Auburn Distance MBA: Defining characteristics for the institution

I recently finished a MBA from Auburn University as a ‘distance’ or ‘outreach’ student.  While I was reflecting on my experience, my thoughts centered around three main points of thought:

  1. What are the primary advantages and disadvantages of the distance MBA program for a student?
  2. What are the defining program characteristics of the distance MBA program for the institution?
  3. What does distance education mean for the future of academia?

This is the second of a three-part blog to record my thoughts on these questions. The first post about the Auburn distance MBA program focused on reaching out to customers.

Q2. What are the defining program characteristics of the distance MBA program for the institution?

Institutions setting up or running a distance education program must solve logistical tasks associated with the day-to-day operations of the program.  Some of the major tasks include:
  1. Development of  infrastructure for taping lectures. Possibilities include DVDs, streaming video, and satellite campus rooms.
  2. Development of a process  for sending and receiving assignments to be graded. How long will distance students have to return work?  Who will receive and grade the work?
  3. Create a system to allow distance students to participate in class room discussions.
  4. Design coursework and assignments so that they can be assigned to both distance and on-campus students.
Technology is really not a barrier for any of these operational elements.  The challenge is  in defining an efficient process that allows the education to be foremost in the minds of the students and professors. If the process is not efficient or doesn’t work then it takes the attention away from the education and the institution is not accomplishing its goals.
Once the distance education program logistics are set, the institution has a unique program offering.  The program characteristics give the institution new possibilities and challenges. Consider the following characteristics  for distance education:
  1. Creates opportunity to make the  institution name, or the brand, recognizable in a broader geographic area. More name recognition increases the potential base of prospective students.
  2. Creates opportunity to reach a broader and more diverse student audience. Expanding the reach of the institution name can help with finding prospective students for both distance and on-campus formats.
  3. Increases competition beyond the institutions immediate boundaries. Searching for distance students will increase the number of competitors for the institution by nature of expanding its marketing boundaries.
  4. Class room size is not constrained by physical limitations. The limiting factors will be determined by logistical processes to delivery classroom lectures and coursework to students.
  5. Marketing of the program will require a different strategy. Institutions should consider tools and resources used by online professionals.  If prospective students are comfortable with distance education they are most likely comfortable with standard online tools for research.  Elements to consider are search-engine optimization, video examples of sessions, video testimonials, online reviews and student comments,  documentation of program logistics, and method for remote question & answer.

More institutions are offering distance programs.  Business Week lists distance programs in their review and rankings.

With the advancement of technology clearing the way for distribution of content, I expect more schools to start competing in this space in the future.  I’ll discuss what I think about the future implications of online education in part 3 of this series.