Several years ago, a Jackson real estate executive yearned to enroll in graduate school.
The 35-year-old mother of four believed that if she managed her time well enough, she could earn an MBA (master of business administration) degree while juggling parental responsibilities and job duties that involved an increasing amount of travel.
Within two months, she dropped out of the program, heartbroken and dog-tired. “I knew I needed an MBA to move my career along, but there were just too many obstacles in the way,” she said. “Maybe one day.”
Juggling work and family responsibilities is the biggest hurdle for working professionals going back to school, said Dr. Jean Claude Assad, director of graduate programs for the Jackson State University (JSU) College of Business.
“Most of our graduate student population is comprised of parents whose extended family steps in to help,” he said. “When students drop out of the MBA program, it’s usually because of a family situation. I know of one student who was a working professional, juggling family responsibility and a class schedule with an additional burden of her mother being ill. She finally had to ask for a leave of absence.”
Working professionals mulling a return to school must consider many factors, including the costs, obligations and time management issues, before making a decision to attend graduate school.
“JSU helps working people return to school,” said Assad. “Once we review a candidate for admission, we design an individual plan of study, based on our curriculum. An MBA can be earned in varying lengths of time, depending on the flexibility of the student’s schedule. Most working individuals generally attend two to three classes per semester, and usually follow the four to five semester plan.”
Many colleges, like the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), offer part- and full-time MBA programs to complement work schedules.
“Taking two classes per semester, a part-time student can finish an MBA in two years and still have weekends free to enjoy family activities,” said Francis Daniel, Ph.D., director of graduate programs at the USM College of Business.
“We also offer scholarships and graduate assistantships to offset some of the financial costs associated with going back to school.”
USM’s 30-hour MBA program costs approximately $7,200, excluding books and supplies. (Tuition for JSU’s program costs roughly $6,750.)
“Preparation time outside of class depends on the individual, but students should generally expect to use an additional 12 to 18 hours for study, research and group and individual projects,” said Daniel. “Finding the balance between work, school and family requires a great deal of planning and coordination on the part of the student, and understanding and flexibility on our part.”
Beyond the normal research and class preparation times, groups are sometimes required to meet and work outside of class hours, said Daniel.
“This can be challenging given the geographical dispersion of many of our students, but technological advances have reduced the necessity for face-to-face meetings,” she said. “These virtual meetings are excellent preparation for what they experience in the modern business world.
“In addition, we provide training in business etiquette — including an instructional dinner with a professional etiquette trainer — and culture that add that final polish to our Southern Miss MBAs.”
Mississippi State University (MSU) offers a flexible distance MBA program, in which all courses can be taken online for $430.50 per credit hour. On the Meridian campus, MSU recently initiated an 18-month Saturday MBA program.
“We think that we have a good option for everybody,” said Dr. Barbara Spencer, director of graduate studies at the MSU School of Business. “All of the classes are different, but students typically watch lectures, read articles, write papers and participate in online discussions or team projects. Exams are either given online or mailed to a proctor that the student identifies. In all of our courses, we try to stress interaction with other students and with the faculty.”
People’s Bank, Hancock Bank, Mississippi Power Company and Northrop Grumman are among a number of companies that provide full tuition reimbursement for graduate programs. If they cannot provide monetary support, many companies assist students with flexible schedules.
“We have excellent relations with our business community and provide our students numerous opportunities to network with future employers and mentors,” said Daniel, “creating connections for life that will serve them long after graduation.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org.