It was a perfectly legitimate question to ask.
So when the new dean of the Trulaske College of Business at the University of Missouri arrived on campus in the fall of 2010, Dean Joan Gabel asked it: “Why don’t we have anything formal for a working professional?”
Like many other universities located in sparsely populated areas, the University of Missouri had a classic problem. It’s main campus sits in the middle of the state, in Columbia, with a metro area population of just 220,000. The state’s largest business centers—St. Louis and Kansas City—are a full two hours away. Columbia’s primary employers are education and health care, with most business in the area in support of those two industries. No less challenging, the city’s municipal airport has just two flights a day to Dallas and Chicago.
‘WE DIDN’T FEEL WE HAD ENOUGH OF A POPULATION TO DO AN EMBA PROGRAM IN COLUMBIA’
“We didn’t have an evening MBA program or an Executive MBA,” says Joe Stephens, assistant dean of MBA programs. Missouri has a full-time two-year MBA program, with about 185 students, and a large undergraduate business program. “We didn’t feel we had enough of a population to do a program here in Columbia for the price point we had to charge. So we just never did it. We talked about doing something in Kansas City and St. Louis, but we have sister campuses in both those cities and they have their own programs so we couldn’t set up there.
In early 2011, after researching alternatives for Dean Gabel, who had come from Florida State University’s business school, Stephens came back with a couple of options made possible due to technology. The school could roll out an online MBA program that would reach prospective students all over the U.S., even the world. Or it could do a hybrid, similar to the pioneering one by IE Business School in Spain, that combined on-campus learning with distance education.
Stephens ruled the first approach out. “I personally struggle with a 100% online program,” he says. “From my own MBA experience at Washington University and all the experiences of students I have observed over the years, relationships matter. Given our proximity in the middle of the state, the only option for us to do this right was a hybrid model.”
PROSPECTIVE STUDENTS DESIRED A MEANINGFUL CONNECTION WITH EACH OTHER AS WELL AS FLEXIBILITY
The school’s market research discovered that prospective students wanted a meaningful connection with each other in an MBA program but also wanted enough flexibility to take their courses without having to quit their jobs or their families. Hybrid programs that offer a blend of coursework online and on-campus are hardly new. But what makes the Missouri program—launched in August of 2012—different is both how often the on-campus sessions occur and what happens when students actually gather together on campus.
The program includes four trips to campus a year, or eight over the 21-month-length of the MBA experience. There also is a ninth time the class is together: for an international trip at the mid-point of the program during the summer. Students take two courses at a time: one quant, and one qualitative. The courses are delivered in eight-week modules which start on campus. The typical on-campus session starts on Friday morning and runs through Saturday night, though many students arrive Thursday afternoon in time for a happy hour. Three on-campus visits run longer: orientation, the international excursion, and graduation. All courses start online, with the exception of the first two courses which start during orientation on campus.
“With the exception of the first module and the last set of courses, they meet at the midpoint of the courses they take,” explains Stephens. “There is very little lecture. It’s mainly active learning when they are on campus, from case discussions to simulations. So they are getting to know one another while they are here. And they don’t take tests while on campus. We do all that online.”