By VIKAS ANAND
Executive Director for MBA Programs and Graduate Innovation
Recently the Wall Street Journal carried an article about the decline in applications to M.B.A. programs in the United States. I was in Dallas at an M.B.A. conference on the day the article came out. While there were some nuances in the article that many readers missed (for instance the vast proportion of the decline in applications was the result of a reduction of foreign applicants), it is a fact that some M.B.A. programs have been struggling.
In this context, I reflected on the Walton College’s Executive MBA Program, now in its 20th year and still going strong. And that’s something we are proud of. We don’t have access to the large populations of a Boston or a New York to give us a large pool of applicants. Yet, interest in our program remains high. There are many reasons for this, but I want to highlight four: program quality, the student characteristics, the outstanding value provided by the program, and the format in which the program is delivered.
- Quality of the program. Our best faculty teach in the Walton EMBA and their commitment to the students is extraordinary. A few years ago, a student shared his experience with me. He was in China on a business trip and wanted to complete his finance homework on the flight back. He realized he needed some information from his professor, but it was 2:30 a.m. in the U.S. Without much hope he emailed his finance instructor. He was resigned to not having what he needed to complete his work when to his utter surprise, he received a response within five minutes. And he completed the assignment during the flight. While answering emails at 2:30 a.m. is not a guarantee, the fact remains that our faculty are not just good – they are sensitive to student needs and work in ways that work with student schedules. And the faculty story I shared was not an isolated incident. Stories such as the one above make the rounds among alumni. And thence to potential applicants.
- Our student body. In our EMBA program, we have deliberately tried to create a fantastic diversity of students. We deliberately ensure that we have people with 20 years of experience in the same class as those with two years of experience. The young benefit from the older students’ experience. The older students appreciate how the younger generation thinks. We may have 50 different companies represented in a typical class –ranging from Fortune 100 companies to the U.S. Air Force to nonprofits. The diversity of experience and backgrounds create a fantastic perspective to learn. Students benefit from each other’s experience and form connections that continue to give year after year.
- Outstanding Value. Three years ago, we ran a survey among the EMBA alumni about the value provided by the EMBA program. We were proud and humbled by the results. Almost all the alumni described the way the EMBA program had helped them in their careers, in their networking and personally, too. And that was done, while keeping one of the lowest tuition rates among accredited schools anywhere. In fact, the appeal of our EMBA program is such that it has often drawn in people from all over the country, with several students driving from cities such as Dallas, Kansas City, Memphis — it made more sense for several students to be part of the Walton MBA and even with the cost of travel once a month it provided a significantly better value for students to get their M.B.A. degree here than in local areas.
- The Format. In 2006, we moved our executive program to the blended delivery format. Students took classes online for about three weeks and then came to campus for a Saturday. This format was adopted to create flexibility – busy managers and professionals can’t come to class on a regular basis. So the online format is great – but we did not wish to sacrifice the unique features that a classroom experience can provide. And this format seems to have worked. I remember teaching a case on a toy crisis in the U.S. in one of my business strategy classes. American toy manufacturers had had to withdraw several toys from the U.S. market because the paint used to make them had unacceptable levels of lead. In the class we had a student who had worked with a Chinese paint maker (the toys were made in China), an individual who had been the buyer for toys for Walmart, and another individual who had been the buyer for toys for another large retailer. They had all experienced that crisis together. And we had several students whose kids had been affected by that crisis. It led to a great discussion and tremendous learning.
It’s been great to be a small part of the Walton EMBA program since its inception. We are in the 20th year of the Walton EMBA programs. A lot of faculty, staff, students, and alumni have contributed to make it great. It is gratifying that it continues to be a strong program. Clearly, there are reasons why this program has been so strong. I listed four. I should have mentioned that we and the students have a lot of fun too. If you want to see an example of that stop by for our Halloween special class this November!