RENO, Nev. — Back when the University of Nevada, Reno’s College of Business conceived an Online Executive Master of Business Administration program, it was a less-than-ideal time for aspiring business leaders.
The year was 2009, and the Great Recession had a vise grip on the economy.
“Most folks told us, why are you doing this?” Kambiz Raffiee, associate dean and director of MBA programs of UNR’s College of Business, said with a laugh during an interview on campus last week.
Yet, administrators tuned out the recession-stemmed skepticism and pressed on, Raffiee recalls, eventually launching the university’s online executive MBA program in the fall of 2011.
A mere 13 students were enrolled.
“There was no reason to hold back,” said Greg Mosier, dean of UNR’s College of Business. “You can’t wait for the perfect time, because it’s never coming. We knew we needed to be in this space. If we were going to be serving our community and serving the students of the university, we needed to have something like this out in play.”
Raffiee, breaking into a smile, added: “That’s what we call ‘risk-taking behavior’ in business. Unless you take the risk, you never know what the outcome is going to be.”
More than six years later, UNR’s Online EMBA has not only seen enrollment grow from 13 to 60 students, the two-year program is also considered one of the top online graduate programs in the country.
In early January, the U.S. News & World Report announced that UNR’s College of Business was ranked No. 33 of 199 schools in the “2018 Best Online MBA Programs” category. A year prior, the university was ranked No. 36.
“The program is gaining a lot of professional recognition,” Raffiee said.
Convenience and cohorts
The College of Business’ main motivation behind the decision to start an online EMBA program, Raffiee said, was to create a viable option for students who aren’t able to attend UNR’s on-campus MBA program.
What’s more, administrators designed the program as a cohort model because it wanted those enrolled to “start as a group together and finish as a group together,” Raffiee added.
“We like the cohort model because it provides support for the students, outside of what the faculty or the university is doing,” Mosier said. “So all of a sudden you have people that you didn’t know when you started who are now your lifelong friends by the time you’ve finished. And you can call upon them for the rest of your life or the rest of your career if you need support or direction or are contemplating a move.
“And that kind of interchange is pretty valuable.”
In all, five cohorts have graduated from the two-year program since its conception, with students working through the 12-course curriculum from corners of the earth as far-flung as Australia, Dubai and the Philippines.
“You have a global reach, so it helps extend the brand,” Mosier said. “All of a sudden you’re not just recognized as the University of Nevada, but you’re also recognized globally as providing a competitive business education.”
The largest cohort of 33 graduates came in 2017. Together, the students had an average of 12 years of work experience when they started in 2015.
“When you look at the type of students that we have in the online EMBA program,” Raffiee said, “these are professionals with significant work experience that are coming from a variety of disciplines. In the program we have Ph.D.s, attorneys, doctors, students with master’s degrees.”
FosterING future business leaders
It’s no secret: Economy-wise, a lot has changed for the better since the great recession took hold roughly a decade ago — especially in Northern Nevada.
With Tesla and Switch in operation at the nearby Tahoe Reno Industrial Center, and Apple breaking ground in downtown Reno, the region’s economy is on a substantial uptick.
This fact, Mosier feels, will only continue to inspire aspiring students to advance their education in business with programs such as UNR’s Online EMBA.
“The market (for our program) includes people who are trying to take advantage of what the local economy is doing,” Mosier said. “The fact that the economy is doing so well … how do I become a part of that if I’m a student?
“We’re constantly asking ourselves, what does higher education look like around business in the coming year? In the coming decade? And how do we best serve the local economy around that?”