03 May UW-Eau Claire graduates first online MBAs
Eau Claire, Wis. — When Suzanne DeCann visits the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire campus for the first time in May, it will be to pick up her newly earned Master of Business Administration degree.
DeCann, who lives in Georgia, will be among the first 11 UW-Eau Claire students to earn their MBAs completely online. When she comes to Eau Claire for commencement, she’ll get her first real look at the campus and her first opportunity to talk face-to-face with her classmates and professors.
“The decision to attend commencement really was made as a ‘this is a once in a lifetime sort of thing’ and if I don’t attend I may regret it later,” DeCann said of her upcoming trip to Eau Claire. “I’m looking forward to it. I’m a little nervous about meeting the people I’ve been working with all this time but I want very much to meet them face-to-face.”
Since 2002, UW-Eau Claire MBA students have had the option of completing the entire MBA program online, the entire program on campus or combining the two options as it meets their needs.
“The online option gives our MBA students choices they never had before,” said Robert Erffmeyer, MBA program director. “Our students can complete a 30-credit online program in about two years, and they can do it on their schedule instead of ours. There is no set clock time during which they must do their work and they don’t need to travel to campus, so they can literally be anywhere in the world.
“The online program is growing quickly. We have 100 students enrolled in the online track, with students living on both the coasts, as well as in Florida, North Carolina, Minnesota and Wisconsin. When we started, most of the students were from Wisconsin but the word is out.”
The move to the online option was a response to changes in the expectations and the demands of MBA students, who are finding it more difficult to fit traditional MBA programs and courses into their increasingly busy lives, Erffmeyer said.
The program is a perfect match for students like DeCann, an agent assist representative for Delta Airlines Inc.’s Online Customer Support Desk in Georgia. She was anxious to earn her MBA but the only program in the Atlanta area that matched her needs and expectations would have required her to take classes on campus in downtown Atlanta.
“Parking and traffic are a nightmare and the amount of time it would have taken me to get downtown, park and get to class would have seriously limited the number of classes I could take per semester, as well as wasted a lot of my time sitting in my car,” DeCann said. “I didn’t think it was a viable option for me.”
After researching her options, DeCann decided she wanted an MBA program she could complete online. She limited her choices to programs that were affiliated with “bricks-and-mortar” type schools, which she thinks offer the quality and accreditations she desired in an MBA program.
“I did a search for online MBA programs and weeded through the ‘undesirable’ programs that offered online-only based programs,” DeCann said. “My requirements severely limited my options. But when I looked at Eau Claire’s program, it offered everything I was looking for so I applied immediately.”
UW-Eau Claire offers the online MBA program as part of a UW System business consortium that includes UW-Eau Claire, UW-La Crosse, UW-Oshkosh and UW-Parkside. The MBA courses are taught by faculty from the four participating campuses, all of which have accredited programs. The arrangement allows campuses to share resources, and the UW System provides support to e-learners. Because UW-Eau Claire coordinates the consortium, students completing the program earn MBAs from UW-Eau Claire.
In 2002, the consortium began offering MBA students three options for completing their degrees: completing all classes on campus; completing some classes on campus and some online; or completing all courses online.
The UW-Eau Claire program has been all she had hoped it would be, DeCann said, noting that she earned her degree more quickly because logistics weren’t an issue.
“I really fell in love with the methods and the flexibility that the online courses offered me,” DeCann said. “And I like that most of my fellow students also are ‘online junkies’ so if I need help or have a question they usually respond quickly. The faculty are always available via e-mail or telephone. I feel relatively ‘close’ to a number of my fellow classmates and the school does what it can to facilitate that interaction.”
The first in her family to earn an advanced degree (and only the second to earn a bachelor’s degree), DeCann said her family will join her in Eau Claire to celebrate her graduation. They’ll spend some time exploring the campus, and they’ll visit the University Bookstore so DeCann can buy some memorabilia from her new alma mater.
“It’s a little surreal for me to think that I have earned my master’s degree,” DeCann said. “I feel very proud of my choice of schools and will feel proud earning my degree from UW-Eau Claire.”