Given the lightening quick advances in technology and the ease at which we’re able to connect from anywhere in the world, a mix of options for when, where, and how to attend classes is to be expected in today’s MBA market. Particularly in the realm of part-time and online programs. Lehigh University’s College of Business & Economics is more than happy to oblige and does so with its Flex MBA program.
This unique program is synchronous in style, but puts students in the driver’s seat when it’s time to decide where and how they’ll attend class. Showing up to campus, logging in from home, work, or travel, or a combination of all the above options; all of it is left totally up to the student. Add to that a decide-as-you-go format as students are free to toggle between in-person and online learning from week to week and semester to semester.
THE EVOLUTION TO DISTANCE LEARNING OPTIONS
The Flex MBA program was first started about 50 years ago. More recently — about 10 years ago — an evolution began: online options that could take the place of the program’s traditional classroom setting. Andrew Ward, Associate Dean of Graduate Programs at the College of Business & Economics, tells Poets&Quants these options stemmed from the success the school had seen in offering distance learning to partnering organizations.
“When we first started offering long distance versions of our Flex MBA courses, we were doing it with satellite locations and only with specific organizations around the region that we had established partnerships with. Places like Merck pharmaceuticals where they’d have a dedicated room and employees could go there to view a live video feed to the classroom. That then morphed about 10 years ago. We were able to switch from those satellite feeds to using more internet-based video. This allowed us to not just have fixed locations, but that they could do it from anywhere using their own laptop or computer.”
From there, online options for Lehigh’s Flex MBA program were born. The program itself is 36 credits made up of 11 courses — six core and five electives. All of the core courses are available for students to take in person or they have the luxury of tapping in from a location that’s more convenient for them. No questions asked and no need to clear it with the instructor ahead of time.
“When we first started doing this, people had to say whether they were going to do each course by distance or on campus,” Ward says. “Under the technology, it took a little more to get people set up for distance learning in terms of laptop settings and other factors. Now that it’s just web based, we don’t need that and we can be more flexible. Probably three or four years ago is when we started allowing people to come and go as they please.”
EXPERIENCE ‘CLASSROOM LIVE’ AT LEHIGH
With the exception of a handful of electives, all classes are live-streamed for students to instantaneously access via the business school’s web-based learning environment called Classroom LIVE. This is done thanks to an abundance of technology the business school has invested into its classrooms plus the help of a dedicated tech person who is on duty for each class meeting.
“In addition to the students who are seated inside the physical classroom, we have distance learning students on their computers and can see the classroom, the other people online, and the faculty member. They can interact with the classroom as if they were sitting there,” says Ward who teaches the first core course Introduction to the Organization. “We have four cameras in the classroom and we have somebody in a control room managing the video feed out of the classroom. Inside the room are several monitors so the in-person attendees can see the students who are joining us virtually.It is very much a live classroom and is as close as you can get to being in a face to face setting.”
While reporting to class can be done virtually or in-person, all classes take place on set days and during set times. Students typically take two classes per semester, so that’s two days a week they’re in class or logged on to Classroom LIVE. In the event they need to miss a class, all sessions are recorded and available for students to view.”
COST, CURRICULUM, AND CONCENTRATIONS
The cost of the Flex MBA at Lehigh CBE — a school known for its affordability — is $1,075 per credit. This amounts to just under $39,000 for the total cost of the program. But one perk the school calls out is that the cost is the same whether students choose to go on campus or online. Ward says, “You don’t have to sign up for different prices. It’s the same cost regardless.”
In addition to the high degree of flexibility and one size fits all price structure, Lehigh says a program differentiator is CBE’s heavy use of co-teaching methods. “I would say we take a very different approach to our curriculum. Almost all are co-taught with two faculty members in the classroom,” says Ward. “We typically pair up areas that often conflict inside organizations like marketing and supply chain. Other examples of these pairings that Ward gives are accounting and data analytics, finance and accounting, and strategy and communications. “Business students not only need to know about these disciplines, but how they interact together so we often pair them up in the same course.”
So what does the curriculum look like? The program kicks off with a required student orientation at Lehigh’s campus in Bethlehem, PA. During this two-day period, students can expect activities that help them get to know their fellow classmates plus professional development activities. Because no orientation would be complete without some form of group work, there’s also a live case to work on. An organization is brought in to present a challenge. Students are put into teams to tackle the case, they present their work to executives from the organization, and receive feedback.
After orientation, they’re off and running into the program’s core followed by any electives or concentrations they choose. The six-course core includes Introduction to the Organization & its Environment, Managing Financial & Physical Resources, Managing Information, Managing Products & Services, Managing People, and Integrative Experience. Concentration options are plentiful and include deep dives into Corporate Entrepreneurship, Finance, International Business, Marketing, Project Management, and Supply Chain Management.
On average, students who take two courses per semester will complete the program in two years. For others who opt to go at a slower pace, the school allows up to six years to satisfy degree requirements.
In addition to the Flex MBA program being AACSB accredited and U.S. News ranking it 21st in best online MBA programs, the program’s finance concentration was ranked #10 this year for best online MBAs in finance. Ward attributes the recognition by BestColleges.com to Lehigh’s separate master’s program in analytical finance. “We developed and invested in a lot of courses in different types of finance especially quantitative and analysis and all those course as are available to MBA students as well so that gives us a much greater depth in different options of finance than you would typically get from a program of our size.”
LOOKING AHEAD, MORE INNOVATIVE ELECTIVES
When attending Lehigh CBE’s Flex MBA program, students can expect class sizes in the range of 20-25. To obtain admission, applicants will need at least two years of work experience and at least 10 if they’d like to be considered for a GMAT/GRE waiver. If they don’t qualify for the waiver, the school shares that the typical minimum GMAT score they see is around 550. There is no minimum undergraduate GPA the school requires, but pre-requisite courses in statistics, accounting, and economics are required if they haven’t been taken previously.
“Not everybody has to take the prerequisites and typically most people will waive at least one or two of those. If not, all three,” Ward says. “We do offer classes in all of those areas, but you don’t have to do it at Lehigh. You can do and economics class at another institution, for instance, and then we accept that as satisfying the prerequisite.”
Looking ahead, Lehigh intends to keep iterating on the Flex MBA, especially in terms of electives Ward says. “We’re piloting an elective this coming spring with the United Nations. A big focus they have is reaching sustainable development goals. They’re interested in having our students see how the UN may look at private sector to achieve those goals. So we’re crafting a course around that. This will be something new for us, but a unique opportunity that you wouldn’t get anywhere else.”