If it seems that every school has a GMAT waiver policy for its online MBA program based on years in the workplace, it’s because they do — most of them, that is. But that wasn’t always the case. The Graduate Management Admission Test was long considered an essential element to all MBA programs — and then Syracuse University Whitman School of Management, which has one of the largest online MBA programs in the U.S., made a calculated decision, advertising a waiver for those with five years’ experience as way to get the curious clicking. It worked.
“We’ve seen that whenever we do tests of digital messaging, whether that be display ads or banner ads or if we’re testing new messaging in social media, GMAT waiver tends to win hands-down in terms of at least drawing people in,” Amy McHale, assistant dean for master’s programs, told Poets&Quants in September 2016. “I think a lot of schools are moving in that direction … the whole idea being that you’ve got other things to judge the population on.”
McHale hit the nail on the head. And so did Syracuse. The MBA@Syracuse, ranked 47th in 2017 by U.S. News & World Report, is a whopping 54 credits that can rarely be finished in less than two and a half years, and that costs an immoderate $81,000 — yet to say it’s flourishing is an understatement. The program has a student population of more than 1,200, with hefty intakes and packed-to-the-gills residencies in far-flung places four times per year. The curious are clicking, and clicking, and clicking.
FOR MANY STUDENTS, MANY DISCIPLINES, MANY ELECTIVES
Syracuse Whitman has intakes in October, January, April, and July. Studies are split between 90 minutes per week of pre-recorded, asynchronous material, and 90 minutes of live session through the Adobe Connect platform. There are 12 core courses in a variety of basic disciplines: accounting, finance, marketing, supply chain, managerial, economics, etc., as well as a leadership course, an IT/e-commerce course, and the capstone, called Global Entrepreneurial Management, which McHale says is essentially development of a business case for a product or service in a team environment. Students also must complete three “residencies,” 1-credit, in-person conference-style courses that run on weekends both in Syracuse and in remote — and sometimes exotic — locations. One was recently held in Lima, Peru, and an 85-student contingent is preparing for the next one in January in Dubai.
Students have five electives in addition to the three residencies, and while they can choose to get a general management degree, they also have five concentrations to choose from: Accounting, Entrepreneurship, Finance, General Management, Supply Chain Management/Logistics, and Marketing. Most of the curriculum is the same for the online and on-campus students, McHale says.
All online classes are mandated to have fewer than 20 students; the average class size is 16. The student body is overwhelmingly male (68.3%), with 34% minority students and an average age of 34.
FROM STUDENT TO TEACHER
Dave Bauer was researching distance learning MBA programs a few years ago when he found the online MBA@Syracuse program. A program manager for a cybersecurity defense contractor, Bauer had already researched brick-and-mortar schools and couldn’t find a program that fit what he was looking for — until he found Syracuse Whitman. “Rankings helped me a lot in determining the quality of a school,” Bauer tells Poets&Quants, “and the MBA@Syracuse program had excellent rankings, as well as a long history of effectively delivering their program, which was also very important to me.”
He applied, was accepted, and quickly formed more than the usual bond with his new school. He excelled and ws promoted at work — but he also began to look beyond his current field. In fact, a year after attaining his MBA, Bauer is now an adjunct faculty member at Syracuse Whitman.
“Before I had even graduated, I received a significant promotion from my old position at my company. But the previous field I was in, linguistics, was not my ideal choice, and proved to be very limited in job opportunities in the area I wanted to live in,” Bauer says. “I feel my MBA made me highly competitive and ultimately won me the new position at that company. It set me on a trajectory to an always increasing responsibility set, which was after all, the original reason I set out to earn an MBA.
“As a graduate of the program, I feel one is inclined to recommend the program with which they completed their degree. But I can also say I recommend this program because I am now a part of it by teaching as adjunct faculty. I was proud to be asked to teach the Project Management course offered in the Supply Chain track, and also offered as an elective.
“Accessibility, and being more than just a name on a class roster, were extremely important to me. I have kindled many meaningful relationships with faculty and staff, and I felt a sense of belonging to Whitman. This is something that is extremely challenging to achieve in a distance-learning environment. For this reason, I know for certain I made an excellent choice when I finally settled on the MBA@Syracuse program three years ago.”
ON-CAMPUS REQUIREMENT CAUSES DIP IN ENROLLMENT
Syracuse Whitman’s use of distance learning goes back to 1977. Its current online program, the MBA@Syracuse, was certified by New York State in 2009, then relaunched in January 2015.
When it began in 2009, the Syracuse online program was more rigid, requiring three campus visits per year, says Amy McHale, who joined Syracuse in 2008. The school also had just three intakes, she says, which tended to lengthen the time it took to finish. “You had to come to campus for four to five days to start your classes, then you went online, then you came back and did your finals and started your new classes,” she recalls. “There wasn’t a lot of consistency in terms of guidelines for what faculty could do online. They didn’t really have a wonderful platform like Adobe Connect at their disposal. They had some, but nowhere near the extent that we have today.
“What we were seeing was a decline in enrollment because all of these newer online MBA programs that were coming to fruition, while they may have had immersions, they didn’t require that you had to be on campus. With the addition of an intake and the advent of the GMAT waiver we became much more flexible, and we’ve grown.”