Get a US MBA in Hong Kong?

Updated: 2013-11-15 13:16

By Caroline Berg in New York (China Daily USA)

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Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Stanford - you won't find them on this list. When it comes to the top US online MBA programs, it's underdogs like Washington State University, Arizona State University and University of North Carolina (UNC) that are gaining ground.

Looking at postsecondary education in general, more than 6.7 million, or about a third, of all students took an online course for credit in fall 2011, according to the Babson Survey Research Group's 2012 Survey of Online Learning.

"I believe that offering a degree online really expands the world of students that we can reach," Susan Cates, executive director of the MBA@UNC online program, told China Daily.

That includes second-year MBA@UNC student Lauren Abraham, who moved from New York to Hong Kong for her career with TransPerfect Translations and wanted to fill in the gaps of her eight-year professional background with a reputable business degree.

Abraham told China Daily she sought a US-based program because she believes she will end up back in the US at some point in her career, so she did not want an entirely Asia-focused experience. Besides, none of the top universities in Hong Kong offered online programs like the one she found with UNC, whose online MBA program is ranked among the top 15 in the nation.

"For my personal situation with work and family, it was not possible for me to either take time off to study or to commit to going to classes at a brick and mortar institution," Abraham said.

Cates said the MBA@UNC program has students enrolled from more than 40 states and more than a dozen countries.

"It's more a spattering across the board, but it's something we see as a great solution for those particularly where the opportunity costs of potentially leaving a job to go to a full-time program is really high," Cates said. "To be able to [access top-tier education virtually] in real time while you're working and able to apply what you learn in that moment within your job is actually pretty amazing."

Online programs are not just geographically flexible, but also more economically feasible.

An MBA at the top-rated Harvard Business School will cost $56,175 in tuition for 2015 and an estimated $91,200 including housing, health insurance, utility bills and other fees, according to a Bloomberg Businessweek report published on Monday.

On the other hand, most online MBA programs cost $35,000 to $50,000, and costs below $25,000 may be considered low and those above $60,000 too high, according to the OnlineMBA Guide.

"I don't feel that I'm disadvantaged in any way by doing this program online," Abraham said. "The only potential drawback is that you do have to work a little harder to really network as you would on a campus."

Abraham said the online program requires group work, study groups and global quarterly immersions.

"The major advantages are the challenge and intensity of the program, as well as the caliber of the students attracted to such a program," Abraham said. "We all work full-time, many of us also juggling families and kids of all ages. We wouldn't be in an intense program like this if we weren't willing to work hard."

Both class time and size are condensed for Abraham's program. Coursework is the same content as the full-time on-campus program packed down to 10 weeks, and classes run at a maximum 15-student capacity. Classes are conducted in real time and everyone meets on webcams.

"You can't hide or fall asleep in the back of the lecture hall," Abraham said. "Because it's so intimate, everyone shows up prepared and discussions are lively and involved. No one wants to be the person that doesn't know any answers or appears unprepared."

Abraham did have one piece of advice for going through online education.

"Surround yourself with a strong support network," she said. "You have to be disciplined in your schedule and those closest to you need to also be willing to help you to maintain your schedule."

The prospective MBA grad said she believes online education is the wave of the future because it is very amenable to one's location and hectic schedule.

Clayton Christensen, a management professor at Harvard Business School, said in the same report that the advent of online learning, and the opportunities that the growing field offers, is a substantial trend for business schools to track.

Cates said she graduated from UNC's MBA program in the traditional classroom format and says she is confident students enrolled online are receiving the same, if not better, quality of education.

(China Daily USA 11/15/2013 page2)