Jim Parrish, director of the Full-Time and Online MBA programs at Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business, is quick to name the greatest appeal of the school’s highly ranked online program: value. Take the cost of tuition at Auburn Harbert: $875 per credit hour at a minimum 39 credits for $34,125. Now stack that up against some other schools in the U.S. News & World Report 2017 top 10: No. 1 Temple ($59,760), No. 2 Carnegie Mellon ($122,880), No. 3 Indiana Kelley ($66,300), No. 4 UNC Kenan-Flagler ($104,610). Looks like Parrish has a point.
“If a prospective student is calling me or interested in talking with one our team members here, one of the things we lead with is our great value,” says Parrish, noting that Auburn landed 10th in last year’s U.S. News ranking and has been in the top 12 each of the past five years. “There’s a very strong value-add for our Online MBA program. We’re very competitively priced, and if you look at our price point compared to the other top 10, top 12 schools, we really are a very strong value.”
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But that’s not all. Auburn offers something not every other school can: longevity. The school has been in the distance-learning game since 1989, when VHS tapes were the delivery vehicle, and at the forefront of technological changes ever since.
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“As a land-grant institution, the three pillars of Auburn University’s mission are research, instruction, and extension,” Parrish tells Poets&Quants. “If you go way back into our foundation, we’ve been taking education to the masses around our state and helping the individuals of our state with any kind of skill or trade or assistance they might need in terms of their livelihood. Fast-forward that to delivering education via technology, we were doing that beginning in 1989 when we would film the classes, record VHS tapes and then mail those out.
“As tech has evolved since the early 1990s, so has how we deliver the materials: We moved into the DVD space and we were kind of a hybrid between DVD and streaming in the mid-2000s, and then beginning in 2010 we were exclusively streaming online.”
HIGH ACCEPTANCE RATE, FEW GMAT WAIVERS
Auburn Online MBA program currently has about 350 students, taking in about 50 new students each spring and fall. (For comparison’s sake, the school’s full-time on-campus program has about 80 students.) The program has a 72% acceptance rate, an average GMAT score of 578, and an average GRE of 309 (scores for either test are accepted, but waivers are rare, Parrish says: students looking for waivers are often directed to the school’s executive MBA program). Students come from all over the U.S. — 35 states in all — but few from outside the country, Parrish says, as international students might find the program’s on-campus requirements onerous. Most students, about 70%, come from within 100 miles of the school’s eastern Alabama campus.
The program offers dual-degree options in MSBA-Finance, Management Information Systems, and Industrial and Systems Engineering. Graduate certificates are available in Business Analytics and Management Information Systems. Additionally, students may choose from three concentrations: Finance, Management Information Systems, and Quantitative Analysis/Statistics.
The program curriculum is composed of 13 classes — nine core business courses and four electives; currently 27 electives are offered. The online program mirrors the on-campus program, Parrish says. On-campus are filmed during the day and available for viewing that afternoon. “However, if a student wants to and they have the wherewithal, they can watch the class live — we’re not synchronous but it could be utilized if you have the time,” Parrish says. “Some students in the past would listen to the audio feed during the day while at work, and then they would watch the class later that evening as a way to better absorb the information.”
Auburn Online MBA students take an average of two classes per semester — “a good, manageable load,” Parrish says. Superstars finish the program in 18 months. Others are given a maximum of six years.
REPUTATION-VALUE COMBO ‘NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE TO MATCH’
Luke Brietzke started the Auburn Online MBA program in January 2017 and is in line to finish in two years, in December 2018. A self-employed district manager with Farmers Insurance who oversaw sales and service results while running district operations, he was early in his studies when he realized it might be time for a new direction. “One class I was taking at the time, Information Technology for Competitive Advantage, opened my eyes to new ideas,” Brietzke tells Poets&Quants. “Inspired by the class, I broadened my search and ultimately found a position with an industry-leading company called Origami Risk, which has been named one of the Top 25 Best Companies to Work For in Atlanta and Chicago (our two primary hubs) in each of the past two years. So even before I complete my studies at Auburn, the program has meant a great deal to me.”
A resident of Mobile, Alabama who now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, Brietzke participates in the Auburn Online MBA almost exclusively remotely, with occasional visits to campus. He has nothing but praise for the experience so far.
“When asked by people considering the Auburn program, I compare the structure to being in the back of the class with laryngitis — you hear the lecture and the questions from the in-class students, but you can’t ask questions in class,” Brietzke says. “The other key for Auburn is the staff’s accessibility. Every class I have taken has featured professors who were incredibly easy to reach via email and/or phone call. Whenever I have a question that doesn’t get answered in class, the professors have been great at taking the time to answer and will often begin their next lecture with the topic because they assume others have the same questions.
“More to the point, the combination of Auburn’s reputation and value is nearly impossible to match.”
MISSION ‘EXTENDS OUTSIDE OF OUR STATE’
Harbert College of Business delivers online BA content through the learning management system known as Canvas. Harbert has a very good relationship with the Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, Jim Parrish says, and that college’s Graduate Online Programs Office serves as IT and tech support for the Online MBA. “We pay them for their services and they do all the recording and we deliver the education. So we keep it all in-house,” Parrish says. “It helps maintain quality to keep it in-house.”
High-quality, highly ranked, low-cost education: that’s why Auburn is a great choice, Parrish says.
“There’s a story of us being in the marketplace a very long time — we’re not a fly-by-night, we didn’t just join the marketplace,” he says. “As we know, there are several schools that are very strong brand names — they came into this marketplace when the stigma had died down a little bit about online learning. Bottom line, it’s an opportunity for a lot of people to get a degree, which is very important. The Online MBA obviously was a necessity, because people do not want to or cannot leave a full-time job and pursue full-time education. They have full-time families and full-time commitments, and so the online space has blown up in a huge way and it has been really great for a lot of players.
“But for us, where we are in our price point, we could easily double our price and still be in the average of our competitors in the rankings. We won’t do that, even though smart business says we could, because our mission and our goal in being a land-grant school still holds true. Our mission is to be an institution that is going to serve the needs of all, and that even extends outside of our state.”