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More SU MBA students attend the virtual classroom

Ellen Abbott
Whitman School assistant dean Amy McHale

The online MBA program at Syracuse Univeristy’s Whitman School of Management has its biggest class ever signed up this year. Officials say it’s a reflection of a growing trend in higher education.

At the start of the semester this January, a new cohort of Syracuse University MBA students got together for a happy hour. The difference? They were having their party online.

Whitman School assistant dean Amy McHale says this semester’s class set enrollment record. Distance learning master’s programs have been at SU since the 1970s, when students sent in their papers by mail.  

But there’s more competition in the online front now. New MBA online programs have started up at Temple and the University of Maryland. There are more than 300 at colleges and universities nationwide.

So McHale says Whitman decided to hire a new company, 2U, to handle the online process. The MBA program was relaunched, resulting in this year’s record class, with over 200 students getting their MBA online, compared to 100 taking classes on campus. McHale says there are lots of reasons prospective students choose the online route.

"You know, I think whether it’s the crash of 2008, people are working, they don’t want to leave the good job they already have, they want the flexibility to continue their education,” said McHale.

And online courses at Whitman allow them to do that, peppering pre-recorded content with a weekly live online class with other students.    

"I call it the Brady Bunch, because that’s the way it appears. You actually each have your own little box, just like the television show we all loved. And you can see everyone, you can hear who’s talking."

The online students are older -- the oldest member in this year’s class is 60 years old -- and tend to have at least ten years work experience, compared to the twenty-somethings taking classes at the school in Syracuse. More than a quarter are military. McHale says that all makes for a student body that has different life experiences.

“You know, a lot of technology, financial services folks. About 10 percent manufacturing. It just seems like as I’ve looked through applications, people who have very diverse backgrounds,” said McHale.

She says the class schedule is better for the professional person, as well.

"If they were to try for our full-time program, unfortunately for the working professional, most of our courses are in the 9 to 1 o’clock range. And so all of these Brady Bunch sessions I mentioned are after 6:30 at night or on the weekends.”

As for the future, McHale expects the program to grow.

“It’s certainly going to be a big logistical challenge to keep multiple courses, and multiple sections staffed all the time,” she said. “But again, our partner has recognized this. They’ve actually bought on board a faculty recruitment expert, that is available to us should we need help."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.