Michigan Ross’ Brand-New Online, Part-Time MBA [Episode 309]
Interview with Michigan Ross’ Dr. Wally Hopp, Associate Dean for Part-Time MBA, and Anne Schoen, Associate Admissions Director for Part-Time MBA Programs [Show Summary]
Michigan Ross has a brand new MBA program – an online option to add to its menu of part-time programs as well as its flagship, highly ranked full-time program. We’re going to learn about this great new option among online MBAs in an interview with Michigan Ross’ Dr. Wally Hopp, Associate Dean for Part-Time MBA, and Anne Schoen, Associate Admissions Director, Part-Time MBA Programs.
All About the Michigan Ross Online, Part-Time MBA [Show Notes]
Our guests today are Dr. Wally Hopp, Associate Dean for Part-Time MBA, and Anne Schoen, Associate Admissions Director, Part-time MBA Programs at Michigan Ross. I’m going to omit my usual bios because they have long ones and because there’s a lot to talk about with the brand new online MBA program that Ross is offering.
Can you provide an overview of Ross’ new online MBA? [1:57]
The core curriculum is the same as our existing programs, with electives overlapping with other programs and other characteristics of our programs – the action-based learning component and MAP programs, for example, just like any other program. The requirements and rigor are the same, as well as the focus on group work. The real difference is the medium used to conduct the courses. The program is at a distance, of course, but we also provide career support, networking, and events that can be tapped into remotely, so we hope that the answer is it isn’t all that different from any other program.
What made Ross decide to add an online option to its menu of MBA programs? [3:32]
We are delivering to the niche of the market that wants more flexibility to pursue their MBA while working. They care a lot about being able to continue their careers, so value staying where they are and going at the pace they can go at. It became clear we could meet those needs more effectively by leveraging technology than we could by insisting on the traditional residential education. We got here in more than one step. Our weekend program is already 1/3 digital, so this was the next step in evolution, offering a bigger portion online and smaller residential format for people who need more flexibility.
The website touts the program’s flexibility. Is there a recommended time to complete the program? Or course load per semester? What is the shortest amount of time? Longest amount of time that you anticipate? [5:05]
The shortest time is probably two years, and that would be with a pretty hefty workload – four courses per semester. We expect there will be some students who opt for that, but the more typical pace is about 3.5 years, and there will be some who will go longer. 3.5 years is two courses per semester. Our courses are offered in half semesters, so it essentially involves taking one course at a time continually through the whole 3.5 years, which is about a 10-15 hour/week workload. That is manageable in our evening students and think it will be with online students as well.
Can you describe the residential component of the program? [6:31]
We want to make sure we provide the experiences that students can’t get through the online channel during the residential session. The focus will be on intensive action-based role playing on campus mixed with other blocks of Ross students. It is important that participative learning happens for online students and they feel like they are truly part of the Michigan Ross community. Each session will center around some kind of activity. The first will be on business leadership, participating in the Ross Crisis Challenge, which is a simulated challenge that is essentially a 24-hour experience where groups of students try to manage through a crisis, going in front of a board, and doing a press conference with real reporters. We will wrap the course around the experience, so they will be with other online MBA students taking a course about business leadership around the crisis challenge. So hackathons, simulations, and role-playing experiences will be the foundation of courses that integrate the curriculum, each about 3.5 days long.
How will MAP work for the online program? [9:53]
Hooking them up with industry sponsors works the same – you bid on projects, and work in teams, but unlike where teams travel to the client with their advisor in the traditional program, we will conduct the business of the project via teleconferencing. The sponsors have no problem with this since they do this all the time. In terms of learning objectives, rubrics, and 360 feedback, all of that will be based on the Ross model. Students will just get that experience over the web as opposed to via travel.
What are you looking for in the admissions process? [14:33]
The process is essentially the same as our other programs – GRE/GMAT, essays, letters of recommendation, resume, and interview are all required, with the interviews via invitation only. We are looking for intellectual acumen so we know they can do well in the program and handle the rigor. We are also looking for folks who are collaborative – teamwork is so important. Communication skills are also critical, and through the essays we hope to get a sense of the type of person they are, impact they’ve had on their organization, and hopefully see they have a sophisticated view of the world, offer diverse perspectives, and will be able to educate classmates about what they are a subject matter expert in.
What are the essay questions? [16:50]
They are the same for all of our programs. We have a series of short answer prompts that are 100 words each. There are three groups of questions, and you have to answer one from each group:
I want people to know that I:
I made a difference when I:
I was humbled when:
I am out of my comfort zone when:
I was aware that I was different when:
I find it challenging when people:
These questions let us understand the why behind what they are answering and how they adapt to each situation. It also forces them to be succinct.
