The University of Florida Hough Graduate School of Business has been delivering MBA content online since the 20th century. Back in 1999, when the online program was launched, the school would mail VHS tapes to students, says John Gresley, assistant dean and director of the Florida MBA.
In coming years the school began using iPods, pre-recording all course materials and giving the students each a device so they could download an entire semester’s worth of lectures while on one of the required campus visits. The students then would consume the material at a distance. In time, Hough began using iPads.
Gresley tells this story to illustrate that the school has been in the online MBA space since before it was as easy and convenient as it is now. “This is not something that we decided to start doing when it became popular and easy for everybody,” he tells Poets&Quants. “We’ve been committed to offering students a quality MBA education at a distance for as long as we’ve been able to do so.” That commitment includes several faculty who have taught in the online program since its launch: “They’ve grown up with the technology, so as the technology has gotten better, they’ve gotten better,” Gresley says.
“The reality is, they’ve been creating content and designing classroom experiences to be consumed at a distance in an asynchronous way from the very beginning.”
FOUR FOCUS AREAS REPRESENT ‘STRENGTHS OF THE COLLEGE’
Florida Hough, ranked No. 5 in the 2017 U.S. News & World Report online MBA rankings (tied with Arizona State Carey), actually offers two online MBA options: a two-year, 48-credit program that takes 27 months to complete and involves six to seven visits to the school’s Gainesville campus; and a one-year, 32-credit accelerated program for undergraduate business majors who already have foundations in core subjects. That group meets on campus four to five times per year.
Enrollment is strong, Gresley says, with 94 currently enrolled in the one-year program and 233 in the two-year program. In the academics realm, the Florida Hough online MBA student population boasts an average undergraduate GPA of 3.3, average GMAT of 585, and an average GRE (which 30% of students take in place of the GMAT) of 303.
The combined program has several students from Canada and one from South America, Gresley says, but “requiring coming to campus so many times per year does provide some hurdles.” Florida Hough’s online MBA program does, however, include students from 35 of 50 states.
Each program has two annual intakes, in August and January. Each member of the two-year cohort that will start in spring of 2018 will pay a total $59,807; members of the one-year program will pay $49,205. Students can choose from four focus areas: Finance, Entrepreneurship, Marketing, and Global Business — “focus areas, not concentrations,” Gresley says, “so they’re a deeper dive in the curriculum for students to find areas that may be more applicable for them, but it’s not something that is officially recognized on a transcript. … Those four areas are really the strengths of the college. That’s where we have the concentration of faculty and the availability — we use the same senior faculty and tenure-track faculty we would use in our full-time and professional programs. They’re teaching courses already and using that same teaching experience and learned knowledge in the online space, as well.”
‘I SEE THE BRIGHTEST AND BEST AROUND ME SO OFTEN!’
Matt Sherman, currently an administrative support assistant at UF, was a liberal arts undergrad at the university and considered a change in careers after working in computer software, finances, and nonprofits. In his research into grad schools he was struck by the strength of the UF leadership and its strong rankings. “UF’s materials moved me from ‘perhaps I’ll settle for a second UF degree’ to being more than impressed with the tone and style of the UF correspondence, a real eye-opener in contrast to what other top schools were mailing to me,” he tells Poets&Quants.
Praising Dean Gresley’s vision, Sherman joined a cohort that will graduate in the spring of 2018. He’s been impressed and pleased with his decision every step of the way.
“I see the brightest and best around me so often, I have to wonder why the department admitted me, too!” he says. “My fellow students include everyone from recent business undergraduates to Ph.D. scientists, physicians, and others earning their sixth or seventh college degree. These student leaders’ choice for UF affirmed my choice of graduate school. My cohort includes West Point and Annapolis military graduates, young leaders earning MBAs to hone their already successful nonprofit and startup ventures, working moms and dads like me wanting life upgrades, and a diverse student body from as far as California and Texas, Haiti and Serbia, all seeking UF’s mix of individual and group work plus exciting times together in Gainesville.”
