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Success Through Part-Time MBA Programs

Although a recent survey revealed a slowdown in applications to business school overall, another recent study shows that an increasing number of students are enrolling in part-time MBA programs that offer the opportunity to continue working full-time while attending business school during evenings and weekends.

The number of students enrolling in U.S. part-time MBA programs rose by 18 percent between 2002 and 2011, according to data provided by The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Additionally, the number of students enrolled in part-time executive MBA programs, designed for students with significant professional experience, jumped 60 percent from 2002 to 2011. The past year alone showed an increase of 5 percent in student enrollment in part-time MBA programs and 15 percent for part-time executive MBA programs. That's in contrast to two-year, full-time MBA programs, two-thirds of which reported decreases in applications in 2011 compared with 2010, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council.

MBA programs as 'insurance policies'

Monica Powell, an associate dean at the University of Texas Dallas School of Management, has some ideas about why enrollment in part-time programs might be up. In a study conducted in 2010, Powell found that many new part-time MBA students were looking at their MBA education as a type of insurance policy during a time when the economy is rough and people are having to seek new positions, whether because they were laid off or for other reasons.

"It appeared from the data that students were spending their discretionary dollars to help protect them from what might happen if their job disappeared," she said. "They appeared to be looking toward the degree as a means of distinguishing themselves from other individuals whom they might compete against for a new position."

Powell is wondering if "insurance investment" will continue to be a motivational reason for students who have enrolled in such programs this fall. Her study is being replicated again and will assess the enrollment reasons for part-time students who are entering 22 different U.S. programs. She expects the results will show what's behind the enrollment in 2011, given the economic instability of the U.S. However, when it comes down to it, many students could just be realizing that new programs allow them to obtain their objectives while also meeting other family and work commitments.

Juggling work and business school--and loving it

Hannah Redmond is one of those people. She is a student at Rutgers Business School in New Jersey and has chosen to take advantage of its part-time MBA program. She works full-time in marketing and communications at Rutgers, but wants to learn more about how what she does affects the bottom line. She is also interested in gaining the skills to become an entrepreneur and exploring topics such as entrepreneurship, ethics, leadership, sustainability, and more.

"I love that I learn something in class at night and can apply it to a real marketing campaign the next day," she said. "I am constantly bringing case studies and ideas up in my department at work for things we can do differently."

She also likes that her classmates are like-minded in their objectives. Her education has given her the opportunity to increase her professional network and to communicate with business leaders who might be helpful on her path to entrepreneurship.

"I am surrounded by entrepreneurial minds like myself," she said. "It creates an environment that pushes you to be creative, innovative, and start something."

She has discovered that having a life outside of work and business school can be challenging. To-do lists and an updated calendar help her to tightly manage her commitments while staying on track--whether that's going to school at night or doing homework. One thing that works to her advantage is that her program is a "flex" MBA, which means that she is able to work at her own pace, a characteristic that she is grateful for and that she describes as "absolutely" worthwhile.

From business school to a multinational, then a start-up

John Krech is another person who took advantage of a part-time MBA program. Between 1993 and 1998, he worked full-time at 3M, completed a part-time MBA at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, and raised a family. He had two engineering degrees already and thought that an MBA could help him to round out his knowledge and become a more effective leader. In his part-time program, Krech learned how to develop and execute strategic business plans and also discovered the value of networking.

"I love talking to others and sharing ideas--it is a matter of long-term business survival," he said.

Krech, like many, developed a few new habits that gave him the ability to work and attend school during the same period. He did his homework during his lunch hour or while his family slept. He gave up much of his social life to attend classes on evening and weekends. He also found a strong support network in his family and friends.

All of these contributed to his success in achieving an "invaluable" degree, and he sees his efforts as yielding similar results in his life. In 2007, after spending 20 years at 3M, Krech started his own business, which is aimed at automating inventory replenishment at peak financial performance.

"[My education] helped me be able to create programs and business opportunities that gained over $60 million in net income for 3M," he said. "More recently, it helped me be able to start my own business with my own funds."

Making the step toward your part-time MBA education

Whether you seek a part-time MBA program or part-time executive MBA program, often referred to as an EMBA, you'll find that options are expanding at business schools. Instructors at many business programs understand the importance to students of being able to meet many goals simultaneously and of having flexible options. You'll also find that online MBA programs can be a further catalyst in helping you meet your goals and taking your desired steps toward academic achievement.