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Posted: October 01, 2013

Executive MBA program offerings promote corporate advancement

With Washington University’s Denver move, four Colorado schools offer accredited EMBAs

Maria Martin

Not many would argue that a candidate with an MBA has a leg up on the job hunt. A master of business administration graduate has honed skills in areas including finance, human resources, information technology and economics.

Put an “E” in front of the MBA and that degree becomes increasingly distinctive. When St. Louis-based Washington University moved into the Denver market this year, it brought the number of universities offering accredited executive MBA options up to four in Colorado. The University of Colorado, Colorado State University and the University of Denver have long-established programs in the state.

And they’ve soldiered on even during the recession, when the number of companies that fully or partially supported their managers earning such degrees dropped off. One of the unique aspects of EMBA programs, say university leaders, is that companies often support the students – financially and by offering flexible work time as they earn their degrees.

Many of those earning EMBAs are fitting in classes, often held during evenings or on weekends, while they hold down jobs.

“The people who want an executive MBA have had many years of corporate experience,” says Panos Kouvelis, senior associate dean and director of executive programs at Washington University. “These programs are not intended to encourage people to jump out of companies, but to help people advance in those companies.”

Kouvelis says that while 15 years ago, around 80 percent of tuition was company-funded, the number has dropped. Today, about 40 percent of students at the Washington University EMBA program, run through the Olin School, are fully funded, 30 percent are partially funded, and another 30 percent are paid for out of pocket.

That’s up slightly in the past five years, a trend that’s reflected at the other universities in the state, and one that bodes well as an economic indicator, he says.

What’s common to all the programs in the state, say university leaders, is that students are integral to the success of the class. Depending on the school, those enrolled in the program must have between 10 and 20 years of experience in managing people or projects, and the average age of students in these programs is roughly 40. Sharing this deep pool of knowledge is essential to the programs, both to those working to advance in their company, and to those entrepreneurial students who plan to launch their own businesses.

Barbara J. Kreisman, with the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver, says it’s critical that the EMBA program at DU fosters a sense of community.

“These are people who learn from each other,” says the associate dean of executive education and working professionals MBA programs. “This sense of community is so important; students come together to learn from each other, as well as from the faculty.”

Unlike students in other MBA programs, executive MBA candidates must already be invested in their careers, say the directors of the four schools. And because the EMBA is structured in such a way that students learn from each other in a group setting, online degrees are not suitable, leaders of all the universities agree.

While new technology has moved into other higher educational fields, it’s unlikely that people will be able to earn an executive MBA degree of any merit online, Kouvelis says.

“Being in the same class with other people who have a lot of experience is part of the value,” he says. “It’s about networking, and that’s not something you can do well online.”

Training on international business is also part of the group dynamic, say leaders at the universities.

An executive MBA class from CSU recently returned from Africa, where team members distributed medical supplies and learned about global enterprise. At the University of Denver, students can visit exotic locations like Africa, Israel or Hong Kong. At CU, international business trips involve measuring such issues as the economic impacts of performing arts organizations.

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Maria Martin is a freelance writer.

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