What Students Should Know About the iMBA Program


With the advent of massive open online courses, one university has made MBA content available to all.

With the advent of massive open online courses (MOOCs), one university has made MBA content available to all.

I recently spoke with Raj Echambadi, PhD, Senior Associate Dean of MBA Programs and Strategic Innovation at the University of Illinois, about the school’s online MBA (iMBA), which aims to democratize advanced business education and help turn the tide of heavy student debt.

Although the traditional cost of a top MBA can run up to $60,000 a year, plus the opportunity cost of leaving full-time employment for 2 years, the iMBA costs about $22,000 for the entire degree, or about the cost of one semester of pharmacy school at the most expensive private colleges. One of the iMBA courses, “Marketing in a Digital World,” is ranked among the top 50 MOOCs of all time, providing a testament to the program’s high quality.

The University of Illinois is a land grant university with a specific mission. Dr. Echambadi said the iMBA degree fulfills the “global grant mission,” where students experience what it means to be a global citizen, working in the classroom with students from other countries. There are approximately 275 students currently in the program from 23 countries around the world; 80% of them are domestic students representing 31 states and the District of Columbia, about 35% to 40% of whom are from the Midwest. The program attracts students with varied backgrounds, including lawyers, physicians, technologists, military personnel, and software programmers. These student numbers and profiles align with the larger land grant and global grant mission of the university.

How can a college charge so little for a high-quality MBA? Online students don’t use the physical infrastructure on campus. In expensive brick-and-mortar programs, student volumes are relatively low, primarily because of capacity constraints.

The university took a chance to fulfill its mission for not only prospective students, but also alumni. A university might graduate students and never engage with them again in the classroom. Through the iMBA program, however, the University of Illinois can maintain that alumni contact. Its Coursera platform allows it to partner with an entity that has global reach available to alumni wherever they are.

What’s the difference between a student who completes iMBA coursework and one who earns a traditional MBA from the university? The Coursera content contains video lectures, quizzes, and peer assessment to gain fundamental knowledge students can use immediately. The credential comes with augmented content where the student has deep engaging and purposeful relationships with the instructor and fellow students in order to achieve guided mastery, according to Dr. Echambadi. This augmented content doesn’t rehash the lecture, but stimulates engagement through synchronous discussions and live case studies on current topics that might come from that day’s business news.

Who is the iMBA for? Looking at the program, it caters to 3 primary market segments. Career enhancers, including senior management looking to enhance their career paths along the same trajectory, and career switchers comprise 70% of the student body. The remaining 30% complete the program to acquire knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

“We believe in this global mandate to reach our prospective students around the world. We can enhance the wellbeing of our students and alumni well beyond Champaign and help them in their current jobs and the jobs they will earn in the future,” Dr. Echambadi said. “The iMBA program welcomes students of all backgrounds and experiences in order to develop them into innovative leaders for the future. “

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