Two years ago, when the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School launched a new online MBA, it didn’t seem like your typical online MBA. A combination online and bricks-and-mortar offering, MBA@UNC promised small classes, faculty from a top-ranked MBA program, and a pricetag ($93,500) that set expectations very high. The big question was, would employers buy in?
Two years later the answer is a qualified yes. Sixty-one percent of the first graduating class have earned promotions or made career changes while enrolled in the program, with an average salary increase of 33 percent. In all, 18 students will receive diplomas on July 13.
While that’s not the kind placement that UNC’s full-time program enjoys—88 percent last year—it’s roughly on a par with what other online programs, such as Kelley Direct at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, report. Kelly Direct says 66 percent of the class of 2012 earned promotions, and the average salary increased 36 percent.
Susan Cates, executive director of MBA@UNC, chalks up some of that success to the fact that the program has its own career services director and to the work that’s been done to educate recruiters about the academic rigor of the program and the quality of the graduates, including people such as D’Andre Payne.
Payne, a laboratory scientist, signed up for the program while working for Pfizer (PFE) in the U.K. and within five months landed a new job. He’s still a scientist, but for a different pharmaceutical company, and he now focuses on how to add value to products for customers and spends hardly any time in the lab. He gives a lot of the credit to his MBA program, which he says taught him how to use his science and technology background in a business context and helped him develop his network.
Michael Orazi, who was promoted to strategy analyst at Lockheed Martin (LMT) while completing the MBA@UNC, says many of his co-workers are considering online MBAs and that the negative perceptions are starting to fade away, which is resulting in greater job opportunities for online grads. “Managers are looking a lot more at what school you went to,” he adds, “rather than how the program was delivered.”
Philip Powell, faculty chairman of Kelley Direct Programs for Indiana, says the dark ages when recruiters felt an online MBA was the equivalent of having your mom sign a “diploma” for you are over. Today, 14 years after the Kelly Direct program was launched, recruiters from Deloitte who buttonhole MBAs from Kelley’s full-time program also make job offers to online students, and recruiters from Accenture (ACN) actively seek out online students, who have more work experience than full-time students.