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.