Saturday, June 20, 2009

Rating The Distance MBA

It’s been a couple years since I posted my ranking of the Top 25 Online MBA Schools, so I am having another look at business schools which offer the Online MBA, where most or all of the coursework necessary to earn a Masters degree in Business Administration. That is, now that I have completed my MBA from the University of Houston at Victoria, I am looking at the degree from the other side of the road and considering what it means to earn an MBA, to earn an online MBA, what sort of path should be chosen for different career conditions, and if you do decide to go after an online MBA, which schools are the best choice.

Not everyone should pursue an MBA, and not everyone who should earn an MBA will find the online course the best path to success. There are basically three ways to earn an MBA; full-time, part-time, or online. If your goal in life is to become the CEO or COO or a Fortune 500 corporation, a lot of people will tell you that you need to graduate from a top school, which in the case of the MBA means attending a prestigious and expensive school with a huge reputation, and you have to do it as a full-time student. Of course, doing so is no guarantee that you will win that much-desired CEO spot; work out the statistics and you will find that well over 90 percent of graduates of even the most prestigious business schools never end up as CEOs of major corporations. Have a look at the people in those roles and you will not only find people who did not go to the “top” schools, but some who never earned an MBA and a few who never even earned a college degree at all (you can do that if you found and build your own successful company). On the other hand, most top executives do earn MBAs, and most of them go to well-known universities as full-time students. So if you put in the time and expense to get accepted to a prestigious school as a full-time student, work yourself silly getting top grades, you should expect to have the best prospects in general of all the MBA graduates. That is, if you have the means to get into a top school, if you can afford to go to school full-time and not have to raise a family or work full-time, if you’re still in your early twenties, and if the economy doesn’t make that student loan a killer six months after you graduate. For a lot of working people, one or more of those conditions is not feasible. And for those people, other options need to be considered. If you’re not going to Harvard or the Wharton School or something along those lines, all you really need from your school is a name that will be recognizable, an education worth the time and money you put into it, and a whole lot of work on your part. In my case, I decided to go after the MBA when I was 45, with a family and a full-time job in management. The only possible way I could do it would be to get an online degree. That’s how I chose the University of Houston at Victoria.

UHV is part of the University of Houston system (duh), but not all UH campuses are created equal. Short version, the main campus and Downtown campus have all the students they want, so there is no pressure for those schools to offer online classes. The Victoria campus is another story; it’s far enough out there that the online students make a significant difference in the enrollment size and the school wanted the best faculty they could get, which could only be justified by having a decent number of students. Two things besides the convenience of UHV’s classes I liked were the low tuition and the AACSB accreditation of UHV. The school name is no embarrassment, and I earned my MBA without going into debt.

Now, I have to mention something very important about an online MBA. If the school is any good, the MBA will be just as hard to earn online as it would be any other way. While you can turn in assignments and go to the online library whenever you want, you still have deadlines, the standards and grade requirements are the same as face-to-face classes, and the participation is much stricter than face-to-face. After all, in a face-to-face class you can sometimes hide out in the back and avoid discussions when you are not prepared, but in an online class every comment you make (or the lack of meaningful discussion) is on the record, and a professor can easily tally up just how much you really did to advance the discussion. Also, professors talk with each other, and online students who are exceptionally good or bad will be known to the faculty just as well as those who attend class in person.

The online MBA, then, is for the most part the same as any other MBA, except that you will have to be organized and self-motivated to get the work done, the school will in most cases be a more common public school (most accredited private schools do not offer online degrees) which means your results will depend more on your resume and personal work history than how glamorous your school name is, and if you have planned it right you can get your MBA without a nervous breakdown or a second mortgage. In my opinion, the online MBA will become more popular and common as it works out well for students, universities, and businesses.

The next article on this topic will examine the AACSB-accredited business schools which offer online MBAs, and the 2009 ranking of the Top 25 schools for an Online MBA.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Rumors of War

This post is intended for the eyes and minds of Christians. That does not mean no one else may read it, but the context will be difficult for someone lacking the Christian focus. For example, Christians believe in the will of God, and also the veracity of Holy prophecy. Human history can be best interpreted in the illumination of God’s will and its clear enunciation in prophetic Scripture. The lack of clear Scripture can also provide meaning and improve understanding, when contemplation is used along with reason.

The Bible is full of prophecy, but that prophecy is spotty in places and times. There’s no end of people jumping up trying to show how a certain prophecy fits a given situation, but in the main it seems obvious – to me at least – that when considering prophecy we must remember that the Lord gives it for a purpose, which is aligned with His will, rather than our curiosity or desire to feel important. When Scripture is read holistically, it becomes obvious that prophecy is issued in support of God’s will, a signpost if you will of a major point in time. We see many things which matter to us but which may well be, from the larger perspective, insignificant. Which brings me to the discussion of our present wars.

