching in the program be the same faculty who teach in the full-time MBA? How have they been trained for online? Or do all of them have experience already?

Absolutely. That is a great question. How do I say this? There’s a little bit of a dichotomy here. Our goal is to grow the bench and grow more faculty because as this program grows, we’re going to need more. However, the people that are most primed to be in a spot to be able to teach in this program are people that already teach in our other MBA programs. I know a lot of people see that as a pro and a con. We definitely want to spread the wealth, if you will, and let some other folks teach. Right now it’s looking like a combination of both. There’s a couple of familiar faces, but then there’s some new blood too, which I’m really excited about.

We will be looking for more faculty over time as the program grows. And you asked about training. That’s the other challenge with faculty. As you know, one, they have to be interested in online education, and unfortunately not everybody in the building is, so you’ve got that. So there’s the interest level. Then you have the availability level. Are you free this semester at this time? Are you willing to do the evening synchronous sessions? Then you have, “Are they the best fit for working professionals and teaching online?” You could be interested, you’d be all get-out, but if you’re not the right fit, then sometimes that’s not what we want. So there are multiple barriers to getting to the right people. That’s taking a little bit of time, but it’s shaping up very nicely.

The other barrier is the training that we are requiring. We are requiring about 24 weeks of intense training and preparation for these courses. We’re asking faculty to do eight weeks of an online course — so basically, putting them through what their students would encounter. During this course, it’s all about accessibility, compliance, how to engage online students. It’s all the basics of teaching online versus in class or in-person.

Then the next 16 weeks is working individually with instructional designers who are helping them chunk their material, helping them identify different activities. Hopefully if we built this program to scale, we’ll need a lot of assignments that are auto-graded or immediate feedback-type things. Really just figuring out the technology and all of that. There is a good amount of work that faculty are going to have to put in to participate.

You have a lot of new programs. Was there ever any concern that launching this program, and your other online offerings, might draw faculty resources or take away from some of the other programs?

Yes, all of the above. Absolutely. But we strongly believe that there is room in the market. Even if you look at the MBA market, as you know, I mean: There’s a flavor for everybody. With our unique hybrid offering of mostly asynchronous with that one night a week synchronous session, will that fit everybody? I don’t know. People might want something 100% asynchronous that fits their needs.

We have several programs down the hallway here. We’ve got our two weekend programs in Houston; one, the executive program, requires 10 or more years of management experience. That’s a niche market, if you will. The professional MBA is a little more directly in competition for me, but my program is really targeted for anybody who doesn’t want to quit working, like our full-time program here, and not immediately accessible to the Houston area for those weekend programs. The Dallas-Fort Worth area for us is huge, but so is small-town Texas: In the bigger cities you have many institutions that are offering different flavors of MBAs, but in small-town Texas, there’s not as many offerings. Being a well-known brand in Texas, it’s nice to be able to do that. Then nationwide too, I’m really excited to grow our brand nationwide and offer that. Maybe it’s in an Aggie family that has relocated elsewhere and now they can still do that.

Is there an on-campus in-person element in this program?

There is a tiny one. In the beginning, we will have students come to campus for an orientation, and that orientation is going to be mostly about networking and connecting with their cohorts. Obviously about a day or so of the nuts and bolts of student handbook, here’s where you go, where you have questions, that kind of stuff.

On your webpage it says that you’re taking “expressions of interest” right now pending university approvals. What’s that process like?

At a state institution, it is a very long process to get new programs approved. We are actually approved by the university. The beauty of this is during the pandemic, we went through the full approval process all the way through our Board of Regents and our state higher ed coordinating board to offer the full-time MBA online. We needed approval to do that. And because the degree is already approved to be online, all we were doing on our end was updating the catalog and getting approval to offer it locally, if you will, online. It’s just a process. It’s a bunch of crazy processes. We are fully approved. We just don’t exist anywhere quite yet in our computer systems. They’re working on that now and we’re hoping to fully exist in the December, January timeframe.

You must be pretty happy and pretty excited with the launch of this new program, with all the work that went into it.

It is very exciting. I’ve had the pleasure of building it from the ground up. At first you really think you have this blank slate, but you really don’t in the world of MBA because there’s so much of that business acumen that is already expected and required and so you have about this much room for innovation, truly. The innovative part was really with us working with industry and identifying what their needs were in industry. What we found out is, we are preparing for the future of work, which we have no idea what that is. We’re preparing people for jobs that don’t exist and just a whole new world, and trying to factor some of that into the curriculum with just basic data literacy, technology literacy, and really being open to things that are available and possible through technology. It’s been a fun exploration, if you will.

It’s about being adaptable. It’s about being flex.

Yes. You think you’re training people for one particular role or one thing. Training you to be CEO used to be the old thing, but that’s definitely not what we’re doing anymore.

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