Auburn University offers an Executive MBA (EMBA) that has seen 22 cohorts through to graduation since 1998, and their initial program design of limited residencies bridged with distance learning has not fundamentally changed since then. Their mantra is to provide as much value in a mid-range price bracket to students as possible.
The Harbert College of Business designed the EMBA for working professionals to enhance their knowledge and expand their professional network without impeding their career and personal life. Auburn’s EMBA pioneered online hybrid higher education. Their original system consisted of mailing students learning materials through VHS tapes which was effective during the time. As one might predict they progressively switched to different delivery methods as technology has evolved, and now the video lectures are streamed.
The Business School’s Media Production Group has allowed EMBA professors and faculty to film in their studio since the program was founded. “That partnership has really elevated our professionalism in the executive space,” says Kim Kuerten, the Executive Director of Graduate Executive Programs at Auburn University.
Distance learning has always been at the core of the EMBA because of the hybrid design. They primarily live in the Southeast, but some have attended from Texas, California, New York and internationally.
Recognizing that executives have busy personal and professional lives, Auburn made sure to build flexibility into the heart of their program, a selling point for students. If flexibility doesn’t hook prospective students, oftentimes the idea of attending a 21-month-program (less than two years) does.
In less than two years, student cohorts of between fifty and fifty-five students will complete thirty-nine credit hours, with typical EMBA courses such as Organizational Leadership, Accounting, Marketing, Statistics, Operations, and Strategy. There are around twenty-five faculty for the EMBA, including those that teach courses in one of the four elective focus-areas. Students take three elective courses in the second year of the program, focusing on interest areas in Leadership, Operations, Health Care, and Cybersecurity Management. Taking different electives and cross-explore interest areas is an option as well.
In order to be accepted to the program, prospective students are required to have a four-year undergraduate degree, a minimum of eight years of professional experience, and uniquely – to attend a personal interview. The program used to require a GMAT, but Kuerten says it was replaced by the interview that helps foster diversity and build a great cohort.
“The program is designed for students to be able to balance everything, from work to school to home life,” says Kuerten.
Due dates, lectures and assignments are available to students at the beginning of each semester, giving students the opportunity to plan their schedule accordingly. “If you give students the materials at the beginning of the semester it allows them to manage their time and schedule. If students know they will have a busy week at the end of the month, they can jump ahead to complete assignments,” says Kuerten.
As rigorous as the program may seem, the Auburn EMBA professors recognize that the students are working professionals with busy lives. “If you have a work commitment and need an extension on an assignment or project, professors say of course,” says Kuerten.
As crucial as flexibility is to success in the program, so is support from the Auburn EMBA community. Kuerten says Auburn designed this program as a hybrid, with 5 on campus “residencies” over the course of the program, the idea being, “To merge the distance space with the cohort campus connection you get in an executive space.” The residencies are typically four days each, beginning in fall with the start of the program. It’s seen as a time for executives to collaborate, bond, and network with their cohort. It’s also a time for executives to focus their attention exclusively on their studies, if only for a moment.
“When students attend the residencies we want them to be all in. It’s a time designated for school, a time to push all of the other demands away, step away from their busy lives and focus.”
Executive students also attend an international ten-day study abroad experience as part of the curriculum, another opportunity for them to focus their attention on school and bond with their cohort.
When students pay the EMBA tuition they are also buying into the support of an “all inclusive” model where the business school handles the logistics of enlisting them in courses, ordering their study materials, and arranging their residency lodging and meals all so they can focus on school. The program has a very high completion rate which can be attributed to the highly effective support staff that Kuerten playfully says “does everything but study for you.”
Students quite often choose to get involved with the Auburn community when they come for their residencies by joining Auburn Serves, the campus organization which hosts charitable activities and events. There are several other opportunities to enhance their EMBA experience as well by attending guest lectures and webinars throughout the semester.
Built on the success of the Executive MBA Program design, Auburn also offers a Physicians Executive MBA and a Masters of Real Estate Development program for working professionals.