Why would a former member of the Food & Drug Administration who served under President Obama’s tenure as a senior media advisor find himself wanting an MBA degree? University of Maryland online MBA student, Jason Young, who is now a Senior Vice President of Media Relations for AARP, offers up a pretty straightforward explanation.
“Everyone needs to be really capable within their lane, but I think having a perspective, observations, and contributions outside of your lane are key too.”
Most people get an MBA because they want to participate more fully in the life of the organization of which they are a part of. That’s what Judy Frels of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business shared in a Poets & Quants interview about the school’s online MBA option. Frels is a Clinical Professor of Marketing and Academic Director of the Smith Online MBA.
“They want to know things like: why do we make the decisions we make and how do we measure success as a business? They’re successful because they’re smart, but there’s something they feel they’re missing: an appreciation for what goes on across an organization and deeply wanting to know the whys across an organization.”
When it came to choosing a program, Young, who is a self-described “spreadsheet maker” says it boiled down to program requirements, reputation, cost, synchronous, and asynchronous learning. “I considered some on-campus programs then ultimately concluded that University of Maryland’s online MBA was the absolute best value.”
“It simply fits. The residencies, live lectures, and group work really make this program.”
The Smith Online MBA does class intakes three times a year; every January, May, and September. Students kickoff the program by participating in a required three-day residency at the university’s campus in College Park, Maryland.
“In these first three days, we work hard and we play hard,” Frels tells Poets & Quants.
Prior to arriving on campus, the program requires students to complete Excel pre-work because, “Being capable with spreadsheets is a good thing to do before you get into MBA work,” she says.
During the three-day residency, there is an action learning project wherein students are tasked with formulating a business strategy for a pre-determined business challenge. “We may say to them, design the watch of the future. Then we provide a lot of supplies, put them in a room, and have them tell us things like their market, what their watch will do, and ask them to draft a short business plan.”
More generally, “During the residency is when students meet face to face with classmates, professors, staff, etc. We lay out the expectations of the program so they really know what they’re getting into. We also encourage you to get a buddy, someone to call when you feel like you’re drowning because everyone will experience that feeling at one moment or another.”
Jason Young echos Frels’ sentiments about the opening residency. “To be successful in an online program, it’s about balance. One of the things about getting the balance right is learning the expectations of you. The opening residency did a fantastic job of setting that expectation for us,” he says.
On the “play hard” side of things, Smith’s opening residency includes happy hours and dinners every night so students can get to know each other, find a friend, and begin developing a network.
FORMAT AND DELIVERY
The curriculum for the online MBA consists of Foundation I and Foundation II (year one and year two) classes for a total of 54 credits. Courses take place over a period of 14-week terms and students typically take two classes per term, broken into seven weeks each.
“Every week for those two courses you’ll have a live session. You and, at-most, 24 others will log on at 7:00 PM or 8:45 PM — whatever’s more convenient for you — and join a 90-minute Adobe Connect session with a professor and classmates,” Frels says. Then she likens the live courses to a Skype call. “You’ll see everyone and the professor. And everyone sees you. You’ll have work from the professor that should already be completed before class. He or she will lead you in discussion, course work, etc. For seven weeks from 7:00 to 8:30 or 8:45-10:15 that will be your schedule.”
While two classes a week for 90 minutes each is the schedule, Frels says students should expect to spend an additional 10-12 hours per week per course on top of that.
For Young — who entered the program three semesters ago after being out of school for 20 years — adjusting to the schedule and fitting it all in has been the most challenging so far.
“I go as a fulltime student and most of my peers seem to do the same thing. We’re in class together twice a week and there’s group work that may be assigned. It’s very intense all year long, however, the workload varies from week to week. Last night I worked until 1:00 in the morning, but that was mostly because it’s the end of the semester.”
“It’s a seven-semester sprint made up of evenings and weekends and group assignments and so on,” says Young who is also working full-time as he completes the program. “Just being able to communicate that to friends and family has enabled me to be successful.”
While the synchronous parts of the program use Adobe Connect, asynchronous is done through Canvas, a learning management system (LMS) and entails outside work for students to complete within the seven-day period prior to each class. There’s also video taped lectures and links to view or read online material. “Just like other programs, we have cases, textbooks, problem sets, simulations, discussion boards, group projects, and lots of other ways to engage students in materials,” Frels says.
SPECIALIZE OR CUSTOMIZE: YOUR CHOICE
Outside of the required core courses in the program, the Smith Online MBA offers five specializations in finance, accounting, marketing, supply chain management, and information systems/business analytics. Or, students can choose the General Track option where they create their own my own path by mixing and matching electives however they’d like. For each specialization or General Track option, students have to select three courses.
Finally, the last two credits that students fulfill are the required capstone business simulation which is another three day, in-person residency and is typically their last class.
FOUR YEARS IN THE MAKING AND, ALREADY, CURRICULUM UPDATES
In January 2018, the University of Maryland Smith school will reach the online MBA program’s four-year mark. In less than five years, the school has already undergone a review of the curriculum to make enhancements for students.
Frels and Young both describe two big changes that have come out of Smith’s recent curriculum update. First, there is more emphasis on students getting a firm grounding in finance and analytics. “We’ve bumped up the required analytics content by one credit,” Frels says. “We did this by taking one of the existing analytics courses and slowing it down by splitting it into two, two-credit classes.”
Another change that students like Jason Young are excited about is the opportunity for online MBA students to take a Global Business course which now gives them an international experience offering. It used to be that this course was only offered in Smith’s full-time MBA program.
“I’m really glad they just added the international experience,” Young says. “When you think about the increase in globalization and the interconnectedness of the world, I think this piece of it is very valuable.”
TUITION AND GETTING IN
If you want to get into the Smith Online MBA program, you need to have at least two years of work experience and a minimum undergraduate grade point average of 2.8. An essay, your resume, and a letter of recommendation are other requirements. Finally, the school also looks for GMAT and GRE scores, but these can be waived if applicants can demonstrate stellar quantitative and analytical skills through their academic career or work history.
The program carries a sticker price just under $84,000, however there are scholarship opportunities and other financial assistance that’s available.