Thursday, September 22, 2011

What to look for in an online MBA program and where to find it

Not long ago we posted our podcast interview with Jean Fredrick, Director of Marketing for Sloan Consortium (also known as Sloan-C). The organization is one of the leading bodies studying the trends in online learning, and how higher education institutions are effectively creating quality online learning environments for their adult learners.

Jean has the inside track on online education in the U.S., including what to look for, what to avoid, schools that excel in online degree programs, and school that do not. Jean recently used her expertise to find an online MBA program for herself. And to our great pleasure, she decided upon Post University's Online MBA program. She'll be graduating in May 2012.

We talked with Jean about all of these topics during our interview, which you can now read through in the transcript here. Get Jean's take on:
  • What she looked for in an online MBA degree program
  • How to get the most out of your online MBA education
  • Why any working adult can earn their degree online
Thanks again Jean for sharing your insights!



Janelle: Hi, everyone. Janelle Kozyra here for a Post University podcast. Today, I am joined by Jean Fredrick. Jean, welcome to the podcast. How are you?

Jean: Thank you. I'm great, Janelle.

Janelle: So Jean, why don't you start off by introducing us to you a little bit. Tell us, where do you live and what you do?

Jean: I actually live on Cape Cod in Massachusetts and I work from home. I work for a non-profit organization that actually supports online education. So getting my MBA online was the perfect mix for me to be not only teaching folks how to teach online and marketing our services that way, but also experiencing it from the students' perspective.

Janelle: So then, why did you decide to pursue an MBA degree?

Jean: Well, it's sort of like I've already got the job but I wanted the degree. So here I am, the director of marketing for this company and loving the work, loving the job, but wishing that I had gone further and gotten my MBA. I actually got my bachelors degree nights going to an annual college in Boston, but it was a satellite program.

So, in other words, I'd get out of work and I'd drive another hour and spend another four hours in class one night a week, and then work every night and every weekend. Getting my bachelor's degree was a lot of work and I was really glad I did it. But I got so burned out from that while working full time as well and having two small children at home that I never did go further and get the MBA.

However, stayed in the career, moved up, changed jobs. So career-wise, I'm where I want to be but education-wise, I wasn't. So I finally felt that now both of my kids are grown and I'm working from home, I have the flexibility and the time and I was just ready to go and get the rest of my degree.

Janelle: So why Post? You said that you're with an organization that supports education, so you're obviously very familiar with the education arena and the different schools out there. Why did you choose Post University to earn your MBA?

Jean: Well, interestingly, I had actually never heard of Post and when I decided to get the MBA I said, okay, how am I going to choose which school to go to? So I created basically a criteria list of which schools have an MBA that has a marketing concentration because that was my interest. And then I looked at, of course, accreditation, which is really important to me.

The flexibility of the program, the cost -- I do have a budget that I had to stick with -- the credit hours, again, I wanted to make sure that there was the ability to have an actual marketing focus in there so that would also be a large part of my criteria. And then I started to search and just basically, I searched online and went to websites, made a lot of phone calls, talked to a lot of people at a lot of different schools, and just started to create this spreadsheet of possibilities.

And so it finally came down to a point where I had probably 12 schools picked that met all of the criteria. And then it was time to figure out which of those was going to be the one. And what got me about Post was the actual courses.

When I started to look at the course material and talked to somebody in the administration office, first of all, the person in the administration office was just so enthusiastic and had so many wonderful things to tell me about the actual course material that, not only did it help me make up my mind, but I actually couldn't wait to start. I started a month earlier or a session earlier than I had planned to because I just couldn't wait to get started.

So really, once I figured out all of the other criteria, it came down to the actual materials -- the courses. I just felt that Post had gone the extra mile and that their material was so much more up to date and real for today's world. Because having the experience that I have in marketing for so long, the world has changed so much and you can't be taking the same classes that I would have taken 10 years ago. And it just looks like a lot of the other colleges and universities hadn't really updated their material enough, so that was huge for me.

Janelle: So what was your concentration?

Jean: It's marketing.

Janelle: And so, then, let's talk about what your experience was like -- the length of the program, how it was structured, and more about the course material that you're talking about and how it was so fresh and up to date.

