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Reevaluating My MBA From the University of Phoenix Online

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From 2003 to 2006, I took classes at the University of Phoenix Online with the eventual grant of a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) degree. After receiving the degree, I wrote about my experiences with the school in a five part series. For some background, read the series in these parts: The Decision, Admissions, Course Logistics, Curriculum, and The Team Experience. At the time, I planned to extend the series to share my thoughts on dealing with the administration and financial aid, but the will to continue to series waned, and I ended the series with just five articles, more than enough to give readers an adequate picture of completing this degree.

University of Phoenix LogoThe University of Phoenix Online is a “for-profit” school, and by this virtue, there isn’t much respect for the school in the academic community — a community that also looks for profit despite “not-for-profit” status with the government. Most of the derision is not deserved, but that is the state of the community today, and it is not changing. There are, of course, other differences between The University of Phoenix and a traditional research-focused university, and those can’t be ignored. The question is whether they matter.

I should also point out what the University of Phoenix Online is not: It is not a research-based institution, which means that they don’t provide grants to professors, faculty, or graduate students to embark on studies that advance the field of knowledge in any particular academic area. It is also not a diploma mill; I am not familiar with the experience at this University at the undergraduate level, but with the MBA I pursued, the courses generally increased in difficulty to the point where at the end of my studies, the only classmates who survived were very knowledgeable in their own fields, mostly upper-level executives in major companies or entrepreneurs who ran their own businesses, and at least twice my age. (I was thirty when I received my degree.) These MBA degrees were not handed out willy-nilly to anyone who paid the price of tuition.

In terms of tuition, the courses were not inexpensive. I wouldn’t have enrolled in the first place if my employer didn’t offer to pay for almost all of the costs. In fact, I was more interested in furthering my education in any way possible; my employer would only pay for a master’s degree in business.

As I mentioned in the article about my decision to earn an MBA at this school, I had my first exposure to online-based learning models for higher education through a graduate program at the University of Delaware in 1998. The concept of meeting with professors and classmates online and using the internet to facilitate learning was not new to me in 2003 when I enrolled at the University of Phoenix Online. I knew that most people didn’t understand the concept of earning a degree online and there were still strong misconceptions. I saw the trend of other, more reputable schools beginning to imitate the University of Phoenix Online model, so I assumed that within a few years, this type of learning would be more mainstream.

Time has shown that this assumption was wrong. People generally still do not respect “online degrees,” particularly not from schools whose organization is a for-profit public corporation.

At the same time, more people were earning MBA degrees than ever before, leading others to question the value of this degree regardless of the name of the school. For me, an MBA was the best way to continue my education and earn a new degree spending very little money. I could continue to spend my time working at my day job, building Consumerism Commentary and other online projects, and perhaps learn information that would help me with both of those aspects of my life.

If I had waited another year before embarking on this journey, I might have seen more traditional schools offering similar programs and chosen to attend online classes offered by a more reputable institution.

Today, the content I learned during these MBA courses has been somewhat helpful, but not essential, to where I am today. I gained some insight about operating a business and decision making, but I might have just as well come to the same conclusions through working experience. The team environment within the courses did provide unique opportunities for dealing with uncooperative teammates and resolving conflicts, skills which should be useful when working with others, but I have to say I have met few people as useless as the teammates in the first few courses at the University of Phoenix Online. The skills I learned in conflict resolution in the class helped more with dealing with the university’s financial aid department than dealing with anyone outside of the university.

In all seriousness, most of what I learned through these classes I could have learned on my own but didn’t; being in an organized class thrust the knowledge upon me. The classes didn’t get really interesting until the last few, in which the coursework pertained to meaningful executive-level decision making through simulations, case studies, and discussions with classmates who had vast experience to share.

If I were given the opportunity to earn an MBA today with the goal of getting a great job at a company that respects MBA degrees in general, all other things being equal, I’d choose a top school. If the flexibility of taking classes online is important and I had no concern for the additional work that is required to succeed in a virtual environment, only then would I choose an online program. If I were to consider price alone without the need for any perceived prestige, I would choose the school that offers the degree for the best cost. With any degree, the level of education you receive corresponds to the amount of effort you put into the academic portion of taking the class, so if the only consideration is the knowledge and you enjoy the type of guidance that comes through a structured degree program, then any degree program will do.

If you want to be loved by Human Resources departments, list a top school on your résumé and don’t include the word “online.” If you plan to succeed on your own terms, do whatever you like. Either way, always continue learning.

Published or updated May 23, 2011. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar No Debt MBA

Having your employer foot the bill for an MBA really reduces the risk of taking one on. For my purposes I decided that an MBA was only worth the time and cost if I attended one of the best and most prestigious programs in the country since I’m paying for it myself. As you say there is still a big stigma against online programs both among students and employers.

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avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

If my employer paid for an online degree, I would grab the opportunity without a thought. Smart man!

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avatar skylog ♦368 (Nickel)

that is my thinking as well. perhaps if it were my choice and money, i would take another route; but, if my employer was footing the bill and wanted me to go to U of P Online, i would jump at the chance.

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avatar Joe Durika

I received my MBA from U of P Online, and as with any college-level course of study, you get out of it what you put into it. I had professors who were just in it for the paycheck and added little to the classroom conversation over what was included in the text, and I had professors who were sharing wisdom from their experience almost every day. Tell me how that’s different than sitting in a classroom with comparable professors?

Furthermore, I think I communicated more within my online class than I ever would have had the time to do in the classroom. Being graded on classroom participation, and being graded on the quality of said communication, was actually a great thing.

I had classmates from all over the world…literally. I studied with people from Turkey, the Ukraine, England, Germany, and several military folks who were stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq. I benefited from a wealth of knowledge and experience I doubt I would have had in a classroom.

Stigmatize the online degree all you want (that’s a universal “you,” not any person in particular). I know the value of my experience with U of P Online, and I am proud to be the recipient of an MBA at this institution.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,386 (Platinum)

Joe,

Thanks very much for sharing your experience! I, too, benefited from classmates and “facilitators” from around the world. For me, a few facilitators were actively engaged, but when the course did not have a facilitator who was involved deeply with the class, it encouraged classmates to work harder to communicate with each other and provide assistance and support that might have been lacking from the facilitator.

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avatar krantcents

Traditionally, the value of the MBA is with a company that respects what you accomplished. The more prestigious school, the more leverage you have.with the business world! If you are just taking classes, it does not matter where you go.

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avatar Yakezie

Flexo, you’ve made a very reasonable assessment and I agree. Would you have still gone if you had to pay for it? Also, if you were ever to return to work, would you list it at the top of your resume or keep it off?

Sam

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avatar Cejay ♦1,521 (Half-Dollar)

Interesting thoughts and they have given me another way of looking at on-line schools. I have thought about going back to school for an MBA but cannot work and attend school. On-line schools seemed ideal. I, too, thought that they handed out degrees to everyone so I was impressed to hear otherwise. I was have to do more thinking. But this article was informative and well presented the pro’s and con’s of online schooling.

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