P&Q: How is new technology impacting Minnesota’s program?
Robyn: It is interesting because we have incorporated technology for a while. We never had a hard turn but have been gradual about it over the years. We have been doing electronic courses for about six or seven years now. All of our courses have online portions and content. The students tend to move faster when the content is available online than just in the classroom. The faculty has also shifted a lot more to the idea of using classroom time for application. The professors might see the students only every second or third weekend so there is a lot more content on the course site. They are even placing lectures and other videos online ahead of time and using the classroom for more experiential time.
Phil: It has been a long time since we have had the traditional lecture-style classes. Our classes are in four-hour blocks and have been more dynamic for a while now. We started a laptop program in which we give our students laptops to use. We found our students sometimes couldn’t use their work computers provided by employers and we decided it was easier if we issue them a machine. Now we offer every student a tablet laptop hybrid. Last year it was the Twist.
Robyn: Also, our classes are all recorded and streamed live. This is not a distance program but we understand life happens and want them to have the ability to log on and be in class virtually if physically is not an option that week.
Phil: We definitely do not advertise ourselves as distance. There is an expectation to be here. We have noticed the online world is broad and can mean a lot. But we decided to make sure we were giving the students what they preferred and started doing surveys to see if they prefer online versus physical classes. Looking at the survey results, we learned they really like the face-to-face time. The prefer it instead of online or part-time. They really like to see each other on a regular basis.
P&Q: What trends have you noticed among the applicant pool and the people who actually enroll?
Robyn: We have seen a larger interest in our EMBA program from military personnel. About 18% of our students are from military backgrounds. That is definitely an increase compared to the past five or six years.
Phil: This trend is most likely spillover from the broader recruiting efforts of our full-time program. That program has made a push to be more active in the broader military community.
Robyn: We have found that referral from an alum is largely how students find out about our program and then choose to attend. It is not uncommon for us to have alums that are veterans who have done the recruiting for us. They all know each other. And a couple of them are on EMBA alumni boards so they are active and out there.
Phil: One change we have seen in last five or ten years is reimbursement from companies, which has affected our overall recruiting efforts. What used to be a B-to-B type of exchange is now B-to-C. For example, we used to be selling our program to HR and management offices to sponsor their employees. Now, less than 30% of our students receive any reimbursement from their employers. Sometimes you see partial sponsorship, like around $5,000 but 70 to 75% of people are paying the vast majority or all of tuition. So the change is we need to prove the worth of the degree to prospective students. Word of mouth has been huge. It is simply not as easy to recruit anymore.
Robyn: This has also made a change in a positive way. The students are more vested in the program. When it is their own money and not their company’s, they look at it in a different way. They are thinking and planning on what they will do with the degree. They are more intentional about what they want and this makes us better in giving them what they want.
Phil: For example we launched our first entrepreneurship class. We had one of our clinical faculty members launch a management opportunity course. When companies were paying for degrees, there was never a need for an entrepreneurship course; now, since people are paying for the degree themselves they want a straight-up entrepreneurship class. They are investing in themselves and take the education more personally. It creates a challenge for us to prove the worth of the degree and then it makes the program better for them.
P&Q: Do you think that MOOCs and online MBA degree programs have impacted the EMBA market? If not, do you foresee some disruption in the future?
Robyn: To my knowledge, we have had exactly one student in last five years choosing online over our EMBA program. The feedback from not only students but also faculty is face-to-face time is what makes our program special. The students end up loving each other. They spend time together and they really develop strong relationships. Right now, we haven’t seen much of an impact from the online programs.
Phil: I think the online and MOOCs movement is more likely to have impact on other programs instead of the executive program. I think this is a premium product targeted at a specific audience. Someone considering investing this much in a degree is very hesitant to do it from a distance. I think a lot of what makes this program premium for executives is we sit in a major urban market with many Fortune 500 companies. If you are sitting in less urban area, there might be a need for a different approach. For us, we will continue to evolve our distance and classroom aspects. But I wouldn’t envision changing much from the face-to-face.