Darden’s Big EMBA Bet On The D.C. Metro Market

UVA Darden’s new, modern learning space comprised of 40,000 square feet on the top two floors of an office building at 1100 Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, Va.

When Amazon decided last November that it would build new headquarters in Northern Virginia and New York City, the champagne corks had to be popping at the Darden School of Business in Charlottesville, Va.

Well before the e-commerce giant’s decision, which will create 25,000 jobs in Crystal City in Arlington County, Darden had made a big bet on the D.C. metro market, leasing 40,000 square foot of space in an office tower in the Rosslyn district of downtown Arlington, a mere seven-minute car ride from where Amazon will put one of its HQ campuses.

Amazon’s investments expected to solidify Northern Virginia’s reputation as a magnet for business and could reshape the region into an eastern outpost of Silicon Valley over the next decade. And now Darden has an enviable outpost in that backyard for its Executive MBA and other executive education offerings.


Darden’s Greg Fairchild

The school is wasting no time taking advantage of its new campus. Starting with the Class of 2021, for which the school is now recruiting, Darden’s $158,100 EMBA and its more globally intensive option, the $165,920 Global EMBA, will now operate primarily from its new swanky facility in Rosslyn.

The leasing of the space—before rents skyrocketed as a result of Amazon’s decision—represents an ambitious bet on both the Executive MBA market and UVA Darden’s position in it. The school opened a more modest D.C. area learning location a couple of blocks away on the 24th floor of the Deloitte building in 2016. After demand exceeded the school’s expectations, Darden Dean Scott Beardsley decided to up the school’s game in what it believes is a significant market for EMBA students.

“We did far better on demand than we had thought,” says Greg Fairchild, a long-time Darden professor who was named the first director of northern Virginia operations for UVA last May. He says the school expected 45 students in its first D.C. cohort but got 63. “We captured people who would have left the area for an EMBA. The size of the addressable market is far more than the existing market. We believe we can grow the market share take market share from others with a premium value proposition. It’s a sign of how robust the market is.”

One of the state-of-the-art classrooms at UVA Darden’s new location in Rosslyn


The Rosslyn campus—two top floors of an office building at 110 Wilson Blvd.—includes two state-of-the-art tiered classrooms, one with 90 seats and another with 70. Both have tracking cameras that can immediately focus on a speaking student in the class with a microphone at every seat so discussions can be recorded and broadcast. There are also five flexible classrooms, a boardroom with seats for 22 people, and 11 learning team rooms. The space offers 360-degree views of the capital region and access to a 5,000-square foot rooftop terrace.

The D.C. metro, adds Fairchild, is the third largest GMAT test taking area in the country. The school’s market research showed that 57% of Darden’s existing EMBA students were actually closer to the Rosslyn location than Charlottesville. “So we know that they would prefer to be here,” says Fairchild. That finding helped to inform the decision to make Rosslyn the primary location for the school’s two EMBA programs.

The new outpost also makes those programs more accessible to commuting U.S. and international students who can reach the campus within 10 minutes of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport or less than 30 minutes from Union Station via Washington’s Metro with a stop just two blocks away.


The format of both programs also makes it easier for commuters. The Rosslyn residencies occur only once a month and will now take place from Friday at noon to Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. Students stay at the nearby Hyatt Centric Arlington or Le Méridien Hotel. Roughly a third of Darden’s EMBA program is taught by distance learning, including online classes and virtual team meetings. All told, the 21-month EMBA program includes 18 face-to-face weekends, two leadership residencies in Charlottesville, and one week-long global immersion. The global version offers a dozen weekend residences, the same two leadership stints and four global immersions. The program of about 140 students will run two simultaneous sections out of Rosslyn.

The big bet comes after a study of the market’s potential begun under previous Dean Robert Bruner. In unaided awareness research, potential EMBA candidates in the D.C. market were asked to identify the business schools with existing programs. Georgetown, Maryland, and George Washington were frequently mentioned. “Then, we said what about UVA and they would say, ‘Yeah, but UVA doesn’t have an MBA in this market,’” adds Fairchild. “Then, the question was what if they did? The answers were so good that it made sense to go. Of the programs that are physically in the D.C. market, we have the highest position of awareness, favorability and ranking.”

Darden’s investment in the D.C. area is being made with the introduction of several curricular innovations to the Executive MBA, including a new series of “Explorations in Enterprise Leadership” courses on topics such as health care, leading in a volatile world, and challenges and opportunities in emerging markets. The new courses will be presented in partnership with senior leaders from McKinsey & Co., the U.S. Army, and the World Bank, among others.

Darden’s new EMBA campus features 360-degree views of the capital region and access to a 5,000-square foot rooftop terrace


A new, expanded professional advancement module will offer personalized career assessment and development tracks to help students establish and reach their career goals ― whether they want to advance in their current organizations, explore new opportunities, or start or grow a venture. Graduates of the program will receive free career management services for life through Darden’s Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services.

While the 21-month program will be based primarily in Rosslyn, students will continue to spend time in Charlottesville for professional enrichment and networking at UVA. “Students will get the best of both worlds,” explains Jim Detert, associate dean for executive degree programs and leadership initiatives. “They will have access to all that Washington, D.C. has to offer,” adds Detert. “They will also spend time at one of the nation’s top public universities. On top of that, they will have multiple opportunities to see different parts of the world.”


Professionals accepted into the Executive MBA program will be given the choice to experience one or more week-long global residencies in either Brazil, China, Europe or India. Students who choose the GEMBA format will experience all four global residencies and also have to pay for travel to those locales. In addition, all students can further increase their global exposure by participating in other elective courses that Darden offers in 20 countries or by shaping their own global consulting project.

“Like all of Darden’s programs, the Executive MBA is designed and delivered every step of the way by Darden’s top-ranked teaching faculty,” says Detert. “We are one of the only Executive MBA programs that uses the case method across the curriculum. This allows students to immediately see the practical implications of everything they learn.”

The boardroom at UVA Darden’s new office space in Arlington, Va.


About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.