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Auburn Distance MBA: Reaching-out to customers

I recently finished a distance 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 first of a three-part blog to record my thoughts on these questions.

Q1. What are the primary advantages and disadvantages of the distance MBA program for a student?

The academic world offers many flavors of MBA degree to cater to the most important needs of the students (or really customers).  This could be traditional on-campus, weekend classes, night classes, recorded classes, or a combination of multiple choices.  Most colleges and universities are now competing and advertising through multiple media sources.  Where I live, it’s common to see advertisements on billboards, television, radio, Internet searches, print newspapers, and postal mail cards.  The MBA programs in particular have popped up on large billboards facing busy roads.  The schools are telling you that you no longer have to travel a great distance to get an education with their name brand.  You can do it on-line or you can go to a satellite campus in your area.  Specific to distance programs, the advancement of technology and the Internet is expanding the reach of this competition while bringing consumers more choices.  I chose the distance option at Auburn for the following reasons:

  1. Flexibility – I wanted to be able to complete course work around other commitments I had in life related to work and family.
  2. Credibility – The program was the exact same as that offered to on campus students.  I wanted to make sure I wasn’t receiving any shortcuts by not being on campus.
  3. Reputation – I wanted a name brand on the education portion of my resume that was widely recognized from many years of excellence in education.
  4. Cost – The cost of MBA programs varies greatly between institution and program type.  I felt the distance program at Auburn was priced to attract and sell itself as a good value for the benefits it provides.
  5. Self Discipline – I have the self discipline to accomplish tasks independently.  Meaning, I knew I would be able to work from home without letting home distractions keep me from completing assignments.

The distance program is not for everyone though.  There are certainly a number of trade-offs to consider.  Some of which are deal breakers for prospective students and they choose a different type of MBA program.  Here are a few to consider:

  1. Classroom Discussions – Classroom discussions, which provide much of the value of a MBA, are best done in real-time with other students and the professor.  Distance students can benefit by listening to the discussion, but obviously can’t participate.  There are discussions posted on an Internet message board which gives one the ability to discuss creative thought around a topic.  But these lose the real-time element that makes the discussion richer.
  2. Relationship Building – I’ve heard many people say that the real value of a MBA more in the relationships you build than the education itself.  It’s not impossible to build relationships with other students (both on campus and off) but it requires a little more work since you don’t have that face-to-face meeting during class time.
  3. Consistency – Traditional classroom education provides consistency of meeting times and a set schedule.  This benefits those who need that type of structure to keep them on task.  It’s the guided approach to getting through the program requirements.

In the end, the different programs that are offered benefit prospective students by giving them more choices.  If the institution has the infrastructure and resources necessary to offer multiple programs then they will be able to expand their product offering.  I’ll explore more on how I see the distance program being defined for the institution in part 2.