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UNC's Kenan-Flager Business School Goes Global

University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School was founded in 1919. Back then, it was the Department of Commerce in the university's liberal arts school. Renamed the Kenan-Flagler Business School in 1991 in honor of benefactors Mary Lily Kenan Flagler and her husband, Henry Morrison Flagler, the school has come a long way since its inception.

Today, Kenan-Flagler Business School includes a wide-range of offerings: the full-time MBA, executive MBA, executive development courses, master of accounting, and undergraduate business program, to name a few. There are also online certificate programs for those who want a basic understanding of business regardless of their career. But one of the standouts is their online MBA program, MBA@UNC.

Susan Cates, executive director of MBA@UNCCates Quote


The MBA@UNC online program differentiates itself from others by aiming to be truly global in both class composition and curriculum. Born on the 4th of July in 2011, the program set itself up as "holiday agnostic" to serve students from numerous countries from the start, says Susan Cates, executive director of MBA@UNC.

Cates, who describes the program as her second child, says naysayers, who still question the validity of an online degree, are missing the big picture. "It's not about being online," she adds. "It's about the quality of the school and the program." The MBA@UNC program requires the same of its students and produces an education on par with its counterparts among the top 20 traditional MBA programs, says Cates.

Brandon Schnittker, regional sales manager of Stryker Endoscopy and a 2014 graduate of MBA@UNC says that flexibility often comes at the expense of quality, which he wasn't willing to sacrifice. "If I was going to put so much time and effort into an MBA, I wanted the quality, challenge, and value to be worth it -- and that's where the MBA@UNC program came in," he adds. "MBA@UNC offered the best of what I was looking for -- an MBA from one of the top ranked business schools in the country, with the flexibility I needed to continue growing at work."

Flexible Scheduling for Busy Professionals

The main difference between the online program and Kenan-Flagler's other offerings is in the delivery of the material. Each course has two components -- asynchronous and synchronous. The asynchronous material includes readings and 10- to 20-minute videos that might feature lectures, role playing with actors, or interviews with experts on the topic being covered. Students can access this material on their own schedule, from anywhere with an Internet connection. On the other hand, for the synchronous portion, they have to participate in 90-minute live, virtual classes. Everyone's face shows up on screen via webcam and students dial in by phone, so you are both seen and heard. You might experience a case discussion, negotiation exercise, or presentations.

With 15 students per class, everyone gets to know each other and the professor well, says Cates. And because students attend virtually from all over the world, the time of these live classes rotates across time zones. Assignments include papers and presentations, exams, business plans in the entrepreneurship courses, simulations, case studies, and the same sorts of things you'd encounter in a traditional MBA program. While not required, students can opt to take one of six concentrations offered by the school.

What makes the program unique, says Cates, is the immersion. Although the vast majority of the program is conducted online, students are required to participate in two immersions that have them spending a weekend meeting their classmates in person and immersing themselves in three topics. Recently, students have had the option of participating in immersions in Johannesburg, New York, Mumbai, and Chapel Hill. Highlights might include case competitions or a leadership seminar that features a 360 assessment of your skills and a debriefing with an executive coach. Students in Johannesburg heard from the CEO of Citibank in sub-Saharan Africa about business in the continent and local university professors about the AIDS crisis both from a managerial and economic perspective, for example.

Treseder QuoteChelsea Diles Treseder, MBA@UNC student

Students typically take between 18 and 36 months to complete the program and earn their degree. However, they can take up to three years to finish with no penalty. So far, more than 840 students have enrolled in MBA@UNC, and there are more than 200 graduates. The retention rate is 96 percent, says Cates. The ideal student looks similar to those applying to traditional programs -- stellar academic record, accomplished with outstanding work experience, a good fit because of core values, and good teamwork skills, Cates adds.

"MBA@UNC allows for an incredible amount of efficiency -- I am able to work until 4:59 p.m. prior to a 5:00 p.m. class start time with no time wasted on crowded Bay Area freeways," says Chelsea Diles Treseder, vice president of business development at Pivot Hearing and an MBA@UNC student with an expected graduation of 2015. "I am also able to study and participate in live classes from hotel rooms or anywhere work might take me. None of this is at the expense of my learning or ability to interact with faculty and staff -- the rigorous coursework and 'no back row' live sessions make certain of that."

Obviously, applicants to this program require flexibility because of extenuating circumstances, such as being on active duty in the military, having to travel a lot for work, or balancing family life with a full-time job and now school. Students have an average income of $111,000 coming into the program and are not looking to leave their job immediately as full-time MBA students would. In addition, they tend to have eight or more years of work experience behind them, which is closer to those in traditional EMBA programs.

Career Management and Beyond

While students may not be looking to leave their current employers, they are usually seeking to move up. Tuition is around $96,000, about the same as the weekend MBA. "Nobody spends $96,000 because they are looking to stay where they are," says Cates. As a result, the school offers participants a range of career help. In order to address each student's unique set of needs -- how to ask for a promotion within a company, when to ask for a raise, etc. -- the school has a career management team just for its online program.

MBA@UNC provides speaker series, workshops, and access to one-on-one coaching and an alumni database. There is also a course on career management that teaches lessons such as how to negotiate a higher salary. More than 70 percent of graduates had gotten a new job or promotion where they were already employed during the program, says Cates. "I do believe that people generally understand UNC is a high-quality and rigorous program," she adds. "We're recommended by employers."

Students say there is no compromise when it comes to networking either. "Not only have I met close friends in the program, but my business school network is robust, and I am already digging into those connections for current deals I'm working on," says Treseder. "You get every bit of that traditional business school perk with MBA@UNC -- it just looks different than it used to."

The bottom line is that an online MBA program from a top business school like UNC is now seen as being of the same caliber as traditional programs. Even more, it allows people the necessary flexibility to improve themselves and further their education while maintaining a career and tending to their families. Thanks to the MBA@UNC program, students around the globe now have the opportunity to pursue an advanced degree from the University of North Carolina's prestigious Kenan-Flager Business School, a feat once out of reach for many.