Monday, December 26, 2005

Comment Roundup

Well, I'm loving break so far - other than some car troubles, but so it goes - I'm planning to finish my Financial Accounting review in the next few days. Until then, here's just a few comments that have been posted here that I thought might be of interest:
  • Anonymous on Penn State (Anonymous, or anyone else at PSU Online - I'd love to hear more!)
  • Steffan on Online Degrees in general

Thursday, December 22, 2005

ECN 502 - Managerial Economics

Okay - this post is long overdue, but hey - better late than never! I actually started this a good while back (10/24/05), but then Financial Accounting came along ... but that's for another post. ;-)

This course was really great - but it also kept me really busy! So, I didn't get any post in during the middle of the course, as intended - so this will be both a detailed review of the course, upon having just completed it.

Managerial Economics. Hm. So what's it all about?
Managerial Economics is not designed to "make you into an economist." Rather, the course is designed to provide you with the basic platform for all managerial decision making.
So, that said... Some background. This was our second class. For me, it took notably more work than the previous course, as was anticipated. I haven't had an Econ course in a good ... probably 5 years or more. I like Economics - as described by a classmate, it's a unique blend of history, psychology, and math, all of which I enjoy - but it's been a while since I studied it. So, I anticipated heavier time spent on this course, and that turned out to be a more than accurate prediction. ;-)

Faculty Interaction
We had two professors teaching this class - Drs. Burgess and Chade. Both of them were really great. Dr. Burgess demonstrated his commitment to us by posting the first week or so of the course from his villa on St. John. *drool* I guess maybe he does know a thing or two about economics! ;-)
Anyhow, Dr. Burgess taught the first two and half or three weeks of the course, and then Dr. Chade took over. Both professors were very prompt with the message boards - they both seemed to really enjoy helping us understand - always the mark of a good teacher. Many different anecdotes, stories, examples - anything to help the material sink in.

Peer Interaction
The peer interaction for this course really jumped up for me. We were to work in our sub-teams on the weekly homework assignments. My group's interaction on the task was so-so - some of my group was very excited to work together to get it done, others rathered to go it alone. That concerns me some for future classes, where our team interaction will play a larger role in the course, but so it goes. Past that, I also really got to know even better and communicate with other members of my cohort outside of my team, which has been quite nice.

Thus far, this was probably the best course in terms of discussion of topics in the forums, in my view. This was primarily due to the content of the discussion. Where the discussion of the previous course was a bit more applied/problem based (e.g. "How do you do XYZ again?"), the discussion here was much more rounded, in terms of tackling implications of the topics. Economics as a subject lends itsself quite naturally to discussion, but I really appreciated all the different anecdotes and examples that were shared and discussed on the board, from people's "day jobs". To me this highlights yet again the benfits of a part-time program - online or otherwise.

First off, I had Macro and Micro Economics in my undergrad curriculum, in addition to Engineering Economy, which is more "applied", in the sense of valuing projects, present value, etc. Granted, my undergrad econ classes were early in my collegiate career, so my memory may be a bit spotty - but I swear that we covered the high points of a full semester of Micro econ in the first week. Phew!

The course covered 5 basic topics (e.g. modules):
  1. Foundations of Economics
  2. Supply, Optimization, and Market Structures
  3. Optimal Firm Decisions
  4. Pricing with Market Power
  5. Strategy: Game Theory for Managers
In addition to the modules, we also studied a number of individual firms by way of publications - Polaroid, American Airlines, etc. It was quite interesting to see the "real world" implications of the material.

As noted in other posts - the final was quite difficult. I did have a request to post some of the final, but I don't think I'll be able to do so - I will say that it was roughly half multiple choice, and half free response. The multiple choice was definitely tricky, but the free response was where it really amped up. However, I definitely appreciate the rigorousness - I wouldn't have it any other way. ;-)

Great course. This really reminded me of - or showed me - how much I enjoy the subject. I guess you could say it's the mark of a good course if it changes how you think about things in your day-to-day life - For whatever reason, I didn't get that effect out of my undergrad econ courses, but after this course, I definitely find myself thinking more "economically" day-to-day. I don't mean "cheaply" - I've always been cheap - but the economic reasons and reasoning behind decisions - in the news, at work, otherwise. I now follow several economics blogs in my regular news feeds - Adam Smith Lives, Cafe Hayek, EconLog, Marginal Revolution, and William Polley. Anyhow - highly recommended!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

ASU/W.P. Carey Chat - Dec. 8

From the ASU/W.P. Carey Online Program homepage - as before, I'll try and be there, at least for a bit.

Chat with us!

Get your questions answered by Admission Representatives in our December 8th Chat Session. Simply log into the chat session on Thursday, December 8, 2005 from 11:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. MST (1:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. EST).

Anyone is welcome to participate at anytime during the two-hour session.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Business 2.0: A Degree of Respect for Online MBAs

Business 2.0 (December 2005): A Degree of Respect for Online MBAs

I won't spend a ton of time looking at this one, perhaps for obvious reasons. In short, I think it sums up my stance: Don't expect Harvard-level cachet or commensurate salaries/jobs, but do expect a quality education (if you've done your homework on the program!), and a degree that is widely accepted by many, and will be moreso by all as time goes on.

Generally positive of online MBAs. Lists a wide variety of schools, which I think is good. Offers several profiles of different students, which offers a good feel of the different programs and reasons for choosing online out there. One quote was offered up by an HR manager at Intel that I also gave, just about verbatim, and I think really makes an excellent case for online MBAs:
“I work with people all the time whom I rarely meet face-to-face,” says Intel’s Fisher. “That is the real world of business today, and anybody who says online MBAs don’t work is just fooling themselves.”
Like it or not - in a knowledge-based economy, distributed teams is the name of the game.

I do wish they had spent more time detailing the for profit vs. traditional institutions and the role of AACSB accreditation, and how to choose a program in general - I tried to impress that in my interviews, but so it goes. :-)

A well-written, informative article - for anyone thinking about an online MBA or anyone thinking about hiring an online MBA - and I know that Krysten put a good bit of time into it. Give it a read!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Thanksgiving Update

No rest for the weary!

Whereas other schools are letting off for Thanksgiving (my buddy at Vanderbilt full-time is off an entire week!), we are ploughing on through! Ouch! We're currently in week 4 of Financial Accounting. This is all-new stuff for me, so it's been a good bit of work so far. I'm really appreciating what I'm getting out of the class - I feel that I've got a pretty solid fundamental understanding of accounting concepts, how to analyze financial statements, and the like. I don't appreciate the reading - not exactly the most entertaining stuff to read! But, it must be done .... back to it!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Google Analytics

Sorry for the mass re-publish, to those of you reading via RSS - I just added Google Analytics. Still working on that Econ post - Financial Accounting's new stuff for me, so it's keeping me quite busy!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Econ Final

Okay, I'm very delinquent in my overall post summarizing the Managerial Economics course - working on it, I swear - but I just had to break in on the final.

WOW, what a final! The course was, overall, a very valuable one - I really enjoyed it. It was also one that took a lot of work. The final, however... MAN, did they stick it to us! Okay, it may not have been the worst final I've ever taken, but it was definitely harder than I anticipated, and I think I go along with the rest of the class in that regard.

It was two parts - multiple choice and short answer/free response.

