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Beginning in fall 2019, the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business will launch a part-time, online MBA program, making the school the first top-10 business school in the country to offer an online degree alternative.
The Business School currently runs weekend and evening MBA programs for professionals who are unable to commit to the full-time MBA track. These part-time programs allow students to both work full-time and earn their degrees but require students to be in close proximity to the Ann Arbor campus.
Wallace Hopp, the director of part-time programs at the Business School, said the increased accessibility will enable the program to reach a wider and more diverse cohort of students. The program is currently only offered to students in the U.S. but can accommodate travel or study abroad plans more easily than the weekend or evening MBA tracks, which demand more face-to-face contact between professors and students.
“We’re not backing away from (the weekend MBA program) at all,” Hopp said. “We’re not replacing that program. (The online program) is for the people who don’t have a family situation or a career situation where they can get to Ann Arbor every other weekend. They might be traveling, they might be doing their study from South America or wherever — it doesn’t matter, because they’re able to access this.”
According to Hopp, the business school faculty officially voted to approve the creation of the online MBA program in February 2018. Hopp said prior to the vote, the business school administration had been lobbying to create the program for nearly two years.
“To get to that point, of course, we had done a lot of work to have a concrete proposal for the faculty to evaluate,” Hopp said.
Although the online MBA program will not require students to convene in Ann Arbor every other week for class, Anne Schoen, the associate admissions director for part-time MBA programs, said the admissions committee will hold applicants to the same standards as all of the Business School programs. Schoen said the ideal student would have between five and seven years of working experience in the business field, an average undergraduate GPA of 3.4 and a GRE score between 158 and 160 out of 170 possible points for both the quantitative and verbal sections.
“From an admissions standpoint, application is the same, requirements are the same and standards are the same,” Schoen said. “So there’s nothing different that we’re looking for from this population of students that we wouldn’t normally look for in a traditional student.”
The Business School’s’ MBA programs emphasize small class sizes. According to last year’s Evening MBA class profile, 55 new students entered the evening program in 2018. Patricia Russo, the managing director of Ross’ part-time MBA programs, said the online cohort will be no different.
“We aren’t looking to admit hundreds and hundreds of students — our goals are relatively small because we’re looking for quality,” Russo said. “And if you think about, there are not that many people walking around with good stats. We’re basically looking for quality, not quantity.”
The program requires online students to travel to campus three times a year for “residencies,” which Hopp said will allow online students to network.
“When you come to a residential program, one of the things you take away from it is the network, people who are going to be important to you in your career,” Hopp said. “If you never met those people and just engaged with them online, would you have the same kind of connections to those people if you went to school with them in a geographic place? One of the ways we’re resolving that is the good old-fashioned way — our program is not 100 percent online.”
Hopp said the residencies will be comprised of workshops and competitions among students that will encourage the online cohort to build a network of contacts at the University.
“Our intent is to make sure this cohort does not feel that they’re some separate thing from the University of Michigan, but that they are actually part of the University and Ross,” Hopp said.
Business graduate student Ann Marie McKenney is part of the weekend MBA program and currently serves as president of the Part-Time MBA Board. She said the close relationships she developed with her cohort have made her MBA experience even more meaningful and worthwhile.
“I never expected to grow as close to my cohort of 114 people as I have,” McKenney said. “They have quickly become some of the closest people in my life. They’re people I talk to on a daily basis, and it speaks a lot to the Ross culture that you’re able to go through such a formative experience and grow very close and walk away with 114 people who would be willing to stand up and say, ‘I would gladly hire Ann Marie McKenney.’”
McKenney also said she supports the creation of the online MBA program because it makes an elite business education available to students around the country with many different backgrounds and interests.
“I think it speaks volumes that we’re standing behind accessibility to education and we’re willing to put this out there and be the first top 10 MBA program to do this and provide more access to this type of education, to grow the network so that more people can excel their careers despite some of the scheduling challenges or logistical challenges,” McKenney said. “I think that it speaks volumes that the University is willing to promote education across multiple levels of accessibility.”