More than 108 University of Chicago Booth School of Business EMBA students on three continents have signed a letter expressing their frustration with the executive MBA program at Booth. The letter, addressed to Dean Madhav Rajan, was also sent directly to Poets&Quants from the signees, who are current students based on all three of Chicago Booth’s EMBA campuses — in Chicago, London, and Hong Kong.
“Dissatisfaction is mounting across the three campuses because students are not receiving the full value of the Booth MBA program,” the letter says, also noting that the issues were brought to other program leadership. “If left to fester, we fear that the problems may cause severe reputational damage to Booth, which could affect the institution’s future competitiveness and rankings.”
An initial email sent to Poets&Quants claimed the school’s leadership had not responded to the letter, but a group of the letter’s original authors said they were indeed working with the school to meet the students’ satisfaction.
When asked for comment from the school, Chicago Booth responded to our request with a brief statement from Julie Morton, associate dean of the EMBA Program: “We did receive the letter from the Chicago Booth EMBA students and have been in communication with them. We are looking forward to working with our students on their concerns.”
‘IF LEFT TO FESTER, WE FEAR THAT THE PROBLEMS MAY CAUSE SEVER REPUTATIONAL DAMAGE TO BOOTH’
The move to online learning during the pandemic — and the cost of the program — seem to be the biggest issues raised by the students.
The letter then outlines three broad issues and offers “actionable requests” that the students authoring the letter claim “were derived from extensive research and conversation” with current classmates, Booth alumni, and “peers attending comparably-ranked EMBA programs.”
“We neither live in an echo chamber, nor are we tone-deaf to the unprecedented circumstances; our feedback is intended to be honest, helpful, and serve as a starting point to enact change,” the letter states. “Our hope is that Booth’s executive program will begin to correct course and together we can unite as a cohort/faculty/staff team to transform our remaining time into the first-class experience it should be.”
All signers of the letter said their target date of graduation is June 2022.
COST, ACADEMIC EXPERIENCE FRUSTRATIONS
First, the letter states, in the transition to online learning, Booth has failed to meet student expectations for their academic experience.
“While other leading EMBA programs have recognized that remote learning requires extra backend administrative support and modified pedagogical methodology, Booth has failed to adapt,” the students wrote. “Our academic frustrations are compounded by the fact that of the four pathways to earn a Booth MBA (Full-Time, Evenings, Weekends, and Executive), the executive program charges the highest tuition.”
EMBA students at Booth pay nearly $4,000 more per quarter than Part-Time MBA students at Booth, the letter says. “While all of Booth’s MBA programs offer the same academic rigor, curriculum, and ultimately, the same degree, the executive program justifies increased administrative program fees of $2,600 more per quarter by claiming that it engages differently with students. At present, we do not see any differentiation between Booth’s Part-Time MBA programs and the EMBA program and as such, feel that the premium price tag is unjust.”
‘THE PROGRAM OFFICES HAVE BEEN PARALYZED BY AN INABILITY TO NAVIGATE AMBIGUITY’
Next, the authors of the letter claim the school hasn’t offered enough programming to get to know classmates. The upshot? They do not feel closely aligned with each other or the broader Booth community.
“Travel restrictions, the postponement of international programming, and lack of virtual networking events have made it difficult to get to know our global classmates, let alone feel like valued members of the Booth community,” the letter said, mentioning the normal weeklong program orientation kickoff event was “curtailed into a four-hour lecture.” Students only had 30 minutes to network or interact with their fellow classmates, according to the letter.
“While Booth’s competitors have implemented efforts to support relationship building, the EMBA program has failed to do so,” the letter said. “To further exacerbate our frustrations, Booth refuses to promulgate a plan to resume in-person learning or a plan to rectify the situation if unable to do so. As we write this letter, London, Hong Kong, and Chicago have been under COVID-related restrictions for one year. Despite a sufficient amount of time for risk mitigation, the program offices have been paralyzed by an inability to navigate ambiguity. Tasks as simple as contingency planning, communicating changes to the cohort, and implementing feedback offered by students have failed to come to fruition. Ultimately, this has led to a lack of engagement and cohesion within the cohorts.”
Lastly, the students expressed their concern about a lack of professional development and career services support.
“As experienced professionals seeking growth, advancement, and career opportunities of a top-tier EMBA program, we are confused by the program’s strategy, and lack of career opportunities outside of the United States,” the letter said. “Given Booth’s reputation as a global leader, we would expect robust, forward-thinking, and effective programming that surpasses what we have previously experienced. Instead, most of what we have seen thus far is leaving us woefully unprepared to lead in a rapidly changing global economy.”
STUDENTS ASK FOR REFUNDS AND COSTS IN-LINE WITH PART-TIME PROGRAM
The letter concludes by offering ideas on how to meet the expectations laid out by the authors. Among those are actionable plans to enhance the virtual learning and overall program experience as well as improving the professional development offerings.
Students also ask for retroactively refunded program fees and the “suspension of all program fees until all EMBA students have the opportunity to return to in-person programming and all deficiencies noted above are addressed.” The letter also asks that they receive “retroactive EMBA tuition reimbursement” and in the future, align costs with the part-time MBA program rates. It also asks for complimentary Booth executive education courses after graduation.
“We are aware of the unprecedented circumstances of a global pandemic,” the letter concludes. “However, we are now 8 months into our 21-month program, and if our concerns continue to be put aside, Booth will have broken our trust and failed to deliver on the core tenants of the EMBA program. It is imperative that we start now to bring about meaningful change not only for the EMBA program but also the greater Booth community. We look forward to an engaging conversation with you.”
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