I just thought I'd pull out some "summary statistics", based on the class averages for the final - bear in mind, that if your GPA falls below a 3.0 (B average), you're on academic probation (I believe this is typical of most master's programs). This course's letter grade cut-offs were A=90, B=81, C=70.
  • Final was worth 53% of the total grade(!)
  • Average score on the Short Answer was 71.25%
  • Average total score was 76.85%

Final Pts Course Wt.
Final PctAvg PtsAvg PctAvg Pct - Wt.
MC3023.85%45% 25.11 83.70% 37.67%
SA/FR40 29.15% 55% 28.5 71.25% 39.19%
Total 70 53.00% 100% 53.61

So anyway - the masochistic side of me really appreciates the fact that they stuck it to us - I appreciate the rigor. But then the other side of me just hurts! ;-) That means the average score on the final - comprising over half of the grade of the course - was a C. And not even a very high C, at that.

The overall course grade distribution was 46% A/A-, 36% B+/B, and 18% B-/C.

Anyway - hopefully this demonstrates that we are being held to a reasonably strict standard, I think. Not quite 50% A/A-'s may seem pretty lax at first glance, but where you're essentially limited to A's and B's to be in good academic standing... that nearly 20% of B-/C really jumps out. I mean, it's clearly not statistically significant evidence - we could just all be dumb, on average - but you'll have to take my word for the fact that those in my cohort are, by and large, very sharp people. ;-)

Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween Homework

Well, I don't think ever, in all my school years, have I ever done homework/studied during Halloween trick-or-treating. Until now! ;-) Here I am, reading my financial accounting lesson, popping up and down for trick-or-treaters...

So, I guess that's either a pro for online MBA's, or a con - I'm even working on Halloween! ;-)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Online Degrees More Acceptable in the Workplace

Interesting article on BusinessWire, regarding's Online Degree Surveys, with 107 employers responding:

Online Degrees More Acceptable in the Workplace

Basically, one of their quotes touches on what I see to be the biggest strength of an online degree:
One such respondent stated, "It takes a lot of discipline to complete an online degree."
In my experience thus far, I absolutely concur with that statement - it takes considerable discipline to sit down and hit the books when nobody's really making you. They go on to give some statistics gathered from the survey, summarized below:
  • 34% have ever encountered a job applicant with an online degree
  • 20% have hired applicants with online degrees
  • 54% still favor job applicants with traditional degrees over those with online degrees
  • 45% said they would give job candidates with both types of degrees equal consideration
  • 86% would be willing to accept a job applicant with an online degree, while
  • 14% said that both online bachelor's degrees and graduate degrees are not acceptable
  • 91% would hire a candidate who had everything they were looking for, but only possessed a degree from an online university
Yes, for the next few years, online degree holders will potentially be subject to a bit more scrutiny than a brick-and-mortar degree holder. However, I think that will continue to become less and less of a factor, and if you are a truly qualified candidate for the job, the degree will be seen as complimentary, and not a detraction from your credentials.

If nothing else - Just wait until I go and take over the world. THAT will give online degrees some credibility. ;-) To be perfectly serious, though - as more and more people take online courses, it would stand to reason that we will have more and more people who "make it big" that went online. As that happens, the perceived credibility of qualified online programs will increase dramatically.

Monday, October 17, 2005

ASU / W. P. Carey Chat

From the ASU W. P. Carey MBA Online Program homepage:
Get your questions answered in our October 19th Chat session. Simply log into the chat session on Wednesday, October 19, 2005 from 2 p.m. - 4 p.m. MST (5 p.m. - 7 p.m. EST).

Anyone is welcome to participate at anytime during the two-hour session.

I will plan to logged in for most if not all of the session - for anyone reading this that's a potential applicant, or just generally curious - feel free to log in!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Online learning gains ground

Online learning gains ground

Interesting article in the Nashville City Paper - hardly a publication of the same caliber as the WSJ, but interesting, nonetheless - generally quite favorable of online learning.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Google RSS Reader!

Not really about my MBA, here, but another meta-post on blogging, and/or keeping up with bunches of regularly-updated websites - to my non-techie MBA friends and readers who haven't yet found RSS readers - Let me make yet another plug of them as a concept in general - they will increase the productivity of your web surfing tenfold, if not more. It may sound silly, perhaps, to increase the efficiency of your web surfing, but if you're like me and try to follow tons of websites - of both professional interest (e.g. business, economics, finance, etc) and leisure interest - it's no joke. This is another thing you'll want to be ahead of the curve on, not behind it.

Anyhow - As I wistfully posted a while back, I really wanted Google to buy out Bloglines, or otherwise offer an RSS reader of their own.

Wish no more - They've got it! Of course, it's still in beta and all that, but of course, as with anything Google, they've put their own spin on it and done it up even better! For those into the whole Web 2.0 thing, it is definitely a move in that direction.

Thus far, it's very cool. It took me a second to get used to the interface - they use tags ("Labels"), of course, instead of folders. All very AJAXy - quick, snappy, and all that good stuff. Though, with my 85 feeds (and counting), it does bog down every so often. ;-)

I was able to export my Bloglines list to an OPML file (hint: you have to view your blogroll publicly, and look at the bottom to Export Subscriptions - mine), and upload all my feeds - migration took all of maybe 3 minutes. God bless open standards.

There's still a few things they could do - again, still in beta - but overall, a very nice reader. I'll probably keep my Bloglines account active for a bit, but I sense a migration to Google's Reader.

Monday, September 26, 2005


Our prof for our current class posted this message this morning:

Well, I have no idea how she did it, but [STUDENT] got her quiz done before the deadline last night (even though she didn't have to make that deadline). Since she had no internet connection, she phoned in the answers to [ADMINISTRATOR]'s voice mail! This ranks up there with the all-time hurricane award winners (from last year) for going above and beyond under unbelievably bad circumstances.

We all wish [STUDENT] and her family (and all of the others who are storm affected) the long run of good luck that they so richly deserve!

Wow! As some background, [STUDENT] was chased out of New Orleans to Houston by Katrina, and then again out of Houston by Rita. Recall, while we are in our classes, we have one quiz due each week, Sunday night (not to mention an exercise to Saturday night). Forget the act of actually taking the quiz; what is more monumental to me is that she was able to cover the material enough to feel comfortable taking the quiz, when she could have "taken a pass". This says two great things to me:

  1. The caliber of students in our program is exceptional. I mean... Talk about dedication!
  2. The faculty/staff really do care about your education, and will do everything reasonably possible to accomodate any extenuating circumstances.
Anyhow - just an interesting point of info - I thought it was really impressive.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

WSJ: The Full Time Advantage

In effort to present both sides of the story - here's a pretty interesting article in the WSJ that touts the advantages of full-time over part-time, and online as a subset of part-time:

WSJ: The Full Time Advantage

Personally, I think they present some good points, and some bad ones. Namely, of the good ones, is one that I have told many, many people:

If your goals post-MBA are:
  • Specifically looking to get into high-powered investment banking or management consulting
  • Specifically looking to change careers/industries
  • Specifically looking for a new employer
then you should strongly consider a full-time program.

If your goals post-MBA are:
  • Enhancing your current career and prospects within your current employer
  • Keeping yourself marketable/competitive
  • Bettering yourself through learning
then online (or part-time) is an excellent option, in my opinion.

It's not to say you can't switch employers at all with an online degree (many of my fellow classmates provide evidence to the contrary of that, even before completing the program), or that you shouldn't go full-time if you wish to return to your original organization - just some rules-of-thumb.

One other point touched on in the article that I firmly agree with is that whether you are pursuing full-time, part-time, or whatever - it's still just a degree. It's not a magic ticket entitling you to anything. As noted in the article by a recruiter from Bain, "Frankly, we look at individuals and their accomplishments and capabilities, without distinguishing part-time from full-time from executive." You can have an MBA from Wharton, but if you can't back it up with relevant, progressing work experience, it will be worth little more than one from Degrees-R-Us. Similarly, if you go online, and don't work to apply your learning through relevant, progressing work experience, you will have a similarly worthless piece of paper. Bottom line: You can't rest on your laurels, however pretty and laurely they are.

