University of Michigan’s Ross School Launches a New Online MBA Program

University of Michigan’s Ross School Launches a New Online MBA Program main image

University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business will debut a part-time, online MBA program in fall 2019. Ross’ entrance in this area is another indication that online education is going mainstream.

“Every educational institution is trying to figure out how to be in the digital space,” says Patricia Russo, managing director of Ross’ Part-Time MBA Programs. “People have responded in a variety of ways. We’ve always been innovators in education.”

In the last decade, online education has gone from being perceived as subpar in the eyes of many recruiters and educators to being a vital part of top university offerings. In fact, even the bricks-and-mortar programs make use of the technology for hybrid courses, allowing students to interact in person and online.

Advancements in technology and a market need are just some of the reasons for this change. More people need further training to remain relevant in an ever-competitive global workforce driven by new technology.

Students who are a good fit for online programs are usually older and already established personally and professionally. Therefore, it’s not as easy for them to get up and go back to school at a top program in another city.

Coming of age of online programs

At the same time, bricks-and-mortar MBA programs in the US have faced dwindling interest. Time and money costs on these programs are tremendous; there’s more competition from one-year programs and other offerings; international students are reluctant to sign up in light of current immigration policies. Now, the schools have figured out how to use these online platforms to educate students all over the world, in some cases.

Top programs have been drawn into the online education sector, as schools are able to provide the same rigor as they do in other courses.

“We want to deliver the same high quality education we’re known for here,” says Russo. “We want to translate it online.”

“Translating” business education for the online sphere

Students who sign up for this new online, part-time MBA program will experience the same core courses and participate in the Multidisciplinary Action Projects (MAP), the school’s capstone assignment, which has students working with a company for 14 weeks to provide solutions to a strategic business problem.

Also, students will participate in other action-based learning and synchronous distance learning, meaning the class gets together online at a set time for live learning sessions. Finally, the class includes three residencies, where participants attend long weekends on campus packed with face-to-face learning. The themes of each residency are leadership, innovation, and business transformations respectively.

“My plan is that once students get on the plane to go back home on Sunday afternoon, they’ll be exhausted from all the work,” says Russo.

Another telltale sign of the soaring reputation of online education is that on-campus professors want in. The Ross school’s faculty is teaching across all programs, including this one, says Russo.

Getting into an online MBA program

To enroll in the online MBA, applicants must provide the same details as for traditional programs. The one caveat is students must be in the US to participate. International applicants, who have a visa and are working in the US, are eligible, but those abroad are not.

Candidates are required to include:

  • GMAT/GRE standardized test score
  • Undergraduate GPA
  • Information about work experience (at least two-years’ experience, although the average is five to seven-years among those showing interest, so far)
  • Recommendations
  • Admissions interview with Russo

In fact, applicants have already begun interviewing for spots in the class. “During the Polar Vortex a few weeks ago, school was closed for two days,” says Russo. “But I could still do the interviews from home because they were virtual.”

Overcoming the biggest challenge to online education

Certainly, working in the online realm offers some convenience. However, the challenge, she says, is creating a sense of community among students located all over the country. Whenever administrators speak to former students about the highlight of their experience at school, they mention the people they met, says Russo. These personal and professional connections often last a lifetime.

Russo expects the class to be small, no more than 40 to 60 students, although the school has no concrete number in mind. The residencies and synchronous learning will provide opportunities to build relationships; but the school is still experimenting with how to encourage it.

Offering career services

Part-time programs are usually for those who are a little older and more established. Often, they come to school to gain some new skills or credentials to push them over the edge for promotions. Russo expects that to be the case for this online degree, too.

Still, the Ross school will provide career services, and students will be able to participate in the formal recruiting process. But the careers office is anticipating more of these students will require help with off-campus job hunts and negotiations with current employers, says Russo. She expects the career services to be personalized to meet each individual’s unique needs.

Once upon a time, recruiters might have looked down upon the online degree or held their nose when hiring someone with it. But that’s changing now, says Russo. In fact, before creating the program, the school consulted with some in the business world.

“Our key partners said, ‘Why haven’t you done this already?’” she says. “If you’re committed to providing quality in education, then an online program is just a change in delivery.”

Francesca Di Meglio

Francesca Di Meglio has written about higher education for two decades. She covered business schools and all aspects of management education for what became Bloomberg Businessweek from May 2004 to December 2013. Di Meglio was the consultant editor for the book Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting into a Top MBA Program (85 Broads Publishing, 2011), which was written by admissions consultant Betsy Massar. In addition, she is a family travel and parenting blogger at the Italian Mamma website

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