EAU CLAIRE — The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s Masters of Business Administration online program is one of five in the United States to meet all 12 criteria identified by a UW-Eau Claire research team as being important to students evaluating online education.
“Of the 33 programs in the country that are completely online, have no residency requirement and meet the quality standards of the Association of Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, only five meet the 12 indicators we’ve identified as being important to online program quality,” said Bob Erffmeyer, director of UW-Eau Claire’s MBA program and co-author of the paper. “Some of the highest cost MBA programs fail to meet many of these quality indicators.”
Programs meeting all indictors are UW-Eau Claire, Drexel University in Pennsylvania, Florida Atlantic University, Howard University and Suffolk University.
“UW-Eau Claire looked very good in this study,” Erffmeyer said. “The research confirms our belief that we offer our MBA students an exceptional e-program.”
UW-Eau Claire began offering its MBA program completely online in 2002, and the first online MBA students will graduate May 22. Currently, 100 students are enrolled in the online MBA track, with students living and working throughout the United States.
“When we started, our students were mostly from Wisconsin,” Erffmeyer said. “Word has clearly gotten out. We still have many students from the Midwest, but we also have students from every corner of the United States. Many of our students have never been to Eau Claire. They were attracted to the program because of its reputation for quality.”
The research team’s review of online MBA programs is included in a paper titled “Standards for Determining the Quality of Online MBA Education: A Survey of Accredited Programs,” which will be published in the International Journal of Services and Standards. The team included Erffmeyer, and UW-Eau Claire accounting and finance faculty Susan Haugen and D’Arcy Becker.
Faculty recognize that as e-learning evolves into an increasingly important part of educational programs, students must have ways to evaluate programs for quality as they review their options, Erffmeyer said.
“There is no universal set of criteria by which students can judge online MBA program quality,” Erffmeyer said. “Many online courses seem similar, with comparable goals, costs and methods. But quality shouldn’t be taken for granted. Students need criteria to help them evaluate programs.”
Researchers reviewed only AACSB-accredited schools because they meet initial quality standards, Erffmeyer said, noting that AACSB accreditation signifies the program meets standards for overall program quality but does not specifically address online program quality.
Researchers studied factors relating to institutional commitment and student services because schools that are committed to online programs and provide exceptional student services provide higher quality opportunities in many ways, Erffmeyer said.
Institutional commitment variables included: how long a program has existed; training requirements for online faculty; flexible plans to allow electives; classes of 60 or fewer students; inclusion of the latest educational technology; and technical help being available at all times.
Student services variables included: ability to earn on-campus credit through online courses; online program admissions standards similar to on-campus admissions standards; work experience requirements; stated student expectations; required faculty and student interaction; and requirements that faculty reply to student inquiries.
Many of the programs included in the study met some or most of the criteria but just five met all the variables, Erffmeyer said.
Some institutions have not implemented all variables because they’re costly, Erffmeyer said. For example, it’s expensive to have technical assistance available all the time, but it’s necessary because online courses are designed to be accessed on a 24/7 basis for student flexibility, he said.
“Many students and faculty believe quality e-programs can be as meaningful as traditional classroom instruction,” Erffmeyer said. “Through this project, we’ve tried to give students a set of criteria to help them evaluate online MBA programs to ensure quality.”