In short, though, yes - people are still going to be wondering a bit about online education, for the next few years; some more than others. I' m a firm believer that it's here to stay, though, and will only become more accepted as time goes on.

I do find some fault with the article for not really exploring online options other than Duke and degree-mills - it's like the North and South Poles. There's just a little bit in between. Okay, they touch on specific traditional part-time and E-MBA programs, but little else is mentioned of online programs, save a quick note on Babson. Granted, their purpose in writing wasn't to list a bunch of programs, but it could've been a bit more researched to that end - the section detailing the issues with online programs is noticeably un-peppered with specific schools, as the earlier sections of the article are.

One of the recruiter's remarks really showed a lack of research or understanding and pre-judgement, but that implies they don't care to try and understand - which as a student considering online education, you need to be aware of. "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.'" Okay, fine - I would have a really bad taste in my mouth, too. Notice that neither the recruiter, nor the WSJ, mentions the plenty of respectable online programs out there. I somehow doubt that Duke uses adjuncts. I know that ASU doesn't. The thing to watch, though, is that human predisposition to generalize - Some school called this recruiter to teach in their online program, he didn't feel qualified, therefore they must all be scams.

One other point, as noted in the article, is on communications and classmate interaction. Specifically, it's cited as another reason to go full-time over online. I really feel this is a big part of the experience - online or otherwise. Personally, I feel that I've had a great deal of interaction with a number of my classmates, they same way I interact with teams I am on at work - by phone, e-mail, forums/chats, and so on. No doubt - there is definitely something to be said for in-person interaction. However, by the same token, there is no doubt that distributed teams and companies are more and more commonplace, and perhaps even outrank non-distributed teams. Interacting on and managing distributed teams will be a critical skill in the more and more knowledge-based economy, and I feel this is one area where online students have an edge.

I'll leave you with the closing quote from the article, from the dean at Babson, that sums up my stance:
"Online M.B.A.s may not have the same market power and cachet right now as other types of degrees," says Dr. Rice. "But I predict that 10 years from now, there will be top managers at companies who did an online program and who will be able to say it worked for them."

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Classmate Interaction

I thought I'd do a quick-and-dirty post on how the interaction with my other virtual classmates is going.

The primary communication medium is the forums. This is one benefit that the paradigm of a digital classroom has over a physical one - if you miss the answer to a question or are out for a day (not to say you'd ever skip class, right??) in a physical class, then the answer is just gone, unless you have someone there taking notes for you, and then you get into whether or not they wrote it down completely, translated it to you correctly - it gets a bit like the game telephone.

With a digital class, when a professor (or student!) answers a question, it's there for everybody to see - everybody gets to see it, save it, reference it, AND search it! Searchability is very nice - no digging through your class notes for "point estimate" or whatever; just search it, and whammo - there it is! Of course, this gap will close as more people take notes in class digitally, but it's still nice to have a written, searchable record of exactly what the professor said.

I have worked with some of my other classmates a good bit, just helping each other to understand concepts - a few via phone, but mostly instant messaging and e-mail. It's been really neat getting to know these folks - coincidentally, the ones I talk with most are in Arizona.

Anyhow, because I'm a huge nerd, I thought I'd try to show what the forum activity looked like by number of posts, for anyone reading this that can't go and see for themselves.

I'd say for class one (QBA 502), it's pretty consistent with the course difficulty - the first week, the whole school thing (nevermind the course) was brand new, so some pretty reasonable volume. It really ramped up the second week, that week being advertised in advance as the hardest week of the course, and then tailed off as a the course got easier. Recall week 6 is the Final Exam week. You might think there would be more posts there, but between no questions being answered after the final was available (Wednesday of that week - see post-mortem on the course for more), and the other week's forums available for review and searching - it makes a little more sense.

Our current course (Managerial Economics, which I'll wait to week 3 or 4 of to review) - which we're just ending the first week of (there are already more posts for Week 1 than when I made this chart!) - has already seen much higher posting volumes. I'd say this is accurate - For me, at least, this has been more difficult material. I do enjoy Econ, but it's a little fuzzier by nature, and is not as cut-and-dry as statistics is. Of course, a good bit of it has been some good class discussion on examples of theories in practice - e.g. economic profit in the real world, marginal cost & benefit in the real world, etc. Week 2 is obviously quite low, because it's just now starting. ;-)

Recall there's 60 people in the cohort, so your average post per person only looks like 2-3 per week at the most - a more interesting analysis would be to Pareto that by person, because as you can imagine, some people post quite heavily (guilty ;-) ...), whereas others might not post at all. Of us active and semi-active posters, I think we've got quite the community going on - lots of good discussion, students-helping-students, and insightful examples of application of business theory, etc. Of the inactive posters, I'd say that ... well ... I don't know what to think, because they don't post. They're like that one student in each undergrad class (come on - I know you all knew him/her - or were him/her) who never showed up to your class except to take the tests (if then!). And to be fair - for the courses so far, at least, posting (or even reading, but I can't imagine getting by without that!) is not required.

Time willing (ha!), I'll try and keep this little chart updated regularly-ish, and maybe to some more extra nerdy analysis, such as true average posts per person, a Pareto chart, maybe a little histogram of posting volume, words per post, total words posted - we'll just go crazy, here! ;-)

QBA 502 - Managerial Decision Analysis Post-Mortem

Okay, I've been a slacker and haven't posted in a month. All I was committing to was one post per class, and here I'm going to try and do TWO! Though, this one will likely be brief - just wanted to get a post-mortem on Statistics. Yes, it's a good two weeks after the fact - I'm gettin' there!

As promised, weeks 2 and 3 were the toughest. I got through them alright, though - again, having had a good bit of statistics, the course was overall a good reintroduction to school for me.

Weeks 4 and 5 were very much easier - predicated on your understanding of the prior weeks, anyway.

The final exam was actually rather tough. Primarily this was because of the way it was administered, though I appreciate the respect for equality. Basically, the professor wanted to make sure each student had the same information for the final - so, he just elected to not answer any more questions after the final was made available, which was Wednesday of week 6 (due Sunday night). This was a widely publicized fact, well in advance, so it wasn't like it was a surprise announcement or anything. A little "all or nothing", I guess, but I appreciate that everybody who took the final - nation- and world-wide - had the exact same experience/information/etc that I did - nobody had the advantage over me of extra information. However, that didn't make it any easier, when I had questions I really wanted some clarification on. I think I'm a bit scarred from my undergrad, in that I read into every single question way more than is necessary. So it goes, though. I did use one of the positive aspects of my scarring from undergrad, and clearly stated any and all assumptions where I had to make them, and most of those were taken into account in the grading, so I suppose it all works out.

All in all, I can't complain - I'm satisfied with my grade. And it was a good course - presented some bigger picture thinking and inference off statistics, to emphasizing "what the numbers really mean", rather than just straight number-crunching, "plug-and-chug", which I really enjoyed and appreciate.

One down - eleven to go! ;-)

Friday, August 19, 2005

Forbes & BW Articles

I really don't mean to turn this blog into article aggregation... there's just been a lot of press regarding online MBA's lately!

Forbes has two interesting articles - the first on part-time in general, which touches on online programs, and the second all about online programs... BusinessWeek's is also a good read.

Do Online MBAs Make the Grade? (BW)
Their popularity is soaring, but some are diploma mills, making recruiters wary of virtual degrees. Here are tips for picking a good program

Part-Time Fever (Forbes)

M.B.A. applicants are shunning full-time programs in favor of flexible programs that let them keep their jobs and stay out of debt.

