A Notre Dame Take On The EMBA Market

Paul Velasco heads up executive education at Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business

Paul Velasco heads up executive education at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business

Paul C. Velasco came to the University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business at an awkward time. It was 2009, smack in the middle of an economic downturn that possibly forever changed the Executive MBA. As director of executive education, Velasco immediately saw a decline in both interest and applications. Fewer organizations were footing either the full or partial bill for the degrees, and jobs were being cut like forests during Western Expansion.

What Notre Dame experienced was not unusual. But for Velasco, the Great Recession also offered the opportunity to rethink how to go to market. Would be students needed greater flexibility, more opportunity to immediately apply the lessons at work, and more options to do online study during business trips. As more EMBA students have had to reach into their own pockets to pay for the degree, their expectations have grown as well. They want the education to have greater relevancy and application to their current jobs. And they want schools to provide more career guidance than had been typical for an EMBA program.

The upshot: Velasco has found that a good deal of his time has been spent adapting to these new realities. In the aftermath of the economic meltdown, Mendoza redesigned the curriculum of its Executive MBA program to emphasize strategic-thinking skills and the ability to effect strategies through strong values-based leadership.

Mendoza offers two programs—the 17-month Chicago-based program and the 21-month installment in South Bend based at the Stayer Center. Both programs have two start dates each year and remain just a shade above the $100,000 tuition mark. The new curriculum was launched in August 2011 for the incoming South Bend Class of 2013 and the Chicago EMBA program that began in January 2012.

The redo was meant to give the program more of a senior management perspective while continuing to include a strong focus on ethics, beginning with its signature leadership program, Executive Integral Leadership (EIL), and integrating considerations of values-based leadership and ethical decision making throughout the coursework.

Before joining Mendoza College, Velasco served as the Executive MBA director of instructional technology at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, where he taught in four of their five graduate programs and where he earned his own MBA degree. He also was a lecturer and associate director of Tayloe Murphy Center at Virginia’s Darden School. Velasco also has worked as an economics consulting expert as well, providing professional analysis of antitrust issues to several Fortune 100 firms, the U.S. Department of Justice and the attorney general for the state of Ohio.

In a wide-ranging interview with Poets&Quants, Velasco explains how Notre Dame has updated its EMBA program, provides insights on overall market trends, and says why he thinks MOOCs will not cannibalize executive degree programs.

Poets&Quants: What is Notre Dame doing in the space that is new and different?

Velasco: Here at Notre Dame we are feeling somewhat less pressure than what other MBA programs are facing. This is more of a matter of a format of people wanting to stay in the working population while completing an MBA. But that is not to say we still don’t feel the pressure of people wanting to stay completely in a career. So we are responding in two ways.

First, we recently did a reevaluation, drawing on the experiences of alumni, current students, and companies close to the program. Our goal was to make the program much more strategic. We wanted to see what topics have the most relevance to students and companies. We also see the pressure in how much time people are willing to spend away from work. Our students spend about two days away from work a month. This is something we are paying close attention to. We are incorporating more networking and face-to-face time but also being most efficient with the time a student has to invest in the program. So we are focusing on relevance of the program and making sure our students can apply the lessons from the EMBA immediately and making it as efficient as possible.

P&Q: How is new technology impacting Notre Dame’s program?

Velasco: Technology is impacting our program in a couple ways. The students who are road-warriors want it all available in one spot and electronically. And the technology platforms have caught up to make that a possibility. It allows us to offer a choice. If they want the hardcover, eight-pound book, they can have it. But the marketers and publishers of our textbooks have caught up enough for us to get into the area of blended learning and continuing education. We are beginning to see some of the courses go online. This probably won’t happen in full, but enough to release some time from the classroom to help business students balance life, school, and work better.

P&Q: What trends have you noticed among the applicant pool and the people who actually enroll?

Velasco: For our own pool, we are seeing a trend to slightly older applicants. We are also seeing a bit more polarity in the groups of students who are applying. We are seeing more 20-somethings than in the past. We think it is because they want to go to a good school without putting a hold on their careers like they would in a traditional program. We are also seeing a greater number of people in the upper 40s-to-mid 50s category. There is also a greater number of people who have to self-pay. Corporate sponsorship is leaning away from companies wanting to fund their employees 100%. It is not as dried up as 2008 to 2010 but we are not seeing the numbers of companies were paying. This makes students really want to know how to have a career impact with their degrees. When they are paying out of their own pockets, it is more relevant and the value is more.

Unfortunately, we are not going to get back to the level of companies paying before 2008. There are some outlying companies who do still provide compensation. But it is just around 15%. That doesn’t mean the companies that are providing are not providing significantly. Some companies are still giving $10,000 to $15,000 per year.

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