What trends are you seeing in terms of EMBA demand, interest, student profiles, etc.?
It is absolutely true that average executive MBA enrollments are down in many markets, and COVID has caused a lot of those issues. But we feel really good about the North Texas location that we’re in because we’re the No. 4 market in the U.S. and the fastest growing market in the nation as well. We’re getting more businesses in this area that are really interested in connecting business to academia. We’re seeing great movement as a result of that.
Another trend that I think everyone has seen in the EMBA space is that since the early economic recession 10 plus years ago, corporate sponsorships have changed. Back then, you would have a class in which nearly 75% of students were sponsored by their companies. Now it’s almost the opposite, a complete flip.
To me, that particular trend has really been healthy for our cohorts because we have a much more diverse group in the classroom, and students themselves have skin in the game. It has made them care more than ever about the education that they’re receiving. In terms of diversity, instead of having all Fortune 500 executives in the room, we now have people from all walks of life. You still have those executives, but you also have doctors, nurses, police officers, presidents of nonprofit organizations, entrepreneurs, and leaders of mid-sized companies. I’ve been told by students that it’s like walking into a slice of life. You just don’t get that opportunity very often. When we get siloed within our own businesses, we don’t see all these multiple perspectives.
The other trend is that there’s people who are much more entrepreneurially minded. They have these ideas that they want to take on in addition to their current roles and looking for next steps. It requires this innovative mindset, and our leadership emphasis really helps build these agile leaders.
How did the pandemic affect your applications and enrollments?
We did see a dip initially, but it has remained stable since the pandemic. What we have seen is a lot of individuals who want to come back, and we have people who have looked into the program for next year. With all of the factors that have stymied people’s ability to do multiple things – I mean, they’ve been asked for so much during COVID – it’s good to see this desire to get back into the classroom..
We’ve done a lot of reporting at P&Q on schools really looking at hybrid and online formats to offer greater flexibility to busy executives. Does Neeley have any new plans in this area?
It is of primary importance for our students to learn how to manage the hybrid work environment. In fact, it’s so important it is the very first assignment we give them during our residence seminar so they have a greater sense of how to work in hybrid environments: How do you listen and give the same attention to people who are in a remote workplace? We have really pushed that within our Organizational Behavior class as well.
And we’ve walked the talk. We offer flexibility in our program. It is an in-person program, and our students recognize that being online only doesn’t allow for all of the benefits that happen in conversations during breaks, during lunch, before you actually sit down in the classroom. In-person is a very important part of our business model. But we are sticking with the flexible approach where we always have recordings in the classroom where synchronous learning can happen. There are many times, when students are working full-time, when they may have conferences that they cannot miss, or they have to fly halfway across the world. These are real world situations that are going on in our classroom. So, we offer the option to Zoom-in synchronously and interact in the classroom and not miss a beat. They’ve built the relationship with the other students in the classroom by being in person whenever they can.
The other thing that I think is important is to really recognize the acceleration of business, of technology, of everything that we’re seeing today. We can’t just say, “Here’s your degree, you are now ready to face the world.” We have really moved towards a lifelong learning model. We’ve partnered with our Executive Education Center to offer really advanced programming for EMBA students, and we encourage them to come back to the classroom to take new courses.
So, they have access to any of your executive education programs?
Yes. Free of charge.
Do you foresee adding formats in online and/or hybrid in addition to the in-person EMBA at Neeley?
I don’t anticipate that right now for our EMBAs. But, you know, I’ll never say never.
What are some opportunities you see ahead for Neeley’s EMBA program? Are you looking to grow the program?
Our desire is to keep our small, intimate setting, but make it one where we continue to have a very strong alumni base. I think having this personalized approach for the competencies that our students need continues to be very important.
We actually met with a series of different stakeholders – faculty, students, alumni, local community leaders, corporate leaders, as well as our executive coaches – and we designed a leadership competency model with Korn/Ferry International. Our Neeley Agile Strategic Leadership Model identifies 19 core competencies more relevant to our students, and we use that throughout the program. Things like networking and driving business decisions.
I mentioned before the acceleration of change, so we always include the latest technologies in the classroom. In my strategy class, just last weekend, we were talking about the Metaverse and how that’s going to impact us. I think a lot of students don’t even understand the concept of augmented reality and how it can influence an organization’s ability to manage their manufacturing efficiently or improve their sustainability promises. Those things are brought directly into the classroom. We have alumni who have worked in that augmented reality space that come in and talk with our students about that. So, really bringing in the latest technologies is an opportunity we will continue to think about.
One of the things that I think is most valuable when you think about the accelerated pace of change is that the thing that slows us down is not technology itself, it’s our inability to deal with those technological changes. What we need to learn and what we teach in the classroom is this kind of multi generational knowledge sharing.
One of the things that we’ve done in the past is we have our world renowned and well respected Values and Ventures Program in our undergraduate school that looks at organizations that create value outside of gaining income by creating social value. There’s a case competition that happens every year where companies from all over the world come in, and our executive MBA students and alumni have volunteered for several years to mentor and coach those teams. We’re starting to have programs here at the Neeley school that have multi generational mentorship, and our students benefit from trying to understand the next generation and what they bring to the table.
We’ve heard from several deans and others about the warning signs ahead for the traditional MBA for schools that are not yet necessarily in that top tier of ranked schools. We don’t necessarily hear the same when it comes to the EMBA. Why do you think that is?
From my personal experience, I’d say our students recognize how important it is to be in the same room with incredible ideas. The people who are in our rooms are all talented, successful, and have diverse perspectives. All it takes is one weekend together to realize this can’t be done in an online only setting.
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