INCREASING THE OPPORTUNITY FOR LONG-TERM NETWORKING
The idea is to maximize the interaction with each other and with the faculty when they are in Columbia, increasing the likelihood of the kinds of connections that are far more typical in either full-time residential MBA programs or alternating weekend EMBA programs. Even the orientation in early August is planned out to the minute so incoming students get the most of the experience.
Roughly 75% of the program is delivered online, with the remaining 25% on campus. Like most other distance learning programs, the online portion of the program has asynchronous sessions—that can be done anytime of the day or night—and synchronous classes that are live.
“It’s a nice combination and the feedback we’re getting is that it provides the right flexibility for these busy executives while also allowing them the opportunity to develop relationships that are meaningful,” says Stephens. “They move together in a cohort in assigned teams, and we are very intentional with what. They do to break down walls along with pre-disposed notions of what an EMBA or a hybrid is.”
‘FLIPPING THE CLASSROOM’ IN A HYBRID EXECUTIVE MBA
“It’s not unlike flipping the classroom,” believes Stephens, referring to the idea that basic material is delivered online while in-person classes are reserved for more wide-ranging discussions and debates. “Any kind of lecture goes online via video and it is highly produced,” he says. “Hour-long lectures are chopped into three or four digestible parts. So the students can consume that material in shorter amounts of time, take a quiz and make sure they got it. If not, they can watch it again or ask the professors who have office hours each week. They are also doing individual exercises and group projects and answering questions on the videos.”
“When they come on campus, they interact together. They debate in more of the traditional way in a full-time classroom. When we do simulations, we bring two courses together—like economics and corporate governance—so the exercises are integrated and involve more than one discipline or subject. The students come in and are given a set of problems they have to work through and basically compete with each other to get through it. And then there is an opportunity to share the outcomes. We make sure they get to know one another. Long-term, you want to be able to have someone pick up a phone and call one another.”
Before launching the program in 2012, Stephens says that the school thought it’s “geographic footprint” would be a four-hour drive around Columbia. “We thought we might get some students from Memphis and maybe Des Moines, but we didn’t expect to see in our first cohort people from six different states including Texas, Minnesota and Illinois. And our second cohort is from ten different states, including New Jersey, Utah, and Washington. D.C. “The hybrid format allowed us to have a much larger geographic reach,” says Stephens.
PRICED THE TWO-YEAR PROGRAM AT $73,000, FIVE GRAND LESS THAN THE EMBA AVERAGE
The first cohort numbered 19 students, while the second attracted 28. The average student is 38 years old, with a couple of children and a spouse who works. They bring 15 years of work experience and 11 years of managerial experience to the program. “They are highly motivated people,” says Stephens. “Trying to schedule around their personal lives has been challenging, but we communicate early and often.” The application deadlines are March 1 and June 1 for an Aug. 6th start this year.
The school also priced the EMBA program slightly below average; $73,000 vs. the average cost which is $78,000. That’s considerably less than the $112,500 that Washington University’s Olin School charges for its program in St. Louis or the $108,500 for its program in Kansas City, though Olin is higher ranked and a bigger brand. The cost of the Olin program, the highest ranked standalone EMBA in the latest Financial Times ranking, also includes airfare for an international residency in Shanghai.
Missouri believes that it has to limit the size of the program to 35 students, largely to insure a large degree of interaction among students and faculty. “If you go higher than that, it will work the faculty to death,” says Stephens. “There are a lot of discussion boards and it requires a lot of work. If you ask 20 students to originate a thread, that’s 40 comments alone when you add up the responses. But we found that students really get into it. In an organizational behavior course in the first semester, the professor asked each of 19 students in the first cohort to originate and respond to a thread. She figured there would be 40 and half the class might do three so there would be about 60 comments in all. Instead, she had 138 comments she had to read and respond to. All this stuff is documented. In a live classroom, you don’t document any of that stuff.”
What has the school learned since the first cohort? “We found that our students responded much better when they got to know the professor beyond just the bio,” says Stephens. “So we make it a point for every single faculty member to go to dinner with the students, and the office hours become get-to-know-you hours as well. When students build a relationship with the faculty member there is a comfort level that comes with that on both sides. We want the faculty to become colleagues with our student executives instead of only professors.”
DINNERS AND HAPPY HOURS WTH FACULTY
Stephens says that 13 of the 16 faculty members involved in the program showed up for the orientation dinner and now often come to the Thursday happy hours as well. “These are all full-time, tenure track members. We don’t hire adjuncts for the program.”
The school also decided that it would do its first and second international excursions to Chile, in part because students would only go through one time zone on the trip. “Why would we take these people across an ocean and mess their clocks up?” asks Stephens. “We do consulting projects so we decided to go to Chile which has more free trade agreements than any other country in the world. The entire economy is international, and you are only going one time zone to the east: a 13-hour flight. Our students hit the ground there and literally run. We meet up with companies we have already worked with in advance of the trip. It’s nine days and they can go right back to work.”
Stephens says the program has attracted some curiosity among competitors. “At first, they wondered if we could pull it off. Well the dean gave us the go ahead in May of 2011, and we launched in August of 2012 after getting all the necessary approvals. So the answer is yes, for sure. We are definitely doing it, and we are doing it well.”