Monday, June 04, 2007

Online MBA – An Update

This past Tuesday, I began the summer semester at the University of Houston at Victoria. I took the spring semester off, as you may recall, to address my abdominal cancer, which I am happy to say has largely decided to behave itself and so far has responded well to treatment. Anyway, I had promised to report on the progress of my studies, I also want to warn that the frequency and topic choice of my posts is going to change a bit, and for those who are interested, I need to keep my promise of progress reports, even if they are a bit sporadic.

First, a recap about studying online. There are three kinds of students who might consider university study; those seeking Continuing Education Units (CEUs), which many professions require these days, those seeking their Bachelor’s degree, and those seeking their graduate degree. These three groups have sharply different goals and needs. This is because the school and the degree/certification are designed for different purposes. With the exception of those pedigreed scions who merely need, hmm, “finishing”, most folks get their college degree so they can hope to get a good job, and start a good career. Again repeating what I wrote before, the person seeking to begin their life work should take time and think well about what, precisely, they want to do for a career. They should then find out what is necessary to get into that career with good prospects, and from there find out which school provides the best opportunity for them. When someone is applying for a position with a company, they will find that work experience is the best quality which will get them a chance to interview for the position, and the ability to discuss their skills and abilities well will help them stand out from other candidates in the running. To that end, certain schools have a good reputation in general, and some stand out as excellent in the selected field. This is the chief knock against many online schools; the name sometimes suggests a lower level of academic quality. I hate to play into the tactic of snob appeal, but it has to be remembered that employers make hiring decisions on what attracts them, and until you have experience that tells someone you can do the job, the best indicators will be your grades, your specific degree, and the school where you earned your degree.

The school name is much less important with CEUs and the advanced degrees, but it still counts in the case of chasing the Masters’ degree. As I mentioned back when I explained my choice, what you want to do is start by finding the key attributes, which in my case was making sure the school was AACSB-accredited. If you are considering online education, you will need to understand that you will be gaining some convenience, but you should still seek a program which is every bit as challenging and thorough as any classroom-attendance course, because the first priority is learning the material well enough that your career abilities reflect it. Also, studying online means you will have to be very disciplined with your time; you will have just as many assignments, tests and term papers, and unlike the regular classes, where the professor may or may not note your participation every time, in the online class your participation will be documented to the second, and the quality of your answers will be there in print, which is very bad for the slacker but great support for the hard-working student.

I got some additional work to do for my concentration. Because I did not get my Bachelor’s degree in Accounting, and I intend to earn my MBA with a concentration in Accounting, UHV is requiring me to take some undergraduate Accounting courses as prerequisites to some of the higher-level Accounting courses. This is both bad and good. Obviously, the additional courses, which could be two more, three more, or five more courses depending on how the Department Head sees my work, means more time, work, and cost, which is a bit frustrating, especially since I will probably not be able to take those courses online. That part greatly complicates things. On the other hand, I have been advised that some of the prerequisites may be waived, since after this summer (presuming I pass my current schedule) I will have earned six hours of graduate Accounting credits, demonstrating a certain level of comprehension. Also, since I intend to sit for the CPA exam after I earn my MBA, and since I want to be sure I have full command of the subject in which I want to base my future career work and positions, taking these classes may well be essential to my plan, even from my personal point-of-view. But that will wait until after the Summer semester, which is already looking at me the same way an alley-cat looks at a trapped mouse.

I am, craftily or most unwisely, taking three courses this summer, which are Strategic Accounting, Management and Organizational Behavior, and Quantitative Statistics and Research Methods. All three have the usual complement of assignments, discussion boards, case studies or term papers, group work, and examinations/quizzes. The difference this time from the fall, is – first - that in two of the three classes the teams will be assigned by the professor, rather than letting us choose our groups. I certainly want to carry my weight, but I also hope that my group members feel the same way. The second difference is that the summer semester is shorter, and so we will be hitting due dates much sooner, and I am scrambling to cover my bases already. Nothing is actually due yet, except for an information sheet which I turned in two days before it was due. But since my plan all along was to stay ahead of the pace if at al possible, I am well aware that some of my classmates have already taken the lead, which means that the pace is definitely up-tempo. I have homework to do in all three classes, our group has an assignment to work on and present in QMS, and my outline for my term paper in Management is due within a week. Oh well, sleeping is over-rated.

And that’s where I am right now. The lessons for those considering online studies would include the following:

[] If you are considering getting your degree online, make sure you are disciplined enough to keep up the pace and stay on schedule;

[] If you have not chosen your school, make sure you know what you expect to get out of the degree, and use that information to determine whether the school is worth what it will cost, in money and effort, compared to what you hope to get back;

[] Know your degree plan, and look out for surprises before they cause bigger problems;

[] Do the job right. Make sure you respect the challenge, because you want the best result for all the work you have to do for it.

Good luck to my fellow students, and thanks to everyone for stopping by.

1 comment:

Dan said...

I hate to leave two positive comments in a row (my reputation will be ruined!), but I particularly appreciate your focus on accreditation. AACSB is the gold standard - in fact, a lot of decent programs have not achieved it. If your program has AACSB, you know it's a solid, well-respected program.