I believe that President George W. Bush was doing God’s will when he was President. Even so, things did not work out in the Middle East as he hoped. Part of this was due to the despicable way politics were played in the House and Senate, as well as the cowardly refusal of Europe to stand up for a moral cause, but in the larger sense I believe President Bush misunderstood his role to some degree; the Lord was willing that Iraq should be reformed and established as a democratic republic, but not that the whole of the Middle East should be given peace and made whole – there are many greater issues which we must understand will continue to the very end of this age. This is difficult to understand, in the same way that to us it makes no sense that disease, poverty, famine, and all the other ills of this world should continue. There is good and there is evil in this world, for purposes beyond our ken, and all our hubris and technology cannot change this.

Wars are paradox. On the surface there is nothing good about war, senseless destruction, pain, loss and death. And in too many cases the victor in war is cruel and malicious, by no moral right able to claim the rule of nations. Innocents are often the worst hurt and the first victims. Yet wars, for all their terror and destruction, have ended tyrants, slavery, established protection of the rights of the people, and enabled representative government. In many nations the army boasts the most trustworthy and honorable men, the best in character and fortitude. The best leaders and rulers, especially in democracies, most often have served in their nation’s armed forces. Such men understand the cost of war and the need to plan carefully the nation’s welfare, protecting the nation’s strength while avoiding needless violence. The Bible tells of different kinds of war. Some wars are human vanity and therefore are evil and useless, while others serve God’s will and therefore while terrible they at least happen for a better reason than human arrogance. That is, humans start wars for evil purposes but God brings good out of them so that the suffering may be limited and goodness may advance. In some cases a war may even be fought for good purpose, though without God’s help all wars must of nature devolve into chaos and evil. It is therefore of paramount importance that any leader considering war must commit his efforts to the Lord’s service, and first seek the Lord’s counsel that his course of action will be grounded in true obedience to God rather than human arrogance.

This brings me around to the current situation in the Middle East. Looking at the long view, things do change and sometimes the change can be sudden, but for the most part few things change and there are some things which seem to be very much locked into place for some reason or purpose. I am not saying that democracy, human rights, and peace should not be sought, but for all our best ideals we must realize that some limits exist, and our inability to see them does not make them illusory. Jesus warned that we would hear of war, and rumors of war. That second part is intriguing, as it reminds me that war is a subtext to human history – even in peace the threat of war, the danger of it showing up must always be kept in mind. The same Christ who warned that those who live by the sword will die by it (Matthew 26:52) also specifically instructed His disciples to buy weapons (Luke 22:36). This is a dangerous world for individuals, peoples, and nations. What will be will include war.

The chaos surrounding the presidential election in Iran should surprise no one. What remains to be seen now, is what will come of the revolution now beginning there. Iran was the cradle of resurgent Jihadism, that foul cult which seeks to control nations and people through a fascist theocracy. History shows this cult popping up from time to time, and its always bloody. Even Islam had a big problem with the Jihadists. For example, the English word assassin is derived from the word hashishin, the drug-controlled killers from the Nizari branch of Shiite Islam who killed political enemies and targets on instructions from men who would establish the Fatimid Empire in the Middle Ages. A similar Jihadist movement erupted in Sudan and Egypt against the British Empire. The region has always held the potential for intense hatred and violence, and no one, no mater how strong or well-meaning, has been able to end the causes or settle the countless feuds and grudges. Because the hatred and violence in the Middle East is noted in both the books of Daniel and Revelation, we must sadly accept that they serve some vital role in the way of things, and while some part of the region may be stabilized and made safe for decent people, as a whole this monster is beyond our strength to slay. What we may hope and pray for the people of Iran, is that through God’s grace the people may rise to establish a more democratic government, to make homeless the beast of Jihadism for a time, to weaken it and dislocate its strength. But we must not expect more than has been done before, for reason that we cannot see the limits which affect all concerned.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Christ in Modern Life

One thing which every believer in Christ must eventually face is the claim that their faith is not real because it is not relevant. That is, we live in an age of increasing secularism, where every virtue promoted by Christians is also promoted by men who have no interest in receiving Christ as their Lord. The argument they present, based on decades of hearing it over and over, is that Christianity offers nothing better than what is offered through personal devotion to morality. A Muslim, for example, is capable of being just as moral as any Christian, a Buddhist is equal in morality to any Christian, even an atheist can claim the same moral bearings as any Christian. And the trick to the argument is that they are correct, but only because they compare their position to Christianity, not to Christ. What is missing in their comparison is the personal presence of Christ in the believer’s life, the one-to-one correspondent relationship between God and Man through the Divine intercession of Jesus Christ. Theocratic Muslims speak of Jesus but deny His Person as the Christ, as do orthodox Jews. Buddhists deny the personhood of God altogether, as indeed do the atheists. God is problematic for many people, so they rebel against Him without seeming to, by focusing on the imperfect human rather than on the perfect Lord. This is the same mistaken assumption used ever since the beginning, where men deny the Lord while claiming only to challenge human assumptions and imperfect claims. Those who do not accept Christ do so thinking that the fault lies in believers’ not submitting proof by human standards of the truth of Christianity, never seeing that this is rebellion against God by nature, the demand that God submit to human tests and conditions. The unbeliever commonly retorts that this amounts to a demand for submission to a claim without evidence, which oddly enough is exactly what nominal Islam demands but not Christ; the thing about the follower of Christ is not submission without evidence, but belief based on a completely different order of evidence. And therein is a hint about how eternal life happens.

