Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Part-time vs. Full-time, Online, and my Harvard whine

Ronald Alsop of the Wall Street Journal wrote a very interesting story in the Sept. 21 issue, entitled "The Full-Time Advantage: Students increasingly are pursuing part-time, online and executive M.B.A.s; But recruiters have their doubts."

The explosion of alternative degree programs is old news, but in the M.B.A. world, there is stigma attached to students who attend them, at least in the eyes of recruiters:
M.B.A. Lite -- that's what many corporate recruiters call the various alternatives to a full-time program. In The Wall Street Journal/Harris Interactive survey, recruiters viewed all three of the major alternative approaches, particularly online programs, as inferior to full-time degrees. About 30% of recruiters said they don't believe executive programs build students' skills nearly as well as full-time programs, while slightly more -- 34% -- found part-time programs much less effective. ... In most corporate recruiters' hierarchy, the full-time degree would be on top, followed by the executive M.B.A., then the part-time program, and on the bottom, the online option.

Executive and part-time M.B.A.s at least get a little respect. Online M.B.A.s, however, are viewed with extreme scepticism:
About 80% of recruiters said these programs aren't as effective in developing skills as a full-time M.B.A. In fact, nearly 40% of recruiters rated them as "not at all effective." ... In the Journal survey, recruiters reserved their most savage comments for increasingly popular online M.B.A. degrees. "Come on," one respondent said. "Anyone in the world can do an online M.B.A. It's a commodity." Another said he had been asked to teach courses in online programs for which he felt unqualified, leading him to conclude that they are "scams."

Before you start jumping to conclusions of what these statements mean for the Harvard Extension School's part-time and online programs, consider that an M.B.A. is really a different animal than a degree in history, art, computer science, or biology. MBA programs strive to teach teamwork and leadership, which require a lot of face-to-face time and cooperative effort. For instance, the Harvard Business School's degree programs are organized around groups who meet frequently to manage projects and solve problems together.

Additionally, many companies are looking for young business school graduates who can be shaped to a company culture and groomed for leadership positions over many years, whereas part-time or executive MBA programs are more likely to have older, mid-career students.

Still, there are some lessons to be learned in this article. One is that online degrees have an image problem. There are a lot of scams out there. Diploma mills are all over the 'Net, while other schools use unqualified or inexperienced faculty to teach online classes.

Speaking from my own point of view, I think a classroom environment is a far more efficient medium for academic discourse. On the other hand, something can be said for online's ability to archive coursework, and access coursework at convenient times from anyplace in the world. I think schools like Harvard have to be careful to maintain high admission and academic standards with its online programs, or encourage a hybrid approach (some online, with some in-classroom credit) while taking advantage of the benefits of online.

Additionally, The Wall Street Journal article mentioned that some schools treat their own full-time and part-time graduates differently. NYU's Stern school won't let graduates of the part-time M.B.A. program access the same career fairs and resources that full-time students can. The same is true for Harvard. Even though Extension School Students are part of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, we can't use the same career office as Harvard College or GSAS students -- they won't even answer your email! Additionally, while the Harvard Business School allows cross-registration from Harvard's other professional schools, and even Tufts students, Extension School degree candidates (and if you are a Harvard employee, TAP registrations) are not welcome.

This is discrimination. While Extension School students are more integrated with campus benefits and academic resources now than 10 years ago, Harvard really needs to pay attention to is fair treatment of Extension School students within the Harvard community, regardless of their background, age, or ability to attend classes full-time.


Anonymous said...
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Jaz said...

Is there any change in this perception since 2005. Am planning to take on online MBA in 2012 and need a earliest suggestion here.


Anonymous said...

Something that most people don't talk about in reference to internet-mediated or part-time programs is the quality of student. I completed an Executive Master's at The Fletcher School (Tufts University) a few years ago. It was internet-mediated. The courses were the same as the resident executive program, the instructors were the same and the coursework and requirements were the same.

Because of my current position with government, I am surrounded everyday by colleagues who attended full-time residency programs at the Fletcher School. Here's the difference and it's huge. My class had senior officials from the United Nations, private business, former Ambassadors from multiple countries, and senior ranking military officers. That is something you will not get in a full-time residency program. Why? Because the only people who have time for full-time residency programs are what I would call "youthful students" or very low level executives who had the luxury of taking a full year or even two or three away from work or home to do full-time studies.

I can tell you without exception that my network is far better than if I had attended the residency program. My knowledge, especially from my fellow classmates, is far better than if I had attended a residency program. So, anyone who says that an online or part-time program is inferior to an resident program is right only so far as it pertains to the quality of the institution and its students. Yes, I agree that a Master's degree earned through Phoenix or Capella online is not a the best quality option although I'd argue that any education is better than no education. However, Tufts, graduate online certificate programs from Stanford, part-time/online programs from Harvard; they are an extremely good options and, in some cases, far better than their resident equivalents. I know this from personal experience.