Click And Learn (Forbes)
NEW YORK - Online study doesn't mean a second-rate degree when it comes to earning an M.B.A.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

On Campus or Online?

I knew when I was called for the interview that I would probably be in the article, but it still freaks me out to see my name in there. Anyway - Knowledge@WPCarey has a great article about online MBA's - give it a read!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

WSJ Online on Online MBA's

Clever title, huh? ;-) Seriously, I just came across a pretty good article from the WSJ (from September 2004!) regarding online MBA programs. Don't worry, it's one of their free features. Worth a read.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

University of Florida - Hypothetically Speaking

I had a question on my opinion (were I in a hypothetical situation) on the I-MBA at UF, given their option to waive some requirements if you already held a BA or BS in Business. The additional caveats were that perhaps other programs were a bit too expensive, time to complete could be a factor, that your based in Las Vegas, so on and so forth. I'll do this mostly as a comparison to ASU, as that's what I'm most familiar with, and that's half the topic of this blog.

I'm presuming this refers to UF's 1-year Program, which is available if you already have a business degree. If anyone has worked out other waivers with UF for specific coursework, I'd be interested to hear about it, but I'm going to make the assumption that we're talking about the 1-year Program.

First off the top, one year isn't - it's 16 months. Nit-picking, perhaps, but just something to know before you jump into it.

Secondly, I still hold my opinion from earlier is that one year (1 and 1/3 years, as the case may be) is just a bit short to be cramming all that material into, and have some of it reasonably stick. Not to say that it wouldn't, or that their graduates are any worse off than their two year program - I just personally wouldn't want to cram that much in such a short amount of time, unless it's simply to "check the box", so to speak.

Thirdly... The greenbacks. The cost of the 1-Year Program at UF is $32,000. This does not include travel to and from Gainesville, FL and lodging for the 5 different weekends you'll have to go out there.
  • Airfare: LAS (hypothetically) to GAN, Fri-Sun - $700 (cheapest possible on Expedia as of this writing)
  • Hotel: $59/night for 2 nights yields $120 (using UF's cheapest pre-negotiated local rate, see bottom of this page)
So, multiply by 5, and that's $4,090 in travel and lodging, at the low end - assuming no car rental, and all meals provided by UF. Grand total: $36,090.

ASU is now $38,000 (unless the Arizona Board of Regents raise the rate again, which is always a possibility), plus travel to Tempe (lodging is included with program cost, and the lodging includes a courtesty shuttle from airport to hotel. All meals save one were included.):
  • Airfare: LAS to PHX, Sun-Fri - $200
  • Meals: Eating one meal out - $20
Grand total: $38,220, or $38,440 (if you opt for the second-year optional visit).

Now, if you will need a new computer, you are on your own at ASU, so bear that in mind - I'm assuming you already have one.

So... hypothetically speaking... Though ASU would be 150% of the length as the UF 1-Year Program (22 months versus 16) and 106% of the cost, if I were living in Las Vegas, I would choose ASU, for the following reasons:
  • The "total cost" (not including the cost of your time!) at ASU is almost negligibly higher than UF (that's negligible to me, anyway - a little over $2K when we're talking in magnitudes of $36K vs $38K - it may not be to you)
  • There are far fewer visits to contend with.
  • ASU is a slight step up in the rankings, at least per USN&WR. UF is unranked globally by the FinancialTimes (ASU is 66). UF was "Also Considered for Ranking" by BusinessWeek (ASU was "Top 30-50").
  • Living in the southwest (remember, hypothetically, Las Vegas), you will most likely get much more mileage out of ASU's brand than you will UF's.
Again - this is all predicated on the fact that the 1-Year Program at UF is in question. If other arrangements are worked out with UF differently from or above and beyond the 1-Year Program, it could certainly prove more attractive, depending on the cost and additional time savings that yielded. If you lived much closer to Gainesville, FL, of course, that could turn this analysis on it's head.

Now, this only explores two options. If cost is really a big factor to you, and you are willing to give some on the "rankings" positions, I would probably explore other options besides UF and ASU - there are plenty of quality online programs for less. This site lists many, many more (note they are distance, not necessarily online!), and amongst others, UMass-Amherst looks like they run about $25K (ballpark), with no residency required.

As always - Your Mileage May Vary!

QBA 502 - Managerial Decision Analysis

My whole goal here is to post at least once per class, if not more. This being my first class review, I'll attempt to "templatize" the approach for future use, but we'll see how that goes...

"Managerial Decision Analysis"? That would be a highfalutin' name for statistics, my friends.

So, this is our first class, and we've just finished with our second week.
Let me break real quick, here - I didn't even mean to write "we" and "our" - see what a community we are?? ;-)
Anyway, we're through with our second week (of five in each class, plus a week for the final; see here). As fate would have it, it's statistics, which works out well for me, as I've had a healthy dose of it in my undergrad, and more recently through Six Sigma training at work. So, this should be a good way to ease into being back in school for me - not that I expect it to be easy; just familiar turf, which is nice, since it's my first time back in a classroom (albeit, virtual) in a while.

Faculty Interaction
Let's see... The professorial interaction. So far, I'd say they have lived up to their promise - both the professor and teaching assistant have been very active on the forums, answering questions, encouraging discussion, and clarifying material. I also sent an e-mail regarding a quiz question. One simple thing that I received that I didn't expect - which was very nice - was an auto-reply, advising my question had been received; that it would be answered within 24 hours, and listed an alternate contact, e-mail, and phone number in the event that for whatever reason there wasn't a reply within the specified period. Very nice. Anyhow, I had a response from the teaching assistant within about 3 hours, so no issues there! Their demeanor is friendly, and willing to help.

Peer Interaction
For this class, as expected, group assignments are ... well ... nonexistant. ;-) However, that is not to say that there has not been some significant interaction on the forums for the class, and a little bit of phone calls and instant messaging. It's really quite heartening to see students answering other students' questions - and even moreso to see the staff (the teaching assistant, in particular) encouraging it. Many times, her responses will be nothing more than "Good job - great collaboration!", validating the answer given by the student, and encouraging future collaboration. You can tell from the forums that some folks are getting a really early start on things, and others are waiting until later - just another testament to the flexibility of the program.

What about the content? As mentioned in orientation, the primary source of material is in the online module, which is a combination of a little bit of streaming video, some reading, and interactive demonstrations and exercises. The content itsself is developed in-house by the school, and at least in this case, by the professor teaching the class. Compared with my undergrad statistics courses, the material is fairly high level - definitely more application-based than theory-based, but I certainly understand - and also appreciate - that.

The tools we use are a set of fairly well-developed Excel add-ins called StatTools. The student version of this was provided with the book. The book itsself is a pretty handy reference - application-based, but with enough theory for the nerds out there.

This course in particular seems to be a very good overview and application of statistics for business or manager-types. Our stated learning objectives are these:
  • Develop a conceptual understanding of statistical thinking
  • Develop data analysis skills
  • Enhance computer skills
  • Learn how to apply statistical methods and generalize to new problems and situations
So far, I'd say they are indeed being met. You won't be any kind of a professional statistician after this class, but that's not what it's made for - It's made to give us a firm grounding in the basics, capable of doing analyses on our own, and perhaps moreso, capable of understanding and interpreting results of analyses (by ourselves or others), so you can know when to call B.S.! ;-)

Here's the five modules that we'll be covering in this course:
  1. Describing data: Graphs, tables, and numerical summaries
  2. Statistical inference and sampling
  3. Regression
  4. Forecasting & Decision Analysis
  5. Statistical Process Control

I'm still honing my plan of attack. So far, it's like this:
  1. The Weekend - Review the coming week's module. Check and submit last week's quiz (due by Sunday), and exercises, if not already submitted.
  2. Monday - I have a previous engagement every Monday night, so I'll just review material or the forums as available.
  3. Tuesday - Begin the exercises, reviewing as I go.
  4. Wednesday - Finish the exercises, begin the quiz.
  5. Thursday - Finish the quiz - but don't submit it.
  6. Friday - Do nothing, and enjoy it. :-)
  7. Later, Rinse, Repeat.
Other than "The Weekend", all that happens at night after work. I have found that I cruise the forums during breaks at work, which helps to kind of keep concepts fresh throughout the day. Thus far, it seems to be working out alright for me.

