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MBA Programs Strive For Better Fit with Female Candidates

Woman in BusinessWhen the traditional two-year, full-time MBA program just isn’t in the cards, take heart. There’s a growing contingent of alternatives for the career-minded woman, whether considering an MBA in the near future or planning for it further down the career path. From Pepperdine’s Morning MBA to MIT’s mid-career, one-year MBA, these programs are very different, but they all have one thing in common: their atypical formats provide the choices women are looking for when it comes to fitting an advanced business education into their already eventful lives.

Goizueta Business School Offers Alternatives in Atlanta

Emory University’s Goizueta Business School offers two interesting programs that have their own unique appeal. The Modular Executive MBA Program draws on recent advances in Web-based learning techniques to offer about 30% of its content online. “The program preserves 70% of the rich classroom interaction of a typical MBA program, including teaming among students and faculty interaction,” says Joan Coonrod, director of admissions for the program. The Modular format allows students to earn their MBA by attending class in nine one-week “residencies,” over a period of 22 months—or about once a quarter.

“The online portion employs asynchronous modes of learning so that the students—some of whom come from around the world—can be online when it’s convenient for them.” One of the advantages of asynchronous discussion, or open chats, says Coonrod, is that case discussions can go on over a two- or three-day time period. “Because of this, students have time to think about everyone’s comments, and they have deeper discussions than they normally would have in a four-hour class.”

The Modular Executive MBA Format is about four years old, and is offered as an alternative the to the Weekend Executive MBA format that is in its 27th year at the school. Goizueta continues to look for ways to increase the percentage of women in the program. “I have always felt, coming from a 20-plus-year corporate career myself, that executive format programs would be more attractive to working women who have concerns about stepping out of a successful career, but still want to earn their MBA,” believes Coonrod. “And some of our students have told us that it’s easier to carve out that one week, once a quarter, than it is to give up every other Friday and Saturday for an extended period of time.”

Coonrod believes that the format makes the MBA program accessible to a whole group of people who would otherwise be unable to attain the degree. People coming into the program typically have about 14 years of work experience.

Goizueta Business School’s other distinctively formatted program is its one-year, full-time program, which currently has an enrollment of about 30% women. Program participants start in May, attend an accelerated summer session that condenses a whole year’s worth of material, and join Goizueta’s two-year, full-time students in the fall for their last two semesters.

“Our one-year students typically have an undergraduate business degree or they have taken many of the quantitative classes that enable them to go through the core at an accelerated pace,” explains Katie Lloyd, director of the program. “Students typically have about six years of progressive work experience.”

Lloyd emphasizes that students accepted into the program must be very focused—they don’t do an internship, so they typically are already in the industry that they want to stay in, they have strong undergraduate coursework, and have had exceptional on-the-job training. “I think this program appeals to women because at this stage in their careers, women are on top of their game, they’re organized, they can handle the rigors of the program,” Lloyd says. “The return on investment for one-year programs is huge, and that’s important to women who already make less than men and who typically take more time off for family.”

Pepperdine Program Focuses on Re-Entry

Pepperdine University’s new Morning MBA Program is the first of its type aimed primarily at women who want to return to the workplace after taking time off to have children. It’s a 28-month program with meetings on two mornings a week, four weekend modules, and a seven-week break during each of the two summer sessions.

Dean of Pepperdine’s Graziadio School of Business and Management, Linda Livingstone, believes there are tens of thousands of women in the school’s market who have bachelor’s degrees and several years of business experience who left the workforce to start a family. “The Morning MBA program will enable those women to re-enter the workforce with their MBA and a new skill set focused on leadership and addressing real-world business problems,” she indicated at the program’s launch just this March. Importantly, the program also provides career resources that ease students’ transition back to the world of work.

Livingstone says the school is seeking scholarship sponsors to offset one of the biggest challenges to this group of women: the lack of corporate tuition reimbursement, which is commonly offered by many companies for their outstanding employees.

Long-lived MIT Program Updates Itself for Today’s Realities

MIT’s Sloan Fellows Program was established in 1931, and in 2004 merged with the Management of Technology program to form the MIT Sloan Fellows Program in Innovation and Global Leadership. This venerable program targets mid-career executives with a minimum of ten years’ experience. What really makes it successful is its unique mix of high potential upper-level managers and entrepreneurs.

“I was fascinated with a one-year program,” says Priya Iyer, who took advantage of a natural career transition when the company she headed merged with another organization. She decided to leave her firm, attended Sloan’s one-year program, and then founded a new company, Anaqua, after graduation. “The timing was perfect for me,” she says. “It would have been impossible for me to do a two-year program.”

Suzanne Frey also felt the opportunity cost of a two-year program was too high. Like Iyer, she had significant experience and didn’t think she would fit into a traditional two-year program. “Through classical, on-the-job training, I had ascended to a position in which I was hiring MBAs, so it would have felt weird to go into a regular program,” says Frey. “When the average work experience of the people in the program is 14 plus years, that changes the conversations you can have in core classes–you don’t start at the beginning.”

The Sloan Program is not an executive format program—it’s a full-time, one-year commitment, and companies often sponsor the attendance of their up-and-coming leaders. “Companies often consider this a one-year assignment, or they treat it as educational leave,” explains Stephen Sacca, director of the program. “But students do not have any responsibilities with their companies—we want them to be focused on the program, and they need to separate from their company in order to broaden their perspective.” Sacca points out that for corporations that are trying to move women into upper management, the Fellows Program is an excellent vehicle.

“The way I think and the confidence I have are definitely byproducts of the program,” says Iyer, now executive vice president of Anaqua. “I have better judgment, and my decision making is more efficient and more convincing. People who work for me feel like they’re learning a lot because I can now explain why I make the decisions that I make.” Iyer says she has a phenomenal network and a five-year jump because of the program.

MIT is currently looking to increase the percentage of women in the program. “In any given year we have between 10%-20% women in the program,” says Jane Deutsch from the MIT Sloan School. “We’re looking to make that a solid 25%-30%.”

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