Cornell-Queen’s Novel EMBA Program

A Saturday videoconferencing class in Cornell-Queen's EMBA program

A Saturday videoconferencing class in Cornell-Queen’s EMBA program

Joseph Babcock, director of Cornell-Queen’s Executive MBA program, is eager to set the record straight.

He heads an unique dual-degree program, which blends distance learning with traditional on-campus classes. Over a 16-month stretch, teams of six to eight people meet on weekends via videoconferencing in 27 cities, largely in the U.S. and Canada. They also gather for a trio of residential sessions held on campus at Cornell and Queen’s.

The program drew a flurry of comments to Poets&Quants’ analysis of U.S. News & World Report’s 2013 EMBA rankings. Poets&Quants suggested that some B-school deans and directors, rankled over losing choice students to Cornell-Queen’s novel business model, which now brings in nearly $10 million in annual tuition revenue, may have penalized the school in their rankings. Babcock disagrees. Nonetheless, the program’s 40:60 split between traditional on-campus classes and video-conference lectures has doubtless raised a few eyebrows in B-school circles.

Babcock suggests this skepticism is largely born from a misconception about what the program is all about. He mounts a vigorous defense of what he terms “a residential program done remotely.” Babcock adds that the program, which focuses on general management, offers benefits not found in more traditional models. Cornell-Queen’s 27 “boardrooms” scattered through cities ranging from Los Angeles and Atlanta to Monterrey, Mexico, and Bogotá, Columbia, allow for more program diversity and a wider network, he says. Babcock also believes that the state-of-the-art videoconferencing system facilitates personal interaction between students and professors and raises the caliber of conversation, given that students may vet their questions with their fellow boardroom classmates before throwing them forward.

On one level, the program’s $115,740 price tag for two MBAs–one from Cornell and one from Queen’s–is a relative bargain compared with the sticker for the standard Cornell Executive MBA, which will set students back $157,416. But it’s certainly not cheap, either.

Babcock, however, contends that the experience is well worth the investment for students looking to take their careers to the next level. “I really am a true believer in the strength and the diversity that we’re offering here,” he says.

A former sales and marketing manager in the medical equipment industry, Babcock moved into education in 2008 when he became director of Executive MBA programs at the Thunderbird School of Global Management. He had received his MBA from Thunderbird 18 years earlier. Babcock moved over to head up the Cornell-Queen’s program in March of 2011. Poets&Quants caught up with him on a recent visit to San Francisco.

How would you explain the program to someone who may not have heard of it before?

This is a dual-degree partnership program between two universities – Cornell University and Queen’s University in Canada. So it’s a hybrid learning model. Basically what happens is the students are enrolled in both universities. They are taught by faculty from both universities, and they earn and complete all the requirements for both degrees. Hence, they’re granted both degrees.

When you read some of the comments on the website or attend some of the Executive MBA conferences, I notice that some of my colleagues don’t fully understand what it is we do. I’d like to offer my perspective. One of the benefits of the Cornell-Queen’s Executive MBA is that it enables students who live in a broad variety of locations to attend these two premier universities from their home cities or regions.  So it wouldn’t surprise me that people may think it’s an online program, but there’s no part of the program that’s online in anyway.

  • EMBAHopeful

    Thanks for profiling this innovative program! I think the Program Director did a nice job in this article demonstrate its excellence.

    It is the program that has me the most enthused out of a number of highly regarded programs that I am considering. The admissions team has been outstanding to work with during my all of interactions. Also, for anyone that is remotely interested in learning more – ask to schedule a “Boardroom Visit” – I suspect many will be as impressed as I was with the students, faculty, technology, and the Cornell University spirit that I witnessed.

    Hope to join in an upcoming class!

  • Boris

    Great interview – well done, Joseph! I’m now halfway through the program and could not be more pleased. It’s been very rigorous & a lot of work, but an absolutely fantastic experience!

  • CQ

    I have some comments as a student in the program that I believe are important for people to know before entering. First, it *is* amazing that you have the diverse talent pool from all over the country and even Canada and Mexico. And it is a blast to get to know people during the residential sessions. *However* please note, that once you are assigned to your team that is just from your own city, 98% of your team projects will only be with that team.

    I for one, have found it to be torturous to know that there are these amazing people, with incredible backgrounds, from the other cities I won’t be able work on group projects with. It’s not that I don’t like my team, but I do have the most work experience on my team, and thus am really craving to get to work with the more seasoned people in the program who I feel I can learn a lot from.

    So buyer beware: Once you are on your preassigned team (which is a crap shoot given that the program has about a 90% acceptance rate) you are, for better or worse, married to that team.

    It is even more of a crapshoot if you are / were fairly strong academically, or have strong work experience because the chance you will find yourself carrying your team will be a bit higher. I would absolutely suggest that the program strongly consider, in this day of virtual collaboration, mixing the teams every month haphazardly so the participants get to work with a broader ranger of individuals and greatly enhance the overall networking experience. Even if the projects have to be completed remotely, the overall experience would be much better. Interestingly I find that several students in the program feel this way, but don’t feel the need to speak up (which I find odd).

    Just my two cents to try to help people considering their various options.

    • CQEMBA-Grad

      As a very recent graduate of CQEMBA, I can fully appreciate your thoughts here. I think your suggestion about mixing things up with more projects done remotely and outside of your Boardroom is a sound one, but I do like the fundamental Boardroom set-up. Perhaps it is because I had such a diverse and positive Boardroom and am influenced positively by that experience, but I also believe, as is often the case in business, that it can reflect how less effective teams at work can be made to become highly performing.
      Your experience does not sound as positive as mine and the majority from my cohort (I hope I am misinterpreting here) and for that I am sorry to hear. The CQEMBA was an amazing experience that I would (and do) endorse without reservation.
      Also, I am not sure where you found the 90% admission rate, since nothing is published and the admissions staff would never discuss such numbers? However, it should be remembered that with the pre-screening service that Cornell provides to executive candidates, that this naturally raises admission rates, as it raises the pool of only qualified candidates that applies and reduces significantly those that are unqualified.
      Cheers on finishing – I am confident you will see much more cross-Boardroom collaboration before, during, and after the third residential session.