Business has changed significantly since the MBA was introduced in the early 1900s, and the degree’s value and appeal have grown stronger every year.
A hundred years ago, machines transformed manufacturing, forcing the workforce to develop new skills to stay competitive. As work undergoes a similar change today, the MBA has become increasingly vital, particularly for people later in their careers looking to upgrade their skills.
Technology is evolving the way we do business, but it’s also making it easier to learn these new, necessary skills. Today, prospective students with professional or family obligations no longer have to relocate or take two years off of work to earn a top-tier MBA. Instead, as the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School shows, online programs are giving more working professionals access to a high-quality education that mirrors the rigor, network building, peer collaboration, and career support previously only available to students in residential programs.
When UNC Kenan-Flagler launched its online MBA program in 2011, the idea of earning an MBA online was unproven and, for some people, risky. Those attitudes are quickly changing.
“Education has hit a tipping point where the notion of getting your degree online on your own schedule is no longer novel,” said Douglas Shackelford, dean at UNC Kenan-Flagler. “People will understand that what’s important is the quality of your education you receive from a top school–not the format in which you studied.”
At its core, UNC Kenan-Flagler’s program provides greater access to a world-class graduate business education. The courses are taught in small, live webcam-based online classrooms, where students build relationships with each other and their professors, regardless of their physical locations. Because students can take courses from wherever they are, UNC Kenan-Flagler enables a wider group of people to pursue their MBA. “We attract students that probably wouldn’t have gone to any full-time MBA program anywhere,” said Shackelford. “They are highly successful and ambitious but don’t want to pause their career or relocate for two years. Earning an MBA is essentially a second job for them.”
Recognizing that there’s no substitute for in-person connection, UNC Kenan-Flagler has designed the program so that students spend a significant amount of time engaging face-to-face. In addition to live classes, students connect in person at quarterly “summits” (two in the U.S. and two outside the U.S. per year), giving everyone the chance to deepen their professional and social networks. Students also get their own video chat rooms, which they study with classmates, work on group projects, and even run happy hours. Helping students build communities and relationships with each other, regardless of location, is central to the program’s mission.
No business education today is complete without a heavy focus on developing collaboration skills. According to a 2019 LinkedIn report, 92% of hiring managers said that “soft skills” like collaboration, creativity, and persuasion are just as important as more technical “hard skills” like coding and financial analysis. This is a product of the evolving nature of business. As projects get more complex, and more employees work remotely, companies place a premium on professionals who can work closely with others and connect the dots between disparate topics to develop new ideas.
This understanding is pivotal to both UNC Kenan-Flagler’s online curriculum and the technology that powers its online classrooms. With the digital classrooms for example, professors can divide their classes into multiple groupings, dispense different information to each one, and then have the groups use that disparate information to problem solve together. This approach mimics the information and communication challenges business professionals face every day.
The program reverses the perception that online learning is a solitary experience. Shackelford emphasizes that “our online students aren’t just passively watching lectures; they’re actively engaging with and learning from other talented working professionals and their professors.”
“Collaboration is central to the way business is done now because there’s nothing in business that isn’t a team event,” said Shackelford. “It’s about how you motivate others, how you figure out how to work on a project, anywhere, at any time, with people from different cultures and with different perspectives and experiences. Through our courses and program delivery, we prepare students for how businesses will operate in the future.”