When the University of Wisconsin Consortium online MBA program began some 20 years ago, it was basically just a program for students in the university system, using compressed video in a sort of glorified correspondence course. Of course much has changed, and it began with Wisconsin’s dedication to improving the technological aspects of its MBA program.
“Staying up with the technology” might be a mantra at Wisconsin, where five instructional designers work with faculty to constantly evolve and improve the presentation of learning materials. According to Robert Erffmeyer, director of the Wisconsin Consortium MBA since it began and a professor of marketing, that gives the program a well-deserved reputation for innovation and style — and without a reliance on recorded material.
“It used to be that a faculty member would stand there in front of a camera and press buttons back and forth, then that moved to the faculty member writing up his or her lecture, then we basically brought people who were skilled at teaching and tech into the picture,” Erffmeyer tells Poets&Quants. “Faculty have learned to partner with those specialists — they’ve kind of given up a certain independence in the classroom and realized that you’re working as a team.
“We take a lot of the tech burden off the faculty’s shoulders and say, ‘You have specialists here, let them work.’ Otherwise you get some people who are maybe great in the classroom but they’re not great online — and we get it the other way round, too, we get some people who are wonderful online and they may not be such a hit face-to-face. That’s the interesting thing about online: Some people really take to it, and some say, ‘I really want to stay on campus.’ We only work, obviously, with those who really like it. Most of our faculty who teach online also teach on campus.”
A FIVE-COURSE CORE AND TONS OF ELECTIVES
The Wisconsin Consortium online MBA has 316 students and takes in more in a rolling admission at five points throughout the year. The program itself is 30 credits and has five core classes, four of which are focused around a business cycle: the first deals with an ongoing business and is team taught by operations, HR, organizational behavior, and finance faculty; the second deals with developing new products and services, with a heavy dose of marketing and managerial accounting; the third, heavy on strategy and international business, deals with managing in a global environment; and the fourth, focusing on the future, leans heavily on HR and technology. Each of these core courses is four credits; the fifth required course is a one-credit course in leadership.
Wisconsin Consortium offers 40 different electives, including popular courses like Selling Ideas at Work, a sales course for MBAs; Strategies and Tactics of Pricing; and a pair of business communications courses. Concentrations are available in healthcare administration, supply chain management, and international business. Online MBA students must complete 13 credits of electives. “Our feeling is, they know their wants and needs much more than we do, and once we kind of get over the core, it’s like, ‘You figure out what works best,’” Erffmeyer says.
The program costs just $20,000 and can be completed in as little as 22 months, though Erffmeyer says it customarily takes students between two and a half and three years to finish.
UW MBA ‘AN INVALUABLE ASSET’
Brian Coniglio finished his degree in the summer of 2017. A business administrator in the education industry, Coniglio completed the program like most students: entirely remotely, in this case from his home state of New Jersey.
“The program fit very well into my career, as my professional background had encompassed accounting and business administration,” Coniglio tells Poets&Quants. “I also was seeking a program with flexibility since I desired a work-family balance, and I was ambitious about further complementing my background with an MBA to increase my level of education and professional skills in order to make a positive difference in my organization.”
Since it was his second master’s degree, Coniglio’s primary goal was to gain “additional knowledge for creating value, techniques for facing internal and external challenges better, and strategies to develop growth initiatives.” He praised the “hands-on” teaching faculty and responsive administration, as well as the “outstanding” course selections. In his career since, the degree has meant more potential success and the ability to accept new challenges and responsibilities.
“I have become a stronger organizational leader and better at developing innovative business solutions,” Coniglio says. “The MBA has been an invaluable asset. In addition to myself, I hope to inspire others to further their own education and pursue an MBA. I believe education unlocks the doors of success to the future.
NOT THE BIGGEST BUT ‘WE LIKE TO THINK OF OURSELVES AS ONE OF THE BEST’
The average age of a Wisconsin Consortium MBA student is 32, with nine years of work experience. Thirty-nine states are represented in the school’s online student population, 55% of whom are male. The average GPA is 3.39. GMAT waivers are harder to get from Wisconsin Consortium. The school requires 15 years’ work experience, including 10 or more years in upper management, unless the applicant already has an advanced degree.
Of course, if someone is the right fit, they could find a space in the program, Robert Erffmeyer says. Wisconsin Consortium is home to a wide range of MBA seekers.
“Some people are very strategic thinkers and some people are really linear thinkers,” he says. “We offer courses with five different starting dates throughout the year, so that gives them a wide angle in terms of how they want to get through.
“We may not be the biggest but we like to think of ourselves as one of the best. There’s a lot of personal involvement, in admissions and applications and advising. We target classes at 25, so there’s certain amount of personal involvement in a class that way. They’re only taught by faculty — we don’t have any graders in there.
“And I’d like to think that while our core hits the basic elements you’d want, we try to stay away from the virtual silos where you teach your part and I teach mine. We try to integrate the different disciplines in the core. And our large number of electives gives students choices as to what the best way to advance their career will be.”