UNR College of Business dean: MBA enrollment ‘busting at the seams’
RENO, Nev. — When the pandemic hit this spring, the University of Nevada, Reno’s College of Business responded appropriately.
“We have a tendency to approach things in a businesslike way, so we just kind of pivoted,” said Greg Mosier, the school’s dean.
Shifting its programming entirely online, the UNR business school hardly missed a beat, he said.
Further, the school’s Master of Business Administration programs have seen an influx of applications amid the pandemic — a trend that is happening across the country, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report.
With that in mind, the NNBW caught up with Mosier over Zoom to chat about why MBA applications are soaring and what the future of business education looks like at UNR and beyond.
Q: How has the pandemic impacted the College of Business?
Greg Mosier: I’m not saying that it was without hiccups, but most of our faculty were pretty adept at the technology, had taught via distance learning technologies, and we kind of knew what the drill was. Now, it doesn’t mean that students are 100% satisfied because a lot of college experience is the networking and interpersonal interactions. And we’re still working on how we can leverage that kind of engagement in a technology space. But, in terms of actual delivery of the educational programs, we’re doing pretty good. Nobody wants to stay in this mode, but it’s working for us.
Q: What kind of impact has it had on the volume of applications the College of Business is receiving?
Mosier: The undergraduate enrollment is kind of flat. But, year-to-date, from fall to fall, we’re up 16%, in our graduate enrollment. A lot of that has to do with pandemic. I mean, when people are sitting at home, and maybe it impacted them economically or financially, they look at how they’re going to retool and do different things. We have some really high-quality graduate programs. And so I think it makes it a place that people think about when they get in these circumstances, so we’re kind of busting at the seams on graduate enrollment.
It helped that we also added two new, completely online programs this last year — one is a Master of Accountancy and another is business analytics. You can get a Master of Science in business analytics and, of course, that’s a pretty high area right now. We’re offering that out of our information systems department.
Q: Amid the pandemic, did the College of Business extend deadlines or loosen testing requirements?
Mosier: Yes, we extended some deadlines, but we didn’t really change much in terms of the admission standards. That whole thing has been an evolutionary process going on for several decades — the idea of what it takes to get into a graduate business program. You go back 30 years and there was a hard line in the sand that you had to get these really high test scores with a bunch of quantitative skills. And all schools began to ask the question: is that really a legitimate hurdle to admission?
Just like everybody else, we started looking at alternative forms of what we would require for admission. So, it’s not a hard line in the sand. It’s more of what your portfolio of experience and education is like to show that we think you can succeed. We’re just trying to respond to the market in many ways and the economy in a certain way. We don’t want to deny somebody an opportunity because they missed some artificial deadline that we set in April and they try to get in two weeks later. It seems like we ought to be more about helping people out a little bit. And so it was really about trying to be more collaborative with people who are suffering and thinking about options.
Q: Have application numbers for the MBA program been growing over the years?
Mosier: It’s kind of interesting, because that defies national and international norms. For a while, MBA enrollments were softening. I think we do a very good job with our MBA programs here. We’ve always tried to stay on top of curriculum design, about what they should look like, in terms of the length. Again, go back 30 or 40 years ago, full-time residency MBA programs were usually 60-hour programs — a huge number of hours. Most schools like ours have begun to say, that doesn’t make any sense. You can provide a skillset around business knowledge without putting students through all that.
We’ve looked at the coursework. We have a committee in the college that’s currently looking at it again, because we constantly study it. What are the things we’re teaching and are they the right things? And the consequence of being very service-oriented towards the region, our enrollments have been strong in the MBA really since I’ve been here. And then the Executive MBA, which is our online offering, applications for that are going up a lot. It’s getting the word out that a high-quality program really does lead to success. And so we’re getting lots of applications for that.
Our on-campus MBA program is usually around 240 students at any given time. And we’re usually pushing 40 in the online executive MBA program — because it’s a cohort model, they move through it in two-year sequences. We’re studying how we can expand it to make it bigger. But, we don’t want to lose the soft-skill part of it and the engagement piece. You don’t want to stick 300 students in online program, and then not let them have a personal experience with the professors and the other students.
Q: With the economy changing so much in this region since the recession, how has the business school responded and been influenced by that?
Mosier: Particularly, those two new online graduate programs are things that are representative of what we see is the shift economically in the region. We launched the new Ph.D. program in business administration a year ago, which we needed to do for our local economy. And so the Ph.D. program moves the needle a little bit. What we do with that is it enhances our research function. If a faculty member is doing research, we can have a more immediate impact informing local business and industry, in terms of practice.
Q: Lastly, where do you see things going from here as we move into 2021 and beyond?
Mosier: I’ve been trying to predict the evolution of business education for years and what it will look like in the future. I’ve been kind of dabbling in these areas a little bit over the years trying to look into the crystal ball and figure out what’s going to happen. And, you know, higher ed. is going to need to adapt about how we deliver our content. That’s modality. And so online delivery, it’s not going to take over because people are getting tired of it. But it’s going to be part of the portfolio. We can’t continue to ignore it and say … ‘well, we’re going to put a professor in a classroom who’s going to stand up there and write on a chalkboard.’ So, this modality is going to become a permanent part of what we do.
I think the biggest thing that we’re going to begin to explore is just time — the amount of time that it takes. And as you change modalities, there’s an opportunity to say there’s certain content that maybe should only take two months. Why are we taking the student and saying, you’ve got to do this for an entire semester, when maybe the best way to deliver it would be over a two-month sequence?
Now, some may take longer. But we need to think before parking people up here for four-to-six years to get a bachelor’s degree. Is that really the right model in the 21st century? Are there more bite-sized chunks of programming we could do? We’re doing a lot exploring into certificates around competencies, industry areas and discipline areas where it’s not a full degree, it’s more of how can I build out a set of competencies around this industry or this kind of discipline so that I can enter into the workforce? So we’re exploring it all. We’re market-driven at the end of the day, so we try to serve market need.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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