Being the first online master’s degree program offered by a top-ranking business school like UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler, MBA@UNC has a lot to live up to. The program is welcoming its third class this spring and adding a whole new dimension to the Kenan-Flagler brand.
“Revolutionary” is the term used by Doug Shackelford, who is the associate dean of MBA@UNC, when he described the program. Having started this past summer, MBA@UNC is committed to maintaining Kenan-Flagler’s brand of “Shaping Leaders, Driving Results” and providing superior graduate education.
“We want to take great students and enable them to be the best they can,” Shackelford said. “We know how to do that, and this is just a different delivery system.”
However, a significant challenge to MBA@UNC’s goals is the stigma attached to online degrees with respect to their more traditional counterparts. Shackelford said in an interview that differentiating MBA@UNC from current online programs was an important issue during the start-up process. He also added that Kenan-Flagler’s outstanding reputation made addressing this issue a little easier.
“Internally, we made a commitment saying that admissions standards for the program will be the same as our current M.B.A. program,” Shackelford said. “Externally, we’ve talked to alumni, and I haven’t met anyone – where I sat down and explained what we’re doing – who wasn’t enthusiastic about it after.”
Revolutionizing the Online Classroom
Technology is an important part of MBA@UNC and how it is revolutionary. The program has embraced technology rather than let it hinder MBA@UNC’s effectiveness according to Shackelford. As an online program, students attend a virtual classroom via webcams, where 10–15 students can talk and participate in class.
“We call it the ‘Brady Brunch,’ everyone’s picture is on the screen,” Shackelford added jokingly.
Shackelford said that MBA@UNC frowns upon the excessive use of PowerPoint presentations with long lectures, as this adds to the stigma of online programs because of how “boring” and one-dimensional class can become. MBA@UNC’s classes on the other hand are all about engagement.
“The online classroom is actually more intense that I anticipated,” said Jamie DeMaria, a student from Maryland. “You must stay engaged the entire time and are typically called on more frequently than if you were in a regular classroom.”
Advantages v. Disadvantages
Professors, like Jennifer Conrad, had to get used to the new class environment as well. In her finance classes, she has had to make adjustments for things that come more readily in a live classroom like presentations and addressing questions. However, she believes that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
“I would imagine that one advantage for students is the ability to rewind and watch again,” Conrad added. “The synchronous sessions will have a much smaller number of students, so that there is the opportunity to interact more with the other students in the session as well as the instructor.”
According to Shackelford, positive feedback is something that MBA@UNC is getting used to hearing from students and alumni.
“The live program is an outstanding program, but with a family rooted in Maryland and a job that I love and requires travel, a traditional MBA program just wasn’t in the cards for me,” added DeMaria. “MBA@UNC offered me the chance to get a top-notch MBA education, while allowing me to stay in the workforce and not disturb my family.”
As MBA@UNC moves forward and grows in popularity, the program is hoping to expand by increasing the number of admitted students while still maintaining great student quality.
“We are trying to grow the program,” added Shackelford. “We have the capacity.”
This article was reported as a part of the JOMC 256 Features course at UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.