I am forty-nine years old, with bad knees, slow reflexes and all the accouterments of age and a few surgeries. I live with an abdominal cancer which is incurable but otherwise leaves me alone for the most part. If I were given the chance to live forever in the nominal sense, I’d really hope for some way to significantly upgrade my physical body. Living forever with the body of a young adult or a youth is a mush different proposition to getting by with a middle-aged or senior body. Whether from hope or perspective, therefore, it would seem that eternal life is not merely extending the physical existence to an infinite duration. This by the way is also why I reject reincarnation – what is the point of repeating the same situations and decisions over and over again – simply doing something again does not mean you will make better decisions or navigate the maze perfectly, especially when you do not remember what happened the last time?

The plain fact is, we all sin. All of us. If you think you’ve never sinned I can’t hope you would understand, because you are still in denial. Most of us are able to admit that we sin, whatever definition we want to give to the word. For me, it’s about whether we do God’s will, but another meaning that can be used in a similar way is whether we hurt someone else. Everyone hurts other people, usually without intent but sometimes deliberately, which we usually try to excuse by claiming the guy deserved it. At best it runs into trouble as soon as we start thinking about it. A lot of people try to get past that by lowering the standard of good – no one is perfect, so it’s acceptable to be imperfect. That only diminishes us, however, and cheapens the virtue of those few who earnestly try to live as well as they can, seeking perfection even if it is impossible. The very meaning of heaven, to live and dwell with God Himself, means that such cheapening of goodness is impossible, it runs counter to God’s will that we should be perfect as He is perfect.

In the modern world, God is cast as irrelevant, a quaint notion from a bygone era, in the same class as fairy tales and mythology. Religion is tolerated as an idiosyncrasy, whimsy rather than an important quality to the person, while the clear exercise of faith is often harshly suppressed and attacked. This is to be expected, given the inability of the modern world to address the nature of faith, let alone its mission and demands. I wrote earlier that Islam and Buddhism, along with all the other religions and philosophies, predicates its reasoning along nominal human thought and beliefs, while Christ alone stands for personal rebirth in a new identity, not merely forgiven of sin or continuing in the same old life, but recreated in perfection where the old life not only has no punishment, but is shed forever in favor of a perfect personage. There is, quite literally, no way to explain this new reality in terms that would make sense in this world. This is one reason why faith is the essential component for the Holy Spirit.

Let me put it this way. If someone were to say to you that you could buy your ticket to heaven for a certain amount of money, you would very likely reject that notion immediately, and for good reason – a heaven based on human wealth would be no heaven at all as we understand the word. The same could be said if one were to suggest a heaven based on physical strength or attractiveness. So, it clearly becomes apparent that a heaven which some people could achieve through pure opportunity rather than virtue of something available to everyone but aligned with pure goodness rather than human avarice and selfishness. Consequently, the dogma of every religion is necessarily a false key to the kingdom of heaven, since such dogma is immutably linked to intellectual comprehension. There are no secret teachings or words of power, because if such things existed, the lucky or intellectual people would have an inside track to heaven ahead of anyone unable to receive a good education or who might have an intellectual handicap. We must, as Christ explained, become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven. Our intellect, like our bank accounts, physical strength, or any other superficial quality, is only of small value, useful if the heart is aligned with God but a trap to lure the unwary towards idolatry of their own desires. The Holy Spirit moves on highways of faith and by direction from God alone.

The modern world asserts individual control and decision, more than at any time in the past. Yet the essence of human identity is our need to become something greater than ourselves, a role which we cannot accomplish on our own effort or initiative. The modern world asserts human ability to solve any problem through ingenuity in innate goodness, though anyone who lives long enough will see the fatal flaw in such claims. The modern world imagines that things progress ahead and anything from the past is inferior to the present and the future, while the hard-learned truth of experience shows the existence and precious value of the eternal and the ancient. We march ahead in pride towards finite and mortal prizes, and so never notice that while God walks along with us, we turn our backs to Him time and again, and so we also turn away from the greater goals and purpose for which we were ordained.

This world mocks the solitary lives of monks and nuns, and treats active clergy as outcasts. The believer who demonstrates an active faith will be viewed with suspicion, whether he is Christian, Muslim, Mormon, or what have you. God speaks to us all, but one to one as He did with Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Elijah, yet speaking to all humanity through each of us. God speaks with absolute authority and power, yet is absolutely rejected by all but a few whose hearts focus outside themselves. In this, the choice is as it always ways and ever will be.