Finding the MBA program that fits your needs can be a fast-track to career advancement
Stacey Less’ life had progressed just about as planned.
She graduated from Ohio University in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in management information systems. That same year, she joined Hyland Software as a developer, a job she parlayed into a position as project manager in the Westlake-based company’s development department.
She married, bought a house and built a network of good friends. But by late 2010, Less was ready for a new challenge.
“I wanted to learn more about the business side of things,” says Less, 32. “I loved project management, I loved the department that I was in. I was just looking to extend my growth outside of experience in the workplace.”
Less took advantage of Hyland’s tuition reimbursement program and applied to Baldwin Wallace University’s Hybrid MBA Program, which combines the flexibility of online study with the structure and face-to-face interaction of on-campus meetings. Although she’d never taken an online course before, she quickly loved logging on to class.
“I could go to lunch and listen to a lecture, or I could come home, take the dog out and listen to a lecture,” Less says. “I could go on vacation and still know that I [was] not going to miss my coursework.”
Professors were readily accessible by phone, online and in person. And class meetings, as Less puts it, “helped tie everything together.”
The payoff was almost immediate. After her classes began in August 2011, she wanted to focus on Hyland’s overall business more than the technical tasks she was overseeing.
She asked vice president of strategy Brenda Kirk, with whom she was collaborating on a few projects, if she could work for her full time. Kirk made her a strategic analyst. By early 2013, she was promoted to her current managerial position — well before she received her MBA that August.
Less notes that the program helped her identify her leadership style, which most closely approximates the “emotional intelligence” model, and learn how to best apply it in any situation to help those around her.
Her last performance review was stellar: “Stacy continues to be a role model for achieving results,” Kirk wrote. “She works to keep projects and people on task and on track. She has instilled a sense of accountability in others that is just terrific.”
The results were similar at Babcock & Wilcox Co.’s Barberton campus. The manufacturer of power-generation equipment was so impressed with the quality and convenient scheduling of Kent State University’s executive MBA program that it worked with the university to provide classes onsite, says Bob Sturm, talent development manager.
Two classes of approximately 20 employees have completed the degree throughout the last decade, one as recently as December.
While the students represented a range of ages and employment levels, they tended to be employees with technical expertise — engineers, for example — that simply did not have the business background to move into an administrative role, Sturm notes.
“They get the business acumen skills: the accounting, finance, economics,” Sturm says. “But they also develop team and leadership skills. And they get a greater understanding of business strategy.”
These are the sort of results aspiring executives hope for when they decide to invest the time and money into earning an MBA. But choosing the right program can be daunting.
More than 40 public and private colleges and universities in Ohio offer the degree, according to the U.S. News & World Report University Directory.
The programs are varied in their focus and content as well as how and when they deliver it. We look at seven options offered by Northeast Ohio schools. It is by no means comprehensive — most of these colleges and universities offer more than one program. But it does provide a snapshot of what’s available now.
Baldwin Wallace University
Hybrid MBA Program
Duration: 2 years
Cost: $895 per credit hour; $35,800 (tuition)
Minimum significant work experience: 2 years (average 10 years)
Baldwin Wallace’s 4-year-old Hybrid MBA Program was ranked the top online graduate business program in Ohio by U.S. News & World Report earlier this year. Students complete the entire program — 40 credit hours scheduled over six consecutive semesters — in cohorts of approximately 20, explains Dale Kramer, director of MBA programs and executive MBA programs.
“Students aren’t selecting classes each semester.” he says. “The sequencing of courses, the number of courses you take each semester, is all prescribed.”
Roughly 75 percent of class content as well as some testing is delivered online. The rest is provided during on-campus sessions scheduled for the last weekend of each semester. An eight-hour Saturday is devoted to completing current classes (usually two courses worth three credit hours apiece). Often, students use this day to present small-group projects — a key component of many courses. The next day kicks off the following semester with a second eight-hour session. Faculty members are carefully selected and trained and certified in online instruction.
“They all reconfigure and redevelop their coursework for this,” Kramer says. “They are excited about it.”
The advantages: Online courses eliminate the working professional’s worries about leaving the office on time, rescheduling business trips or lining up child care to get to class. They also make it more feasible for those living and working farther from the school’s Berea campus to enroll. Kramer notes that the Hybrid semester is about four weeks longer than BW’s usual 12-week term, which allows study to proceed at a slower pace. The cohort structure keeps students on track to graduate in two years and fosters familiarity with faculty and classmates.