Ross lays out its criteria for acceptance very clearly on the site. One of them is “Fit with the Ross approach to management education as demonstrated through essays.” What is Ross’ approach to management education? [18:40]
Action-based and collaborative. The good old Midwestern work ethic is alive and well in Ann Arbor. Your educational experience depends on your classmates to some extent, so we are looking for people who have good people skills, are responsible, etc. There are things that help us filter out people who would be damaging to the action-based learning.
Is experiential learning a big component of the program? [19:50]
Yes. I teach the core operations class, and we do some simulations, so after they learn some basic skills we give them a learn-by-doing experience that can be done virtually. It is not a matter of here is a formula and figure out where to apply it. Instead it is, “Here is a problem, solve it, and see if you can take this learning and generalize it to something universal. People learn a lot better from inductive learning – seeing the world and figuring out patterns.
Is the interview virtual? [22:45]
Yes. We figured that made the most sense. It is more behaviorally based. A lot of emphasis is based on work history. The resume is the only thing the interviewer will have, so make sure anything relevant or important is listed on that resume.
Other than the residential vs online component, what is different about the Ross online MBA than a traditional part-time MBA. [23:47]
As little as possible. We have the same learning objectives across all the MBAs – subject matter, assessment, all very similar across programs. Since we have the residencies, we are turning some things that are co-curricular in the residential program into a foundation for a course. We wanted to give students the experience of being in role plays at the same time as fulfilling requirements. We are not sure if this will change how we do things in the residential program yet.
Can someone start in the online program and switch to the on campus program? Either full-time or part-time? [25:19]
The online and evening programs are the two most flexible programs so within those programs one could change, or they could still come to Ann Arbor for a particular course they want to take live, but the traditional, weekend and exec programs wouldn’t work due to them being cohort based.
Is there a work experience requirement for online MBA applicants? [26:49]
Yes. It is the same for other part-time programs, with at least 12 months of fulltime work experience. Average experience range is 5-7 years. For the pool so far, it’s tending to skew higher, with 7-8 years of experience.
At the time the show airs, the next and last application deadline for the inaugural class starting in Fall 2019 will be May 20. Any advice for those interested in being a part of the inaugural class and starting their online MBA this fall? [27:43]
Study for the GMAT or GRE and get that taken, as that is usually the hardest part of the application. Use your study time for test prep as a dry run for time management. It’s a good time to carve out hours of your day to study. Take time to talk with your employer about work flexibility, and with your friends and family so they know that you may not see them as often as you usually do, as it does take a village to complete the program.
What about those planning ahead to apply next year? How can they prepare? And will you have more than one intake? [28:55]
We are just planning for a fall intake initially and see what demand is like. We have the ability for a winter or spring intake but it all depends on how fast faculty can get courses up, as well as demand. As for preparing, study for the GMAT, call us – we do phone consultations weekly. Visit campus to see our culture, and talk to student ambassadors in the part-time program. We believe their experiences will be very similar and they will have great tips to share with prospective students.
What is a frequently asked question about the program that surprised you since announcing the online option is coming to Ross? [31:49]
We built this program with flexibility in mind, so were surprised that students were always asking, “When can I come to campus?” and, “How often can I come to campus?” because I thought the reason students wanted online was because they didn’t want to come to campus. Once people are in the community they want to be here, we just didn’t want to make it burdensome to require that kind of travel.
Flexibility means more than distance-based, and not needing the ability to regularly come to campus, but no one had thought about. It did make us happy to integrate the online students into the Ross community because it is obvious they want to be part of it.
Will students have access to all of the career services components? [35:25]
Yes they will, which includes individualized career development planning – whatever that looks like for them. We have all of our traditional workshops, mock interviewing, resume help and all that, like leveraging negotiation strategies. They also can participate in on-campus recruiting.
What question would you like to answer that I didn’t ask? [36:31]
What has the impact been to business education overall from going down this online channel?
Once you dig into the details of how you do it, you deconstruct business education and wind up finding ways of making the education better across the board. Within evening and weekend programs we have better assurance of learning models in place as a result of all the work we are doing for the online program. Ross now has better programs across the board. It has been a great experience for us as a school.
One thing we didn’t talk about is class size – we are thinking small, maybe 40-50 in the inaugural class. As we progress through, we think steady state will get a bit larger. We want exceptional quality, and size is dependent on the market size. We are hoping that the number of people interested in our program is up into the low hundreds in steady state.
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