West Virginia University is enhancing its Executive MBA program with a new online version. The first cohort will enter the program in August 2010. As part of our business school innovation series, Karl von Gunten interviewed Gary Insch, Director of Graduate Programs and Associate Professor of Management, and Elizabeth Vitullo, Associate Director of Executive MBA Programs at West Virginia University.
Tell us about your new program.
The program is an online version of our current Executive MBA program. The Online Executive MBA is a 48 credit-hour program spanning two years.
The first class will enter the program in Fall 2010. We announced the program this year in January and have received hundreds of prospective student inquiries about the program. We plan to accept 35 students into the first cohort and then accept a second cohort in January 2011.
The majority of the program is online. Face-to-face residencies will augment about 10% of the online curriculum.
How are the residencies structured?
The program includes one residency per semester for a total of 4 residencies. Three of the residencies are hosted in Morgantown and one is in Washington, DC. The 3-4 day residencies focus on experiential learning and activities that cannot be captured in an online environment.
For example, we participate in the Washington Campus. This residency is focused on how business and government interface. This is integrated into one of our core classes and so students are exposed to people from all arms of government. We discuss hot button issues. Students are able to ask questions such as, "How does this impact me and what I do in my job?"
It also provides students with a number of contacts in DC, so if they ever encounter a problem or need to reach out and talk to someone in DC, they have a fistful of business cards and network in the nation’s capital.
We believe a vital element of a MBA program is the network developed.
Some people in the applicant pool will not be able to engage in the program due to the residency requirement. But in the long run, we felt it was necessary to include all of the experiences of learning and growing with one another to help develop their network, which we think is fairly unique approach in the online world.
What prompted you to take the program online?
The big answer to that is accessibility. Our prior version of the online Executive MBA program delivered the curriculum in eight locations across the state through videoconference technology. That was great and is still part of our outreach program at the College of Business and Economics.
However, the program was offered two evenings a week from 6-9 pm so if you were not within driving distance of those locations, it was very difficult to pursue this executive MBA program. Over the last couple of years, our prospective students voiced an interest in a more flexible option to pursuing the program, which led us to change the delivery format.
Gary Insch, Director of Graduate Programs
Tell us more about the curriculum.
The program offers a general management curriculum, which includes coursework in all functional areas of business. There are opportunities to take electives so you can add a level of specialization to your degree.
One elective that we're really excited about is called the Executive Project. With this core course, students are able to contribute directly to the companies that are sponsoring them by solving a current business challenge through the context of our program under the expert guidance of our faculty. These projects can help move companies forward and it's an opportunity to display the student’s new skill set. This may lead additional opportunities to move up the ladder with the new responsibilities. We think the Executive Project is appealing to both students and their employers in providing MBA student payback and employer return on investment.
What else makes the program unique?
We truly believe we have some of the greatest faculty. They bridge the gap between theory and practice. Our faculty are actively involved in research and business consulting, working with businesses throughout the state so they bring a lot of real world experience into the classroom.
Elizabeth Vitullo, Associate Director of EMBA Programs
Did the faculty participate in developing the curriculum?
Yes. We met with each faculty individually who is teaching in the program so that they understand the concept of the program and when the students are going to be on campus so that we can get them in front of them.
We were meeting with a long-time faculty member just the other day, and she said, "You know, I really think this is the way of the future so I really want to do this right." This prompted us to discuss a number of resources that she could pursue to assist with her course development.
The faculty also worked with our Instructional Technology Resource Center (ITRC) whose expertise is in online learning. They helped the faculty deconstruct and reconstruct their classes for an online environment. The ITRC has been fantastic working hand-in-hand with our individual faculty members so it's been a pretty smooth process.
Did you conduct any MBA market research to test the feasibility of this program?
We kept a database of prospective student inquiries over the last few years and conducted a MBA market research survey with that group to test demand for this type of program and how the program should be structured. We also explored the usage of social media and how students discover information about programs to attend.
Are there any special admission requirements for the program?
An undergraduate degree in any discipline is required. At least two years of work experience is necessary. The GMAT is required, but we do not require minimum GMAT scores as we take a holistic approach to the application. We evaluate the student's work experience, undergraduate GPA, undergraduate degree, together with GMAT scores. Students have the option of including 2-3 letters of reference and/or a personal statement.
What should prospective students know when comparing your program to other executive MBA programs?
It is a different way of learning so students have to be comfortable with technology. You don't necessarily have to be technically savvy but you have to be open to learning online.
Secondly, committing to an executive MBA program is a huge commitment. And it's usually not just committing yourself -- you are often committing your family time and your work time so the commitment needs to be thoughtfully considered.
The online format offers students a great deal of flexibility to pursue an MBA while maintaining momentum in their career with as few disruptions as possible. While the program is delivered in an online environment with support from our faculty and staff, students will take significant ownership of their own learning. This means they will need to reach out to the faculty and the administration to let us know how we can help them succeed.
How do you plan to measure the success of the program?
Obviously, matriculation to graduation is a key indicator. We plan to assess the students, both in their experience and their learning throughout the program. In addition to MBA student outcomes, we will evaluate their experience and how to further help them succeed in the program.
We will also explore how to keep them connected to WVU. Even though they may be working remotely, they are WVU students. They are Mountaineers so we want to ensure that they feel part of the community.
Karl von Gunten, guest writer for this article, works with Percept Research as a Strategic Communications Consultant. Karl assists clients with business school marketing strategy and integrated communications programs. Karl welcomes your questions and comments.