“We really wanted to make it as close as possible to how Baldwin Wallace approaches MBA education in a traditional environment,” he says.
John Carroll University
Boler Part-Time MBA Program
Duration: 2 to 5 years
Cost: $855 per credit hour/$28,215 (tuition)
Minimum significant work experience: 2 years (average 5 years)
Six years ago, university administrators revamped the MBA curriculum. Instead of teaching disciplines such as accounting, economics, operations and marketing in stand-alone classes, they integrated them in four, three-credit-hour core classes, all developed around a theme of managing innovation. The first core course, for example, is taught by an accounting instructor and a marketing instructor who work as a team to cover accounting, marketing, economics and statistics as they directly relate to developing innovative ideas. Classes in forecasting, resourcing and implementation and evaluation follow.
“As you move up higher and higher in an organization, you are making business decisions, not accounting decisions or marketing decisions,” explains Karen Schuele, dean of the Boler School of Business. “So you have to know how all of these business disciplines come to bear on a decision.”
The 33-credit-hour part-time MBA program is rounded out with nine credit hours of requirements, including a sequence of leadership classes and nine credit hours of electives. The program employs a cohort structure in which a group of approximately 20 students takes core courses together. Students then “plug in” electives when they want to take them, Schuele says.
The advantages: All courses are offered on evenings and weekends, a boon for working professionals who prefer learning in a traditional classroom environment on JCU’s University Heights campus. The structure helps students develop the teamwork needed to tackle real-world group projects, completed for local businesses, that reinforce what they’re learning in the classroom.
“They end up with this network of people that they can rely on for advice and friendship [after the program ends],” Schuele says.
University of Akron
Saturday MBA Program
Duration: 2 years
Minimum significant work experience: 2 years (average 6 years)
In 2010, the College of Business Administration redesigned its MBA offering based on input from senior business leaders serving on its advisory boards. It refocused the curriculum on developing leadership skills and “cultivating enterprise thinking,” according to dean Ravi Krovi. This helped the school secure its spot as the highest-ranking part-time MBA program at a public university in Northeast Ohio, as listed by Bloomberg BusinessWeek in 2012. The program is available weekday evenings in a flexible, what-you-want-when-you-want format as well as a Saturdays-only cohort structure.
In the Saturday MBA Program, groups of approximately 20 tackle a 48-credit-hour curriculum by meeting from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every other Saturday for six consecutive semesters, each of which consists of three courses totaling seven to nine credit hours. Classes alternate between the Medina County University Center, the school’s Wayne County campus and University of Akron Lakewood.
“We wanted to give these students an end goal in sight,” says Krovi. “What we told them was, ‘You make the commitment for two years, and you can be done.’ ”
The advantages: The program is an alternative for professionals who want a traditional classroom experience but are hampered by unpredictable workweeks or nights spent in the office or on the road. The scheduling attracts small-business owners and mid- to senior-level managers, says Krovi.
“With their commitments at work, family and so on, it can take five, six years sometimes [to earn an MBA],” Krovi says. “They simply don’t have that time.”
While most students prefer to attend class in person, Krovi adds, they can participate in their home campus classroom via distance-learning technologies.
Cleveland State University
Global Accelerated MBA Program/Mobile Accelerated MBA Program
Duration: 1 year
Cost: $35,500 GAMBA (includes tuition, books, international study tour, etc.)/$37,500 Mobile MBA (includes iPad, cellular service and e-books)
Minimum substantial work experience: None
The college’s accelerated version of its Global MBA Program — that is, a program in which each class is designed and taught from a global perspective — is unique in the region, says Elad Granot, assistant dean of MBA programs. He believes the mobile form of that accelerated program is the first of its kind in the world.
The Global Accelerated MBA Program halves the time required to complete the 32-credit-hour curriculum by scheduling the same classes, all taught by the same faculty, over four 10- to 12-week terms. Cohorts of 20 to 35 students meet on the CSU campus from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Saturday and from 6 to 10 p.m. on the occasional Friday.
Integral to the program is the international study tour of one to three countries with thriving global economies. On past trips to Denmark, the Netherlands, France and Spain, groups have spent eight to 12 days observing foreign companies and organizations that do business in the United States and foreign divisions of U.S.-based companies.
“We try to arrange to meet with local, Northeast Ohio players if we can,” Granot says.