I'm looking forward to the future weeks, as we're getting into regression and forecasting.

So far - great course.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

My ASU Classroom

Inspired by Chris, I thought I'd share a picture of my ASU virtual classroom... ;-)

Sunday, July 24, 2005

ASU Orientation - July 17-21 2005

Okay… This is both extremely long, and will likely be updated several times, both as I refine it, and hopefully get some pictures to add to it. I was advised by a fellow student to just slam all this into one post rather than have multiple separate ones, so … I did!

For those interested in a clean-looking snapshot of the week, you can find one here, though I don't know how long that link will be good.

Day One – July 17

I arrived around noon on the 17th. My first impression of Phoenix: Unnatural. Even standing in the shade waiting for the hotel courtesy shuttle felt like standing in an oven. SO, I can’t say that I’ll miss being there much during the summer! I got checked in, and goofed off until around 3:00 to go down and register with the school (registration ran 2:00 – 4:30). I came downstairs, and sure enough, there were the personnel from the school. I strolled up (in my Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and sandals), gave my name, and they started preparing my materials. Just then, out of nowhere, two cameramen jump up and start going all paparazzi on me! A bit unnerving at first, but I soon learned that they were there giving us that treatment all week, with good reason (to be detailed later).

Around 5:30, most of us gathered for the happy hour at the hotel. There was a good bit of chatting and the like, but nothing of huge consequence. We all proceeded to the opening banquet at 6:30 or so. What followed – in addition to a good meal – was a very nice welcome from the staff of the online program, headed by Dr. Johnny Rungtusanatham. During his remarks, he emphasized the high quality standards they had for admits in the online program. I was a bit disappointed to learn that the average GMAT fell a few more points to 595, but I didn’t really do my part bring that up a whole lot, so I guess I can’t complain. ;-) One of the things that really stuck out in my mind was one remark Johnny made (paraphrased) – “We will make you work. And we will not apologize! So, perhaps a bit ominous sounding, but I really appreciate the fact that they plan on challenging us.

Afterwards, a few of us went down to the hotel bar, and met up with some of the 2nd year students from the online program who were in for their optional orientation. I’ve got to say, I was very impressed by the level of camaraderie these guys had, for being in an online program. You’d have thought they were old high school buddies by the way they were carrying on.

Day 2 – July 18

This was primarily the fabled “team challenge” day. After breakfast at the hotel, we boarded the bus for campus promptly at 8:00 AM. A short drive to campus later, we proceeded to a lecture hall in the business building. We were introduced to the Student Services for the online program. This was really great, because you really got the impression of how many people they have working to support the online students – from various tech support staff to financial aid to the program managers – quite an organization built around it. From there, we headed to the athletic facility on campus for the team challenge. Being as the high that day was 115 ˚F, the activity was understandably indoors. Though some might describe the activities as “lame team building”, they really served their purpose. The first was to get together with your pre-assembled group.

A side-note on our sub-groups or teams – our cohort of 60 people was pre-subdivided into 10 teams of 6 for group work, general support, and the like. I don’t know exactly who put them together, but they did make some effort to balance the groups by background, so you didn’t end up with one group of all engineers, one of accountants, so on and so forth. I think this will really make a big difference in our later understanding and execution of coursework and projects, by necessitating a variety of business backgrounds.

At any rate, back to the first exercise... We assembled in our teams, and our first task was something they dubbed “Monster Medley”, if memory serves – that is, to create a song from one line of each individual team members’ favorite song. Oh, and it had to be choreographed, too. Needless to say, the final products were quite humorous. Most people (myself included) aren’t really the most … umm… skilled of singers, and they know that, and thus usually try to avoid situations in which they actually have to sing. No respite, here – everyone had to get up there, belt it out, and shake it. I think it accomplished the goal of loosening everyone up, and putting everyone on the same level ground by running them all through an embarrassing gauntlet. ;-)

From there we proceeded to an exercise many have done before in various forms – the general them is there’s a balance beam that you as a team have to cross. A hazardous substance (“nuclear peanut butter”, I believe) covered the floor, so if you fell off, you and your partner (who you could not lose touch with) would have to cycle back and attempt to cross again. The catches were that 1) nobody could leave the balance beam until all people were on it, and 2) one pair of people was designated as … I don’t know; ultra-sensitive or something, such that if they fell off, everybody had to go back and attempt to cross again. Naturally, I was one half of that handicapped pair. I really don’t know how it happens to me; it just does. Anyhow, we were allowed 2 or 3 “mermaids”, who could travel freely throughout the hazardous substance to help us out. I’ve got to say – this was the most painful exercise I have been through in a long time. Our team’s strategy was to send the handicapped pair across first, in the event that they fell, minimal effort would be lost. I was a supporter of this strategy, and still think it was the right one. However, I didn’t quite realize that this would mean I would spend 20 minutes or more balancing between a 2x4 (on the narrow end, naturally), and a 4” strip of 4x4. Sure, maybe it sounds easy. Try it. For those that don’t know me, I’m a big boy. I was, naturally, partnered with a lady of smaller stature, so right off the top we were imbalanced. We started off in a ball-room dancing pose, helping each other balance. By the end, we were quite literally embracing each other and a “mermaid”, as our legs were about to give out. But, our team prevailed, even if we might have attempted it the hard way, and that was a really good feeling.

The third exercise was kind of like telephone, only with a drawing – we stood back-to-back, and a drawing was given to the person at the end of the line, who traced it on the back of the person in front of him, so on and so forth, until the first person in line drew what they understood the drawing to be. I’m pleased to report that our team leveraged technology to complete the exercise quite successfully. We had the last person text-message the first person what was in the drawing. ;-) Before anyone gripes about ethics, we were told that the only rules were no talking and no looking behind you. So we were all “outside the box”, and all that good stuff.

The fourth exercise is a bit tough to describe – it was to navigate through a maze as a team, but where the actual walls of the maze couldn’t be seen, so we had to trial-and-error through it, using the team to remember the correct path and the like.

All in all, yes, they were lame, warm-fuzzy team building exercises. However, I think everybody (myself included) had a really good time with them, and learned a lot about both people on their sub-team, and the cohort as a whole. This is another important point to me with going online, and the effort ASU has made to make sure that we get that interpersonal experience as much as possible, even though many of us may never meet in person again.

From the team activity, we headed to lunch, on our own (though with $10 lunch cards provided earlier) in the Memorial Union (“Student Center”, “Student Union”, etc) on campus. We then re-assembled for a Team Decision Making exercise, and followed that up with our intro to the website, et al, that we’ll be using for the next two years. Lots and lots of support staff; I was very impressed.

