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You might remember Kaitlin Dumont from the Q&A she and I did about her new role as director of university partners at Kaplan. As it happens, Kaitlin is also a student in Boston University’s online M.B.A. program through the Questrom School of Business. Kaitlin is a wicked smart and highly experienced professional. She could have had her choice of M.B.A. programs. She chose to enroll in the online M.B.A. at BU.

I’ve written that I think that the creation of low-cost scaled online degree programs from universities with global brands, such as Boston University, is the biggest story in higher education. The full cost of the BU online M.B.A. is $24,000. I wanted to hear from Kaitlin about her experience so far in the program. Kaitlin generously agreed to answer my questions.

Q: Why did you decide to do the BU online M.B.A. when you very likely could have been accepted to a top 20 full-time residential M.B.A. program?

A: In the last phase of my career, I was “M.B.A. adjacent” in my work with executive education. I’ve had the pleasure and the privilege of hearing from some of the best business school faculty in the world, but the two institutions I’ve worked for (Harvard Business School and the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth) only offer one full-time, residential M.B.A. program—and the circumstances to leave the workforce and return to being a full-time student never aligned with my path (especially as a mom of a 1- and a 3-year-old!). I choose the online M.B.A. program through the Questrom School of Business at Boston University for three reasons.

  1. The balance of flexibility and rigor—the program is not only designed to fit into my life, but also blends leading-edge asynchronous learning with live sessions and teaming to create a rigorous and holistic learning experience (and I don’t claim to be an expert learning designer by any means, but I’ve been in close enough proximity to some world-class instructional designers to know that this is the real deal!).
  2. The integrated modular approach—rather than stand-alone courses on finance, accounting, marketing, strategy, etc., the BU online M.B.A. program is comprised of six thematic and integrated modules that weave together all of these topic areas in a highly application-based way. For example, the first module, on the topic of “Creating Value for Business and Society,” starts with a dialogue about the merits of shareholder capitalism versus stakeholder capitalism, then segues into managerial economics and classic industrial strategy before pivoting to the information economy (including big data, machine learning, two-sided networks and platforms), and finally ties it all together with a team-based capstone project focused on incumbents versus new entrants in the automotive industry. I’m now in the second module, which is perhaps the most quants-heavy module, tying together finance, accounting, operations and statistics (I’m proud to say this liberal arts undergraduate can now run a multivariable regression with the best of them!).
  3. Did we mention the price yet?

Q: In higher education, as in life, you get what you pay for. How in the world can a $24,000 M.B.A. be a high-quality degree? Aren’t you lacking the sort of individual faculty attention and time with thought-leading professors, not to mention the exclusive peer network of a highly selective business school, that makes getting an M.B.A. worthwhile?

A: This fallacy may have been true a decade ago, but with the advance of modern technological capabilities and superior online learning instructional design, I don’t think this argument can hold water any longer. I suppose in a higher-priced M.B.A. program, especially an in-person degree with a smaller cohort, I may be able to grab a cup of coffee with a faculty member and pick their brain like I did in undergrad—however, I was pleasantly surprised by how accessible the faculty are, hosting virtual office hours and always willing to answer questions (and if you can’t get in touch with a faculty member, there is a wonderful team of learning facilitators to support students).

I would also argue that the peer network in my experience is second to none! I feel closer to my team from module one than I do to some of my classmates I spent four years with at Tufts—and I never even met them in person! I attribute that to two things: (1) an incredibly well-designed program that emphasizes teaming, and (2) a group of like-minded professionals who are all here to achieve the same goal—a solid business education to support current career aspirations while juggling all of life’s other demands (all of my teammates in module one had children under the age of 3!).

I suppose one could say I don’t know what I’m missing—but I’ve been close enough to elite M.B.A. programs to have a pretty good sense, and while I may have not felt this way if I had decided to earn my M.B.A. earlier in my career, I don’t feel like I’m forsaking any quality for the value of flexibility and a heavily application-based pedagogical approach.

Q: I’m trying to get my head around the lessons of programs such as the BU online M.B.A. for the rest of us in higher education. You have worked for elite business schools and are now working at Kaplan to partner with schools on online learning. What do you think those of us across the higher education ecosystem should be learning from programs like your BU online M.B.A.?

A: At the risk of being terribly clichéd, it really is the definition of Clay Christensen’s disruptive innovation. Not to belittle the top-tier M.B.A. programs that are available, but the market is shifting across the higher ed ecosystem, and learners are increasingly focused on return on investment. BU and others have proven that a high-quality education can be delivered, flexibly and at a lower cost, without forsaking thoughtful learning design and instructional quality.

In my opinion, the way to achieve this is through partnerships. What many don’t know is that the BU online M.B.A. was originally designed in partnership with edX (recently acquired by 2U). I’ve spent countless hours on the university side discussing what is our value chain architecture, what are our core capabilities and which of those capabilities could/should we retain in-house (or “make”), and which ones could/should we partner on (or “borrow” or “buy”)? I believe there has been a bias towards keeping all capabilities in-house and reinventing the wheel, so to speak, but the way to keep the price low and not give up quality (especially for degree programs) is to partner on the core capabilities that allow for scale and relevance. Ultimately, I see this partnership model as the future of the higher education ecosystem, which is a large part of the reason I made the transition from the university side to the partner side.

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