Praising everything from the facilities to the career placement program to the global trek program that saw him travel to Abu Dhabi, Sherman adds: “This has all been a huge change from feeling like an anonymous undergrad student at a large university, to becoming part of a small cohort of students learning and growing together. I wish I had begun my MBA program years ago. I tell friends, ‘There is no other MBA program. Attend with the University of Florida!’”
PRAISE FROM STUDENTS AND ALUMS
Other voices weigh in with views on the Florida Hough online MBA program:
“It became very clear in speaking with both traditional and online alumni of multiple MBA programs around the country that UF provided a rigorous academic program, strong national brand, and excellent career services,” says Ryan Totolo, program manager at Oceaneering Entertainment Systems. “Ultimately, the program provided the tangible skills and perspective necessary to pivot to senior management in my organization. … It was the best of both worlds. I was able to complete my MBA from a top ranked school while continuing to gain experience in my career. I couldn’t ask for a better combination of education and respect for my immediate career aspirations.”
Adds Ashlee Monteith, who graduated in December 2016: “The program fit well into my career path. I was a bodily injury claims adjuster when I started the program and got promoted to a new role as business analyst shortly after starting the program. I’m still a business analyst with the same team, but I had a baby and went on maternity leave shortly after graduation, so that has kept me from starting a new job or moving up. However, I am a top performer on my team, and I do believe my MBA differentiates me from my peers.”
Nicole Popp, who works for Google in Mountain View, California, will graduate from the program in December 2017. She has no doubts about the value of the MBAshe’s about to receive.
“I believe that the UF MBA program has prepared me for an exciting career,” Popp tells P&Q. “The UF MBA exposes me to different areas in business and I will continue to build on it. The network is also very good and I am impressed with the caliber of students in my cohort. While the format is presented online, my cohort is very close and we have created a strong network.”
‘WE HAVE A TRACK RECORD AND WE CAN DELIVER ON IT’
According to Financial Times alumni data, graduates of the Florida Hough online MBA class of 2013 saw a 31% increase in salary, reaching an average today of $124,449. Still, says John Gresley, ROI might not be the best way to judge the program.
“We have started to invest more, as most of our peers in the industry have, in understanding how to best assess the outcomes for professional students,” he says. “It’s not as cut-and-dry as the full-time program, where you get a job and it pays you a certain amount of money. When the class of 2013 graduated, we still weren’t where we wanted to be with career outcomes because a lot of folks were still being reimbursed or they weren’t looking to make the change in the same way. – We know of folks that are increasing their salaries and getting promoted, and a lot of that is anecdotal right now, but it’s something that we’ve been tracking more in the last eight, 12, 16 months.
“If you figure that a third of each class is looking to get promoted, then the outcome reporting thing there would be more money or different job title. If you think a third of the class is trying to switch careers within an industry, you have to standardize that, because you’re giving up a certain amount of time with the company and starting over, and that may have a salary bump and it may not depending on what role you’re seeking. And if you’re looking to make a switch from, say, being a high school teacher to being a financial analyst, the salary is going to be different … and so it’s really hard to determine data on outcomes.
“Then we can start to have informed conversations on things like ROI — if you’re spending $58,000 on an online MBA and you’re making $125,000 four years later, you can start to see how that would be a payoff.”
Why choose Florida to find that payoff? Easy, Gresley says: They’ve got the experience.
“We’ve been at this for a long time and we’re good at it. The established brands are the ones that have been doing it, that have learned and know what the pitfalls are,” he says. “We’ve grown it in-house, so if there’s a problem, we have to fix it — it’s our technology, it’s our staff, it’s our faculty. Everybody is invested in the program, and it’s that type of investment in the program across the board from students, staff, and faculty that gives us an edge.
“You know what you’re going to get — we have a track record and we can deliver on it.”