We then had our first faculty presentation on the Organizational Behavior course with Kathryn Jacobson. I did hear some rumor from the 2nd year students the day before that their OB class had been quite … “hellacious”, I think, best sums up what I heard. Between an apparently obscene amount of reading and an instructor who may not have been the best for the online medium, many had some complaints with the course. Apparently, the staff listened, because we do have a different instructor (the now-degreed teaching assistant from the aforementioned class’s course). She seems really nice, into the online medium, and really seems to want to help us succeed. She made no bones about the fact that it would be difficult, that there would be a lot of reading, and so forth, but listed her “contractual obligations” with us, which included checking the forums 2-3 times per day, once per day one the weekend, feedback on cases within 3 days, etc. In short, I think that she seems like a really good instructor, so I’m looking forward to the class.

We then had dinner out at a local restaurant courtesy of the W.P. Carey Alumni Council. This was yet another great time to bond with fellow members of our cohort.

Day 3 – July 19

The agenda had us at the hotel all day, which was nice, because it meant we had an extra 30 minutes in the morning. The agenda was primarily more “meet the faculty” and then playing "The Beer Game" (no, there's no actual beer involved) in the afternoon.

We started off with Dr. Stuart Low, who will be our “Managerial Decision Analysis” (AKA Statistics), which is the first course beginning Monday. This lead into a session taught by the Arandas called “Thinking as a Competitive Advantage”, focusing primarily on … thinking. ;-) Seriously, it was all on thinking creatively, getting outside the box, and all that good stuff. After lunch, we had Managerial Economics with Dr. Hector Chade. We then had our introduction to Supply Chain Management with Dr. Thomas Choi. My impression of all of the faculty was very high. At first glance, you might think a kind of stiff, dry professor. All of them were very personable, with their own unique sense of humor, and seem very committed to helping us master the material. One thing I did notice was that every professor (including Dr. Jacobson from yesterday) made it a point to mention that we would be getting the exact same material and even the exact same evaluations (read: tests) as the full-time and part-time programs. This is a really big thing to me (and I think to most). I did have to wonder, though, if they had been instructed or advised to mention it, since every single one of them did it. Either way, the school is obviously staking their name to the quality of the online program, so I still feel very good about my choice.

During one of the coffee breaks, I chatted with Johnny some about Supply Chain, since it is my current area of work, and I recalled it was his area of expertise from earlier literature. I asked him if he would be teaching any of our supply chain courses, since that was his area and all, and his answer both surprised and impressed me. No, why would I?”, he started, at which point I’m wondering what obvious point I’m apparently missing. How would we resolve conflicts of interest, if somebody had an issue with a grade that I gave them, and I am also the director of the program? Maybe it was off-the-cuff, or maybe it was his standard response – either way, it is yet another point of the degree of professionalism and high standards that was apparent throughout the week of both the staff and the program in general. I continue to be impressed.

From there, we spent the most of the afternoon playing that venerable exercise known as the beer game. This is a great exercise for not just supply chain types, but really anyone in business. You can spend all kinds of time describing the bullwhip effect, and how lead-times affect supply planning and sales, and how important it is to communicate both up and down the supply chain, but you really might not make your point until you demonstrate it with this simple exercise.

Day 4 - July 20

Today we headed back to campus. We had been advised ahead that today would be a long one, and those advisements were indeed correct. The primary task to today was the case study. We started off the morning with a few more faculty introductions, for both Financial and Managerial Accounting, from Dr. Steve Golen and Dr. Stacey Whitecotton, respectively. As before, both professors were extremely personable, and seemed very supportive of the online medium.

Dr. Tom Keller then took over to prep us for the case study. Of all the faculty we’d seen, I thought that he seemed the “closest” to business, having started several companies and the like, so he was a great instructor for the case competition. He went over strategies to approach case studies in general, which was quite helpful. We then received the case (reg req'd) to begin reviewing at lunch. After lunch (a sandwich, chips, and a cookie - a bit light for me, but it was a good sandwich) and reading the case some, we headed to conference rooms with our respective teams to begin working in earnest. I won’t detail our approach or our solution or any of the like – I will say that it was a great exercise, both to begin thinking on that broader business sense, and as yet another team building exercise. You can imagine that as the hours ticked by and the rooms got hotter, things got a bit tense at times, a trend that I think held for just about every team. However, it was really invaluable to spend that time working and discussing with these people, who your only contact with over the next year will be virtual.

The brought in dinner (pizza and salad – some had a gripe with that; I thought it was quite good) around 6:30. We finally wrapped at about 10:30, with the presentation complete, slides printed, and executive summary written. Almost 11 hours, which on the one hand, was a very long time, and on the other, was just not long enough. Interestingly, the case that we analyzed was the same one analyzed for the 2005 PAC 10 Case Competition – and they had 24 hours. Still, a great exercise.

Day 5 – July 21

Today was “D-Day” – presentation of our cases to judges. Most of us slept quite well, I think, at least for the few hours that we slept. I stayed up rehearsing my part of the presentation for a bit, and I don’t think I was alone. My team elected to meet early before the buses departed for campus, to get at least one dry-run in. After arriving on campus, we had our cohort photo taken, on the library steps. We then headed into the business building to wait for our presentation to the judges. The nice part, at least for my time, was a 11:00 presentation time, so we had almost two hours to rehearse. We must have ran through it 5 or 6 times, and every time we got better. When H-Hour arrived, we made our pitch to the judges, who were local executives and such. Our presentation went fairly well, I think – We weren’t the most flamboyant group, but we got our point across professionally, and handled the questions well.

Upon completion, we headed back to have our team and individual photos taken. We had about an hour until lunch, so I headed down to the bookstore for a bit. I’ve got to say – that was probably the hottest walk I have ever taken, and I had already ditched my coat and tie. At 12:30 we reassembled for lunch, and had the judges sat out our tables so we could have some good casual conversation with them, which was really neat. We then had some feedback from the judges, and they announced one winner per room of judges (there were three). Regretfully, our team was not one of those, but so it goes. Overall, I still think we were very pleased with our performance, and how we’d come together to tackle the task at hand.

We then had the opportunity to chat with the judges individually over the next hour or so, and the bus headed back to campus around 3:45 or so. I arrived back, and then took a much-needed nap, until about 5:00. I hopped in the shower, and then went downstairs for the happy hour to hang out with the crew before we went to the closing banquet at 6:30.

I can’t speak for others, but I thought the banquet was a blast. After everyone had eaten and such, Johnny began a presentation of some of the better candid moments caught by the aforementioned paparazzi. They must have taken literally thousands of pictures over the week, and somehow they had managed to pick through them all for some of the most … err … “choice moments”.

In summation

I’ve got to say, all in all, it was a great experience. I was impressed by the caliber of most everyone that I met, and also by the caliber of the faculty and staff of the school. They really put a lot of effort into the program, from what I’ve seen so far. The teamwork aspect really seems to play a huge role – this is a very big positive to me. Some folks might note that online students miss out on the whole networking thing. While it will definitely be a bit different, my impression is that we will indeed have a very tight bond with members of our cohort – if nothing else, this is evidenced by the interactions I witnessed of the 2nd year cohort.

It was an absolutely packed week, and I was bone-tired by the time I arrived home. My only critiques would be to build in a little more structured bonding time – though there was lots during the day, many folks would just disappear at night. While I certainly respect their prerogative to do so (hey, who doesn’t have some work e-mail to catch up on?), I would have liked to have seen more people out and getting to know each other "after hours".

Touching again on the customer service aspect, I appreciate that the accomodations and meals (save one) were completely taken care of, and bundled in the cost of attendance.

In short, I hope that other online MBA programs have similar orientations for their students, because I think it will prove to be an absolutely invaluable part of the whole experience.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Business Experiment

Rob, from over at BusinessPundit, has a really neat idea he blogged about, now called The Business Experiment. In short, it's going to be an experiment in an "Open Source business model". Being an Open Source Software nerd, of course I find it interesting!

