Despite a several-year decline nationally in the number of applicants to master of business administration (MBA) programs, schools here say interest in the degrees is strong and growing.
Eastern Washington University, which offers an MBA program on the Riverpoint campus near downtown, has graduated more students from the program in each of the last three years, hitting a record 42 MBA graduates last year, says Dave Gorton, director of the program. He expects at least another 40 graduates this year.
Across the Spokane River at Gonzaga University, the annual number of MBA graduates has remained steady at about 100 for several years, says Kay Carnes, Gonzagas director of business programs.
The University of Phoenix, which entered the Spokane market just three years ago, hasnt had an MBA program here long enough for much comparison, but says enrollment in its program is growing, and it expects to have 15 MBA graduates this year. Websters University also offers an MBA here, but a spokesman for that school couldnt be reached for comment.
Across the country theres been an overall decline in MBA enrollment, says Gonzagas Carnes. I think its countercyclical to what the economy is doing. When the economy is doing poorly, the demand for MBA enrollment goes up. And when the economy is doing well, MBA enrollment goes down. When people have jobs its easier for them to forgo extra education.
While EWU and Gonzaga both stick to a more traditional, classroom approach to instruction in their MBA programs, the University of Phoenix relies more heavily on online instruction. EWU has no online classes in its MBA program, and Gonzaga offers just one, a new ethics class, over the Internet. Phoenix, which operates more than 160 locations throughout the U.S., plus some on U.S. military bases overseas, mixes up its MBA teaching approach at different campuses, says Wade Larson, associate director of academic affairs.
Some (of its campuses) teach 100 percent online, some teach 100 percent on the ground, and others, like here in Spokane, offer a hybrid, or flexnet teaching approach, he says. With that approach, students come on campus for four hours of classroom instruction on the first and last nights of each of 10 six-week classes in the MBA course, but work exclusively online in between, he says.
In the typical classroom, one-third of the students jump in on discussions, one-third participate when they are asked, and the remaining one-third stay back, he says. Online, everyone has to join in, and the answers are better thought out.
Larson, who says hes taught all three Phoenix approaches during his time with the school, prefers the flexnet approach, saying it shares the best of both worlds.
EWUs Gorton prefers the classroom setting, saying that much of what one learns in a live setting comes from ones peers.
You have a mix of students who have just graduated (from college) along with those with more than 20 years of experience in the business community, and they can all learn from each other. There is a rich form of communication in a live classroom that you cant have in any other forum, he says.
Gonzaga has made two subtle changes to its MBA program in recent years, one to stimulate enrollment and the other to improve the quality of the program. The second move, says Carnes, could have ended up discouraging enrollment.
We feel really good that the program has remained at a constant, says Carnes, who adds that the schools MBA program currently has about 190 students enrolled.
With national MBA enrollment dipping, Gonzaga decided two or three years ago to increase its advertising budget and expand its MBA marketing area to include all of the Pacific Northwest, instead of strictly the Spokane area, she says. The Jesuit school now markets its MBA classes at career fairs at Oregon and Washington colleges and universities that have a history of producing a good quality of students, Carnes says.
Meanwhile, though, MBA class sizes at Gonzaga increased to capacity, and administrators decided it was a good time, even if it slowed enrollment, to improve the programs quality by raising admission standards, says Jinny Piskel, assistant business program director.
Gonzaga left the MBA programs minimum undergraduate grade point average at 3.0, but boosted to 500, from 450, the minimum score applicants must achieve on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), Piskel says. She says that within one year the average GPA of undergraduates who enter Gonzagas MBA program climbed more than a tenth of a point to 3.4, while the number of students in the program stayed the same.
The majority of MBA students nationally, as well as here, work while attending school, and receive at least some help from their employers in paying tuition.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, about 75 percent of all MBA students also work 35 hours or more a week while attending school. Also, say both Larson and Piskel, an increasing percentage of employers pay at least some of the cost of tuition for employees enrolled in MBA programs.
There is hardly anyone I talk to who is working full time and not receiving tuition reimbursement, Piskel says.
How long it takes to obtain an MBA depends primarily on ones previous education. At EWU, a student who already has a business degree can earn an MBA in just one full year, or four quarters. If the students degree is in another area of study, he or she likely will need a series of foundational classes such as accounting, entrepreneurship, and finance to earn an MBA, which easily could add a second year to the program, says Gorton.
He says that most states now require a fifth year of education before a prospective certified public accountant can take and pass the CPA exam, and many students at EWU have enrolled in the schools MBA program to meet that fifth-year requirement.
Similarly, Carnes says it takes about a year to earn an MBA at Gonzaga if a student already has a business degree. Other than business students, liberal arts and engineering students are the next most common groups to seek MBA admission at Gonzaga, she says. Their post-graduate studies, again depending on which foundation courses have been taken, can range from one and a half to two and a half years, Carnes says.
Unlike EWU and Gonzaga, which offer about a third of their core MBA classes as electives to encourage specialization, Phoenixs MBA program is set by the university and is 15 months long, says Larson. Students there can add specialized training in areas like global management and health administration afterward, he says.
Costs for tuition, fees, and books to attend EWUs MBA program vary from between $11,000 and $12,000 for students who have business degrees, on up to as much as $17,000 for students without business degrees wholl need additional required courses, Gorton says.
The basic 33-credit MBA program at Gonzaga starts at about $19,500 for tuition alone, although Carnes says fees and book costs are minimal because so many texts are available free online.
Larson says the University of Phoenix charges about $11,500 for its core 30-credit-hour MBA program, and a small resource fee to access the schools corporate Internet library.
Contact Rocky Wilson at (509) 344-1264 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
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