Jean: Okay. I like the fact that their courses are eight weeks. It's a little overwhelming at times because, for me, I am driven, I want an A, I will have a 4.0 average, and that is just me. I'm not willing to get less -- especially at this place in my life where I have the experience to bring to the courses, which is fabulous and I love to help other people and be part of the discussions.

But for me, it was very important that I wanted to get the very best grade that I could and put the very most of myself into this. So it feels a little overwhelming sometimes when you're working full time and also doing the classes.

But because the material is so interesting to me, it was not only like just going to school, it was like also being able to take some of the material every single day and use it in my work the next day. So as much as it felt like a lot of work, it was also already helping me in my job. So those were tools that I could take immediately back to my workplace.

Janelle: Yeah, I would like to get to that in a second, Jean. What were maybe some really cool or memorable projects that you worked on?

Jean: Let's see. Well, all of the marketing courses, of course, were my favorites. I could actually bring a real project to the table. In other words, that was one of the things I really liked. It wasn't like we had to fake a project. If you had something that you were working on in your real job and you wanted that to be whatever the project was in that course, you could do that. What better way to learn than to actually make it work for something that's real to you?

Janelle: So you were saying how you could take your learning back to the workplace and it was just a lot of practical, real-world knowledge that you were getting. Tell us more about that.

Jean: Well, one of the courses, of course, we created a marketing plan. And, quite honestly, the company that I work for right now, we're a very young company. There was no marketing plan ever created for us before. And while I had done that in the past at other companies, I never had to do it alone.

So this was a big challenge for me that was hanging over my head, and during that course, I actually was able to utilize the time in the class while I was learning all of the right pieces of information to put into the marketing plan and how to utilize those to create the very first marketing plan for this company. So that was really huge for me. And now from this point forward, I can use that as my model and just update it every year.

Janelle: Yeah, that's great. So what you did with Post is now actually what you're working on now at work.

Jean: Exactly. Yes.

Janelle: What did you think of the instructors? What was the interaction like with them and how did you like working with them?

Jean: Most of them were great. There were a couple who didn't seem to understand that they were losing their audience. Financial ones, for me, were difficult.

Janelle: So what would you say is your overall sentiment on the Post MBA program, though?

Jean: I think it's amazing. I really do. I think that it allows people to be anywhere they are in their life, anywhere they are geographically, it doesn't matter. The flexibility of the classes where you have one week to get the information so you know what's expected of you. The reading and the discussion work and whatever papers are due and all that kind of thing right at the very beginning of the week, so you can schedule your own time.

I think that's critical. People are busy. Everybody is working really hard and you can't be at a specific place at a specific time. So flexibility-wise, especially for adult learners or people who have families and just can't do the traditional on-campus thing, this is fantastic.

Janelle: What would you say has been the biggest change in your professional or personal life?

Jean: I think for me, because I'm already, like I said, I've already got the career, I've already got the job, but I didn't have the degree, it makes me feel whole. I feel like now I have the credentials that I should have already had before. And it makes me feel more self confident, more able to move on if I wanted to, to expand my horizons, put that on my résumé, and just feel like, oh, now I finally have all of the credentials that I should have had in the beginning.

I mean, luckily, I've done well in my career and been able to move into the jobs that I wanted to without it, but it just gives me that sense of wholeness, of like wow. And it's also a feeling of accomplishment. Wow, I actually did this. You know?

I was able to do this as an adult with grown kids, and to have them, have my kids watch me go forward once again and get yet another higher degree is huge for me and it's huge for them to see that learning goes on forever. It's not like you hit a certain age and you're done, because to me, learning is as long as you want to do it. Now it's available to you.

Janelle: Are your children around college age, too?

Jean: They are, yes.

Janelle: So you're a good example for them, then.

Jean: Exactly, yeah.

Janelle: So have you been able to maybe take on greater responsibilities in your organization now or advance in your role at your organization?

Jean: Not necessarily, and that's probably unusual. But as I keep saying, because I've already got the job, I'm already there, but I can see as the company advances where that would be possible and that would open doors for me. Like I said, the company, we just spun off on our own as a non-profit three years ago, so we're a very young company. There are only nine employees full time and we have a lot of consultants and folks like that.

But as we grow as a company, I have taken on a couple of new people who report to me. Some of the consultants now report to me and I have a couple of full-time people under me as well. I can see that role growing and I can see the department growing as the company grows. So this is a solid footing now that I have to take it anywhere I want to.