Monday, July 11, 2005

University of Florida

I had a request for my opinion on the Internet MBA program through the Warrington College of Business at the University of Florida. First and foremost, it's well to note that they were one of the first - if not the first - to offer an AACSB-accredited MBA online. This should mean, in theory, they've had lots of time to work out the kinks, so to speak. Additionally, they offer two versions - a two year, and for those with an undergrad in Business, a one year option. Personally, I think I would opt for the two-year program - Sure, it's nice to get things over with quickly, but I just think that trying to cram everything into one year - even assuming an undergrad in business - will result in much of the information being lost on you, or quickly forgotten. That is, however, just my opinion.

Let's see how it stacks up against the "main criteria" first:
  • AACSB Accreditation - Yup.
  • Ranking/Reuptation - Warrington is is ranked #42 by USNWR in 2006. It is unranked by BusinessWeek (2004) and the FinancialTimes (2005). They are well ranked in several sub-categories (regional, public schools, E-MBA, concentrations, etc); they toot their own horn here.
  • Degree Differentiation - They do not differentiate full-time/part-time/online. This is a Good ThingTM - They take their online programs seriously enough to equate the final product to that of their full-time offering.
  • Interaction - A mix of synchronous and asynchronous, and moderate to high in-residence time for an online program, with an intial orientation plus 7 weekend visits.
  • Specialization - As best I can tell, the Internet MBA is General Management only.
Pretty good, if you ask me! It's not ranked by BusinessWeek or the Financial Times, but I think it still offers good "big-name" brick-and-mortar value, along with an excellent Top 50 ranking by US News & World Report. The cost is $37,000, which includes everything but travel and hotel stays for the residencies (though, they will coordinate hotel arrangements on your behalf). Do recall, that's 8 weekend trips to Gainesville, FL, so that may or may not be a big impact on your budget, depending on your location.

Two things that are included that are a bit unusual to me are a) a laptop, and b) all the "core content" lecture materials - both lectures andPowerPoint - on DVD (Source: The 19.5 MB flash presentation on their web page). Some (myself included) might find the inclusion of $2,550 of institution-chosen computer hardware and software to be a bit annoying; thinking that they could find one for less. Without knowing exactly what software is included, though, it's hard to tell how much better you could do on your own. For the busy or those that just don't want to fool with it, I'd imagine it'd be pretty nice to just get a laptop with all the software you'll need for school pre-installed. I would also imagine it would make tech support through them all the easier, since the techs and users can have a standard configuration to work from. The inclusion of "core content" on DVD is a really neat concept to me - to have something of a lecture reference library of your entire MBA would have to be handy! For the road warriors out there, I think having the ability to watch lectures while in-flight, or otherwise un-connected to the 'net, would be a big plus.

The classes are 2-3 at a time per 4 month session (trimester, I guess, technically). Looking at their course schedule, it does look like they make some attempt to balance it out with (in general) two 3 credit hour classes, and one 1 credit hour class. Personally, I think I'm still partial to the courses in series rather than parallel, but your mileage may vary.

Since this blog is ... well ... my blog, and I want to do more than just aggregate information, I'm going to try and compare to my experiences thus far. Primary differences are some rankings - ASU is ranked 31 by USNWR (2006); Top 30-50 BusinessWeek (2004), and #66 globally by the FinancialTimes (2005). However, those in the south-east US might get more mileage out of UF's name than they might ASU's. The other prime difference is the amount of in-residence required - 2 weeks max for ASU and IU; 8 weekends for UF. As far as "online-friendly", from what I've seen so far (which is only things available publicly on the respective school's sites), I'd put ASU and UF at the top, followed by IU. I'd really like to see UF offer some sort of "test drive" of their system (proprietary, developed in-house), since they seem to be quite proud of it - that could possibly put them at the top, but I can't make that call without seeing it. There is a "demo", but it's just a video of the system being used, you don't get to play with the actual system. The resolution wasn't great, but it looks comparable to BlackBoard and the like.

Key questions or concerns I'd ask myself before attending UF (roughly in order of priority)?
  1. Is the 8 week-end trips to Gainesville, FL, something I want (or really don't want)?
  2. Am I happy with the ranking and reputation?
  3. Is the one-year or two-year program right for me?
All in all, I think the Internet MBA at UF looks like a great option. All my experience is simply from browsing the site - so take all this with however many grains of salt that you need to. That said, I really think you can get a feel for how seriously they take their online program, and how online students are valued, just poking around their site, and we all know how I feel about customer service to the online student.



Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Penn State & Being Special

For anyone actually reading this blog and still deliberating on an online MBA, in addition to checking out the online program at Arizona State, I'd recommend checking out the online program at Penn State, if you haven't already. I've listed these and other schools in earlier posts, but I just happened to stumble back across PSU's page during some random web surfing tonight.

Other than their cost ($23K/yr) being in the similar neighborhood to ASU's ($19K/yr), the thing that jumped out at me is the effort they went to for convenience to the student - this was my big attraction to ASU over IU. In short, as with ASU, it's all rolled up into one nice neat little bundle - no books to buy elsewhere; no extra fees to pay; no registration; etc [source]. Of course, the program meets all the "main criteria". As best I can tell from the schedule, they run courses in parallel, as opposed to in series at ASU - this was a deciding factor between ASU and IU for me. Though this is somewhat limited research, and hasn't looked much at rankings, I think PSU has an excellent looking program due to its "total package" logistics.

To me, this "user-friendly" factor will be perhaps the biggest factor in the rankings of online programs, if ever they are officially ranked as a subset of the MBA marketplace. At the least, it will be a major comparison and decision point for serious students looking for quality online MBA programs. Schools offering online programs must not only sell the quality and reputation of their program, as they sell to traditional students, but they must also sell the "amenities". For traditional students, this means networking, a great city, stellar career services, and the like. For online students, this means knowing that "they are special, too" - That the online program isn't just an afterthought; that someone or many people at the school spend a considerable portion of their day worrying about the online needs; that it's recognized that working and schooling simultaneously isn't easy, and every possible convenience is made available.

This reminds me of a fairly recent furniture buying episode. The usual point in rehashing this would be to laugh at what an incessant niggler I can be when negotiating, but now it serves a higher calling! I was negotiating with the floor salesman on the price of a sofa that was on sale (yeah, yeah). I had already worked it down some; I was just working on another $50 or so. "It's already on sale; what else do you want?!", Bob asked. Thus I replied, "Well that just means everyone can get it for that price, Bob - I'm special! Make me feel special!" Easiest $50 I ever made. ;-)

Bottom line: For online MBA programs, it isn't enough to just be online anymore. The customer needs to know that they're special.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Got the bill...

Well, I got the bill from ASU today... not quite the bill, I guess, so much as the options for payment plans. The Arizona Board of Regents decided that the price needed to go up, too, to $19k per year, which equates to $38k total (up from $34k). Regents will be regents, I suppose.

My company will pay a fixed amount (hint: See the IRS cut-off for taxable employer-provided educational assistance) that's reasonable, but won't cover everything. Though my anticpated income/expenses should theoretically allow me to cover the balance as I go, I'd rather have one less thing to stress over. Thereby, I'm planning on getting my good ol' Uncle Sam to float it for me, and I ought to be able to hit him back pretty quick after I'm done.

