Think if you’ve seen one online MBA program you’ve seen them all? The College of Business at Southern Illinois University Carbondale begs to differ. This program’s curriculum offers courses to help students broaden their understanding of core business functions such as finance, accounting, and marketing, but at the same time makes a concerted effort to elevate students’ managerial skills to help them become better leaders.
“That was the intent,” says John Goodale, Director of MBA Programs at SIU-Carbondale. “We wanted to do something unique that basically gives students tools and knowledge that they need as well as supplement that with communications and leadership courses to give them an additional advantage.”
BUSINESS FUNDAMENTALS AND LEADERSHIP SKILLS ALL IN ONE
U.S. News ranks the program 36th in online MBA programs and number one in the state of Illinois. The 16-course curriculum includes 10 core courses and six additional soft skills courses baked in. Students take two core classes per semester at eight weeks per class. Overlapping both of these is a 16-week long managerial skills course. The six overlapping courses are Business Communication, Critical Issues for Business Leaders, Fundamentals of Career Effectiveness, International Business, Leadership Development, and Entrepreneurship.
“We provide a program that offers students the tools and skills they need to take on managerial roles within organizations. A lot of that is business communication and leadership so we supplement general courses with others to help students acquire those specific skills,” Goodale tells Poets&Quants.
Chelsea Coursey, a May 2017 graduate, attests to acquiring those skills while completing the program and the impact it’s had on her career. “I think that the knowledge I gained from the program I‘m now able to apply in all walks of my professional life; the way I evaluate problems, the way I’ve evolved my management style, and the way I evaluate the business side of business. By that, I mean the checks and balances level and helping the institution that I represent to keep continuing in its progression. My MBA has been very integral in having that skillset.”
Coursey completed the program and has sinced transitioned to a new role with greater responsibilities and higher earnings within a new organization. “The advanced degree has helped me with experience in management and everything that comes along wit that such as the way you manage,” says the SIU-Carbondale grad who is the Director of Advancement at Purdue University’s College of Education. “I don’t think I would have strongly pursued this role or been as confident in it had I not gone through the online MBA program at SIU.”
THE BUSINESS OF AGRICULTURE
SIU’s online MBA curriculum is 42 credits in total, takes 23 months to complete, and operates in a cohort format. Since the program was launched eight years ago in 2009, one of its biggest changes came in 2015 when the school introduced agribusiness as its first concentration option.
“It was done because we’re in southern Illinois and we have an advantage in terms of being in a part of the country where agribusiness is important,” Goodale tells us. “We have a very strong agriculture department in the university so we partnered with them to offer this.”
In conjunction with the College of Agricultural Sciences, the agribusiness economics concentration includes four specialized courses for students who may be seeking careers in the field such as farm appraisal, farm management, market and policy analysis, grain merchandising, banking and finance, business management, and more. The four concentration courses are Resource Allocation in Agribusiness Firms, Problems & Policies, Research Methodology, and Agribusiness Development. SIU-Carbondale prides itself on being just one on a short list of schools that offer agribusiness as a dedicated study option.
Other than agribusiness, students have the option of completing a General MBA degree with no concentration at all. As the agribusiness concentration is still relatively new, the school says it sees the majority of its online MBA students take the General MBA route.
Cohort sizes in SIU-Carbondale’s program generally max out just under 30 students, although the school did welcome 31 students in its most recent incoming class. Average work experience is 10 years and students come from a wide variety of business fields and backgrounds. However, one constant the school says it sees is members of the military.
“A significant portion of online MBA students are going to school with grants from military experience or they’re currently in active duty,” Goodale says.
All of the course work in the Southern Illinois Online Master of Business Administration is asynchronous, but connectivity and collaboration among students are highly encouraged; particularly through group work.
Goodale, who is an associate professor in the program says, “We encourage faculty members to provide assignments where the cohort interacts. In my operations and supply chain management course, we ask the students to analyze cases then use discussion board on D2L.” D2L, or Desire2Learn, is a popular learning management system used by SIU and other universities with distance learning offerings. “When they do this, they start developing relationships and corresponding with their cohort. At the end of the semester, there’s a project where I ask them to use principles and tools they learned in class and apply it to an issue or problem at their workplace and analyze it. I allow them to form teams which provides another way to interact and conduct business in a virtual environment.”
Outside of group projects and assignments, students say constant connectivity is the way of life in the program and it’s seen in a wide variety of ways.
“Because it’s virtually so easy to stay in touch with people nowadays, we had all different forms of communication,” Coursey recalls. “We had a Facebook group we maintained and that we still use to touch base, phone numbers to text, video conferences, video lectures, and of course email. I communicated much more in the online cohort probably than I did during my undergraduate degree in a more traditional setting.”
WHAT STUDENTS CAN EXPECT
To get in, a 2.7 undergraduate grade point average is required, but the school will look at students on a case by case basis if they have significant or substantial work experience. For instance, “Sometimes GPAs are old or outdated if a student comes to us with 10 years of work experience” Goodale says.
The school accepts both the GMAT and the GRE which can be waived if a candidate has five years of work experience or already has a master’s degree. The school also obtains evidence of writing skill through written essays. Five questions are posed to applicants ranging from what professional or personal goals have you established for the next 5-10 years and how do you see graduate education helping to achieve those goals to listing your involvement in organizations or other activities and indicating your leadership roles within them.
The cost of the program is just under $18,000 and is comprehensive, something SIU sees as a differentiator. “Students pay one price that includes all their books and we supply all course material for them. All they have to do is log on and take their courses,” Goodale says. “I think this is an advantage for us in that we provide a service as well as an education.”