Janelle: So then, what would you pinpoint, if you could, as the biggest benefit of Post's MBA program and having a degree, an MBA degree, from the university?

Jean: I think, especially in this economy, you need to have it. You have to have as much backing behind you as you possibly can. You need to not only have the experience, as I already do. I felt the need to have that MBA because the two of them together will solidify my résumé over maybe somebody who just has the experience or just has a degree.

Janelle: Do you have any advice, maybe, for someone who is considering an MBA? You know, someone, an adult learner, maybe they have children, you know, they have their life, they have their responsibilities. You were there once. Any advice to help them sort of pull the trigger and get that degree that they've been wanting to get?

Jean: I would say don't be scared of it. Don't be afraid. Talk to people who've done it. They could pick a school kind of the way I did, with their own criteria and then talk to some of the other students who have been there and done that. Particularly if they have a certain place and if they're an adult learner or they have small children at home or they have an empty nest or whatever their situation is, my advice would be see if you can talk to some of the other students who have gone through it at that particular institution.

Ask them what their experience was like. But I would say don't be afraid and don't hesitate. Don't worry if you get overwhelmed, I mean, I've taken breaks. I had to. You get to a point where you're just like, ugh, I'm so tired and I'm so burnt out.

And the cool thing is you can just say, well, I'll take the next session off. It's eight weeks, no big deal. I'll take some time off and just breathe for a minute. So it's not like once you're in, you're stuck. It's so flexible that if you need to take some time off during the whole session, the whole course of your degree program, you can do that. So there's really no reason not to.

Janelle: So would you say that the MBA program was a good return on your investment?

Jean: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, yeah. And I loved it. As much as there were times when I pulled my hair out, I loved it. I couldn't believe how much I learned. You know? And I couldn't believe how many tools that I took away that I could actually apply in my work. That was amazing.

I was so glad that I did it later in my life because for two reasons -- one is everything I learned I took, I got it. I mean, if it had to do with my job, it had to do with the marketing and the business background and that sort of thing. I got it and I was like, wow, okay, I can use that in what I'm doing. That's really cool. So there was that whole aspect.

But the other thing was I got so much more out of it than I would have if I hadn't had experience when I came on-board to do my MBA. So because I had the experience, that made the whole meld work for me, whereas if I was just coming out of getting my bachelors degree and jumped right into this now -- maybe not. I probably would have gotten a lot out of it, but not as much as when you combine it with your own past experience and life's work.

The other thing, too, that I really enjoyed was being able to get in and share my experience with other people. I love the discussions. I feel like more than half of the learning happens in those discussions. You know, they're threaded nicely with the right topics that the instructor will put out there, but we learn so much from each other's personal life experience and work experience.

What people can tell you they did in their job, it's just hugely valuable. We don't get that in a typical classroom. You know, you don't spend that much time learning from other people who have been there. So that was huge for me.

Janelle: Yeah, you bring up a good point there, Jean, because this is the online MBA program that you did. So did that give you, perhaps, even a better education or a richer education as opposed to maybe having to go to physical classes?

Jean: Yeah. Well, a lot of things I've already mentioned helped. The flexibility is critical for me. The flexibility and the geographical location. I wouldn't be able to travel to Boston every day to go to a school or any place else. I wouldn't be able to choose the school that I really wanted based on the criteria, and so that's huge for me, that I can go anywhere I want and pick the best school that's right for me.

Time-wise, like I said, it's flexible enough. I can make my own hours. If I don't want to do anything today or I can do most of it on a Saturday during my own time, then that's great. And that's what a lot of people did too, because they're working full-time and you might be burnt out in the afternoon or at night. You're not held to any particular schedule. So I think the online piece of it just opens this up to so many people who otherwise wouldn't be able to do it.

Janelle: Would you recommend Post University and/or the Post MBA program to a friend or a colleague?

Jean: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Yep, without a doubt.

Janelle: Great. Well, thank you, Jean. This was a nice conversation. We appreciate you sharing your experience with us.

Jean: Thank you, Janelle. Appreciate it.

Janelle: Any parting words that you want to just leave our listeners with?

Jean: I would just say if you're thinking about it, check it out. Go for it. Don't be afraid. Try a course. It can't hurt.

Janelle: Thanks. All right, thanks, Jean, and best of luck in the future.

Jean: Thank you.