I got off easy for my undergrad, not having to do the whole student loan thing. The whole process is pretty foreign to me. FAFSA's and EFC's and SAR's and what-not - all very intimidating to the uninitiated. I e-mailed the business school's dedicated financial aid specialist late last week. I sent another inquiry today, and got a quick response with tons of information - more than I could really have hoped for, really - very high marks for that. They've put together a very comprehensive checklist with every contact, website, and deadline at both ASU and the FSA. They ought to post it as a proper web-page, really, but I appreciate the detailed compilation of information.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

This isn't really on topic with my MBA, as much as keeping up with the volumes of MBA blogs and news sources out there. That said... I've got to say, is pretty darn cool. I've known of RSS syndication for a while now, but never really truly used or appreciated it. I really don't know what I was waiting for (maybe a good reader...?) - it makes monitoring many sites so much easier. I like BlogLines in particular as a web-based RSS-reader over client-side RSS readers because:
  • My reading is up-to-date, whether at home or work
  • It's OS-independent
  • I can publish my links directly from there, so when I find a new site I want to monitor, I don't have to update my RSS reader, my blog, so on and so forth.
Anyhow, I believe they're owned by - I think Google ought to buy 'em out. Not only would it be a great complement to Blogger, but I think they'd have a field day with yet-more data to search and write algorithms for.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Waiting & Work

Not much new, here... I really can't wait for July, to get started. I'm sure shortly after, I'll probably be hating life, between work and school, but I'm really looking forward to it for now. I've got the detail of orientation and the first year's course schedule, down to the day, so it's all seeming very real. Now if I could just find a flight to AZ that meets my price... ;-) Past that, I just need to get in gear over finding the right financing for school. My company will pay up to $5,250 per calendar year towards school, providing you bring back satisfactory grades. Between that and my anticipated income/expenses, I should theoretically not need any loans, but I'd rather have the buffer.

Work is odd right now - on paper, I'm pretty busy, but in reality, I have some very busy days and some very lazy days. Between a six sigma training project, one project that's still in development limbo (on-track, but not much I can or need to do right now, save resolve some minor issues), one that's finished phase I, but am awaiting the internal customer for phase II, and two that are just starting up - I have a lot to juggle, but pretty much everything save the six sigma is in some manner of a holding pattern. I'm doing what I can to break some of 'em out, but ... well ... sometimes things just can't go as fast as we want, which pretty well sums this whole post up. ;-)

Monday, April 04, 2005

Rankings Update

Well, it looks like US News & World Report updated their rankings for 2006... somewhat aggravatingly, both ASU and IU fell a few notches; IU from 23 to 27 and ASU from 27 to 31. I guess the good news is that relative to each other, they are still ranked the same, so I can still rest easy on my decision. ;-) My undergrad alma mater Georgia Tech has lept up the rankings some, and is now number 32.

Where to accept?

I originally thought of IU as my number one choice, and also thought I stood a slimmer chance of admission there than at ASU, based primarily off of how my GMAT score stacked up to their averages. As luck would have it, though, I was accepted to both ASU and IU, so I had the luxury of making a choice, instead of having it made for me. It wasn't as easy as it sounds - sure, I had two great options - how could I go wrong? Well, it's way easier to make this kind of decision when there's at least one blatantly wrong option.

As in earlier posts, both schools satisfied the "main" criteria to me, and they are reasonably equivalent in rankings and the like (to me, anyway, and that's whose opinion counts here), so it was a question of weighing the particulars of each program.

The course of study for an MBA seemed very similar, judging from the list of courses. Both have two weeks in-residence, at the beginning of each year (technically ASU's is "optional, but strongly encouraged"). Both take two years to complete, and recommend spending 20-25 hours per week on the program. Not counting book/material costs and "extra" program fees at IU, ASU costs about $6,000 less than IU - a difference, sure, but not one to sweat for decisions like this.

The primary differences came down to these:
  • Secondary Degree - IU offers several dual-degree options (one of the few online programs meeting my criteria that did), one of which (MS in Global Supply Chain Mgt) is very appealing to me. ASU, though very well respected in the field of Supply Chain, offers no such dual-degree or concentration via online delivery. Point: IU
  • Online-friendly - IU's courses are taken 2 at a time for an entire quarter at a time. Books are not included; thus you have to make sure to buy all the books, etc. With ASU, you take one course at a time (heavier balls to carry, but fewer to juggle), all books & materials are included and sent to you, you are automatically registered for the next class, etc. It may also be simply better marketing, but ASU did a better job of showing what a course would look like (test-drive, etc), has 24/7 tech support, and so on. Point: ASU
So which factor was more important? In the end, I decided that a second degree would definitely not be a bad thing, but would only be a particularly good thing under certain circumstances. I decided at this point in my career, specializing beyond my work experience wasn't necessary, and could even have the potential to be detrimental (limiting, pigeon-holing, and all that). I further decided that two years is a loooong time to be working full-time and in school part-time, so if I was going to do it, I might as well set myself up to be as successful at it as possible.

So... It was a very tough decision, but I'm proud to say that in a few months I will be a student at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, in the online program!


Sunday, April 03, 2005

Application Process

[Note: This is a back-post, to catch-up this blog, since it was started after the whole MBA application process had begun.]

Well, let's see... The application process was fairly smooth for both ASU and IU. I won't do the whole recounting of preparing for and taking the GMAT, etc - it goes without saying that you need to leave plenty of time to study for and take the GMAT to get your score where you need it to be. My only other advice is that if you are thinking about applying to an MBA program within the next year - now is the time to be studying for and taking it.

Both required a "Program" application that was Business-school specific, in addition to a fairly general university application. Expectedly, both program applications wanted to know such things as how adept you are at certain technologies (spreadsheets, the web, etc) - nothing hard-core; just a demonstration that you are reasonably computationally proficient, it being - y'know - an online program and all. They also required the usual essays, resumes, test scores, transcripts, and the like.

Indiana's application could be completed entirely online, right down to recommendations. Indiana uses a stock form for recommendations (no free-form). However, my recommender - who is a pretty big technophile for a manager - had some issues with the online recommendation form. Apparently the it is generic through the university, and doesn't have corresponding information that the Kelley School asks for in their form. So, in the end, he just printed out their form, and faxed and mailed it in.

Arizona's application has two main parts - one online, and one offline. I found the fact that an online program required a part of the application to be completed offline to be a bit odd, but I suppose they're just making their own lives easier, which I can hardly argue with. The online part is the usual stuff - grades, scores, work history, essay, resume, etc. The "hard-copy" is just really you gathering disparate external requirements, like your transcript, letters of recommendation (they require two, free-form), and a copy of your GMAT scores (yes, they required you to have scores submitted directly to them, as well). You just get all those together and drop them in the mail as a single mailing - Not too hard.

I never liked writing essays about how wonderful I am. To make it worse, both schools did not have the required (maximum or minimum) length of the essays very easy to find on their websites. I managed to stumble across them after I'd already written, oh, about twice the max length of both schools. So it goes, though. You'd think that anytime you reference "Essay" (or "Personal Statement" or "Statement of Purpose" or "Statement on Why I'm Such a Swell Guy"), that you would also include the requisite length in that reference. Minor, in the scheme of things, but something to watch out for before you go banging away at your own personal version of The Odyssey.

My only other advice out there is to make sure and give your recommenders plenty of notice; the more notice the more "big" or "important" they are. Between people being out of the country, on vacation, off sick, or just generally busy with meetings and work, it took me more than I'd planned to get my letters acquired. I'd follow the normal project planning credo - take your original lead-time estimate and double it.

Both schools were great about contacting me before my application was even complete and after it was submitted - high marks for that. The were quick to advise any questions I had, timing on when it would be reviewed, when I should have a decision, and so forth.

All in all, it was a fairly painless process. Each school has a few minor things they could work on in the application process, but no major deal-breakers to be seen at this stage in the game.