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."

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