The trip is the only component omitted from the mobile version of the Global Accelerated MBA. “The whole point of the mobile program is to be entirely online,” Granot says. Group projects can even be completed using the school’s online Blackboard learning management system and multiple social platforms. Tuition includes an iPad with all course content and a year of Verizon Wireless service.
“The students are never tethered to a Wi-Fi network,” he says. “They can work from anywhere, at any time.”
The advantages: In addition to the speedy completion time, the program provides a global perspective Granot believes is essential for every MBA program. “Business by its very nature is global today,” he says. The mobile version eliminates the requirement to be physically present for classes.
“We have students who are in the [military],” he says. “They’re from the region, but they serve overseas. And they’re getting their degree from Cleveland State University.”
Kent State University
Executive MBA Program
Duration: 18 months
Cost: $43,900 (includes tuition, books, class-day lunches and snacks, parking, international trip and beginning residency)
Minimum significant work experience: 5 years
This 40-credit-hour cohort executive MBA program is for professionals in functional areas of business such as marketing, human resources, health care and accounting, or senior employees in areas such as engineering who want to land a senior-management position, says Cathy DuBois, the college’s associate dean for administration. The case-based curriculum is built around leadership, strategy, finance and analysis.
“We have the faculty in each of these pillars working together to make the knowledge synergistic as it unfolds,” DuBois says. CEO Magazine has ranked it a top-tier program in North America for the last four years.
The program consists of 10 seven-week terms. Students meet on campus from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. three Saturdays a month. (Class content is delivered online on the other Saturday.) A 10- to 14-day trip takes each cohort to an international destination such as Brazil, China or India — preferably where students can connect with a Northeast Ohio company.
“They can talk about the business relationships and the business challenges,” DuBois says.
A “beginning residency” at an area hotel kicks things off as the group spends three days in classes and on teams understanding different work styles, developing communication, teamwork and presentation skills.
The advantages: Participants learn with and from other professionals with levels of experience and employment higher than those usually found in the average MBA program.
“Other programs that are really well ranked are usually $60,000, $80,000, $90,000,” she says of the cost, “which makes our $43,900 a really good value.”
Case Western Reserve University
Duration: 3 semesters for MBA; varies for second postgraduate degree
Cost: Varies by second postgraduate degree ($1,498 per credit hour minimum)
Minimum significant work experience: None
The Weatherhead School of Management’s advanced equivalent of an undergraduate double-major is for those who want to apply the business knowledge gained by completing an MBA to a chosen field of specialization, says Simon Peck, associate dean of the Weatherhead School of Management graduate programs. The school offers a half-dozen full-time dual-degree programs for U.S. students: MBA/Juris Doctor, MBA/Master of Science in Social Administration, MBA/Master of Public Health, MBA/Master of Science in Medical Physiology, MBA/Medical Doctor and MBA/Master of Science in Biochemistry.
Most students tend to complete one degree before starting work on the other. “Maybe toward the end [of the second degree], when they’re taking some sort of elective offerings, it’s possible to combine the two,” Peck says.
The advantages: The credentials provide a more comprehensive perspective on the relationship between industries.
“Whether you’re running your own [medical] practice or working for a large health system, the business of health care is increasingly important to understand,” Peck observes.
The dual-degree program also shaves 12 credit hours of electives off Weatherhead’s traditional 60-credit-hour MBA counterpart.
“There’s less of this search and experimentation across different aspects of business, because you have an idea from the other side of your degree what you want to go into already,” Peck explains.
Department of Sports Administration MBA/MSA program
Duration: Two years
Cost: $420 per credit hour, $758 out of state/$29,837, $53,813 out of state (tuition)
Minimum significant work experience: 1-3 years
In two years and 71 credit hours, students can earn an MBA and master of sports administration. Students earn their MBA in year one and the graduate degree in sports administration in year two. While the MBA focuses on finance, management and accounting, the students gain real-life experience through consulting projects with clients such as the PGA Tour and San Diego Chargers.
“The consulting projects allow students to build a portfolio just like an artist would,” says Jim Kahler, director of the program. Done on-campus, students work as graduate assistants to pay off most if not all of their tuition.
The advantages: Students have access to the tools they need to be successful. “It’s the access to the alumni network, the access to industry-leading experienced professors and access to the industry and experiential learning through our Center for Sports Administration,” says Norm O’Reilly, chair of the department of sports administration. “It’s a pretty special place.” — Additional reporting by Dillon Stewart