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Mississippi State program popular with professionals, but

Busy at work? Want an MBA? Think ‘distance’

Starkville — The online MBA degree offered by Mississippi State University (MSU) is popular with busy, working adults who find the distance learning program more convenient than having to be on campus. But that doesn’t mean the distance learning MBA is easier than going through a campus-based program.

“This is not an easy MBA,” said Dr. Barbara Spencer, director of graduate studies for the MSU College of Business and Industry. “It is a real MBA program with significant content. That is an important point. Sometimes it is probably harder for distance students. Try taking a statistics course online — it can be very challenging. We are lucky we have an excellent statistics professor who works closely with students, wherever they are. But let’s face it. If you are learning statistics at home, you need real discipline to do the work. On the other hand, many people are successful. We get positive feedback from our students all the time.”

Spencer said the online MBA has the same requirements as the one on campus, and uses many of the same professors. “From the beginning, we have tried to build a quality program,” she said.

There are some “diploma mills” out there, online universities that offer MBAs that require little work to complete. Spencer suggests that when people consider online MBAs, they should check out the college’s accreditation. MSU’s business school is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the highest certification for business schools in the U.S.

A big drawing card for the distance learning MBA is the flexibility. Students can do the work from home or can carry their laptop computers with them to work from other locations.

The courses are taught in a number of different ways. Some classes are video-taped and then streamed out online for students to watch. There are interactive discussion boards online, team assignments, and sometimes students have to send in videotaped assignments. “We are also experimenting with a live, online, virtual classroom,” Spencer noted. Students log on and can hear the professor talking in real time. They can see his or her lecture and can ask questions and get immediate responses.”

“It is not just a passive memorization thing,” Spencer said. “It is very interactive, and that is good for everybody. There are all kinds of different ways of getting students information. They really like that.”

All but a few distance MBA students are employed, and many have the degree paid for by their employer. That makes the average MBA student different from the traditional college student.

Even though teaching online is a challenge because it is so different than traditional instruction, Spencer said that the faculty really enjoys teaching the distance MBA classes. The students are very competent and bright, and bring with them experience in the real world of business.

“It is a good group of people in diverse industries who come together to discuss business issues,” Spencer said.

Completion of the online MBA takes on average a year-and-a-half to two years, depending on the student’s background upon entering the program. Partly because MSU has such a strong engineering program, the university sees a lot of engineering alumni interested in the distance MBA program. Engineers might need more business pre-requisite courses than people with business majors.

“Students with business degrees with all the required prerequisites can move the fastest,” Spencer said. “Other people like engineers who come in have to take foundation courses before they can take our core courses. What we do to help them out is streamline prerequisites so they can take them online and more quickly. For example, instead of Accounting I and II, they can take one online Survey of Accounting course that covers both courses.”

MSU offers two options for MBAs: first, a general management MBA good for everyone, covering all areas of business; and second, the MBA in project management, which was developed for people with technical backgrounds. The distance MBA in project management is done in partnership with the College of Engineering. Many engineers advance their careers by moving into a project management position, so this degree is tailor-made for them.

The mission of the MSU MBA program is:

• expanding students’ understanding of the conceptual realm of business

• nurturing critical analytical skills

• strengthening communication skills

• helping students to make sound business decisions.

The program includes a solid core of business courses including accounting, economics, finance, marketing, statistics, management and information systems; a three-hour elective; and a capstone business consulting course in which students apply what they have learned to a current business problem. The project management program contains a smaller selection of business courses supplemented by four specialized courses related to project management.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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