Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Does your assessment of our online MBA degree program agree with your peers'?

Any good business person will tell you continuous improvement is fundamental to success. Many of our MBA students tell us that's a major reason they enrolled in our online MBA degree program.

They say they want to continue to flesh out their ideas, experiment with their approaches, and seek and make changes based on feedback from their peers and professors.

This is also why we have made a habit of asking for student feedback on individual courses and our MBA degree program as a whole. We make changes to the program based on that feedback, so we can continue to help our students meet their education and career goals.

There are several ways we gather student feedback. One is through end-of-course surveys, which let us gauge student satisfaction and identify strengths and weaknesses. We also ask students to write reflective papers as part of their Capstone Projects (BUS698) to collect qualitative feedback on the project's value to them.

In addition, we conduct external academic peer reviews of professional experts in the field that give us valuable insight into what's working and what needs to be worked on within our program. Basically, we conduct a regular 360-degree review, which results in a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of our program, and then make changes accordingly.

After completing this process, students often ask to hear about what actions are taken as a result of their feedback. So, we thought we'd share some of the changes that have recently been implemented based on student feedback and the peer review process.

Strengths

The applicability of our MBA program is something our students continue to focus on as a positive -- both while they are students and after they graduate. Our program is designed to meld academic theory and best practices with the practical application of the content so that students can put it to work right away and in the future.

That's one benefit Jean Fredrick, Director of Marketing for Sloan Consortium, said about her MBA education from Post University. Many other students often comment that they learn something one day, apply it the next day, and then have the opportunity to refine the tools and techniques covered in class while gaining valuable feedback from professors and peers along the way.

We also get a lot of positive feedback on the interaction students have with their peers and professors. Students -- like NCI Information Systems' Kenneth Tolley -- often express how rich this interaction is and how much they learn from the ongoing dialogue that takes place on our online discussion board.

Our professors are required to be on the discussion board at least four days a week, but most of our professors are on seven days a week, and they provide quick and in-depth feedback on student work. Our students tell us that since professors are in touch with them so often, they find the student-professor interaction is much more in depth than is often found in a traditional classroom.

We also require students come into our program with work experience. Our students say they like that all their peers have business experience, which they can freely apply and share with one another.

Another strength students comment on is the qualifications of the instructors who are teaching within our online MBA degree program. In addition to strong academic qualifications, our instructors are required to have at least 20 years experience in their respective fields. Our Competitive Intelligence course, for example, is taught by the head of competitive intelligence at a major corporation.

Weaknesses

One of the things we found that students often struggled with was quantitative analysis. We also needed to address students' frustration with using APA style in their papers. These are weaknesses we identified by examining student performance and the level of support they required to be successful in these areas.

Students also identified some weaknesses. Since all students within the program are required to complete a capstone experience, many students asked that we provide more insight into the requirements and expectations of this effort in advance.

And, they also asked for more mentoring on the Capstone Project from the very beginning of the program. These weaknesses quickly became opportunities to further distinguish our programs from those offered by other universities. These areas are being addressed in our "opportunities" section below.

Opportunities

To help students get off on the right foot in our program, we created an MBA Preparatory Course (BUS500), which is required of any student who has not taken statistics in the past 10 years. We also recommend it for all students who want to refine their quantitative and financial analysis skills, research writing skills, and use of APA style.

Our MBA Preparatory Course is made to help students do well in our online MBA degree program by touching upon areas that many working adults have not encountered in several years. It also gives them insight into what the Capstone Project will entail so they can be thinking about what they want to do as they move through the program.

Although this course is relatively new, we've already seen a difference in students' ability to succeed in our rigorous and accelerated online MBA degree program.

In addition, since we run our MBA program as we would run a business, we also have added new concentrations to respond to current business needs and student demand. When we launched the program in 2007, we offered concentrations in corporate innovation and entrepreneurship -- two aspects that really help set our program apart from other MBA degree programs.

We now offer concentrations in finance, leadership, marketing, and project management, along with a multi-disciplinary concentration that allows students to further customize the program according to their own career goals. That's a total of seven concentrations.

We constantly revise our courses based on the field of study and student input. We've modified every course in response to peer review, student feedback, and changes in the business world. It's very important to us to remain relevant -- not only in terms of what businesses need, but in terms of what students say they need to be successful in their careers.

Threats

The biggest threat we see with any MBA program, including ours, is staying relevant and student-focused. If we cannot continue to meet students' needs and provide a very personalized experience, we will have a harder time attracting students to our program in what has become a very complex and competitive MBA program marketplace.

We continue to rely heavily on student feedback to ensure our program is offering the collegial interaction; networking opportunities; and top-notch, graduate-level learning experience that students expect, and is providing the return on investment that students demand.

Students, what has your experience been like in our online MBA degree program? Our blog is also a great way to let us know your thoughts. It's here for you as a sounding board, and we want you to know we're listening!