By Briahnna Brown
Long before universities around the world shifted to virtual learning environments, the George Washington University School of Business crafted its online MBA program with access and inclusivity in mind.
Sixteen years since GWSB launched its first online MBA program in healthcare, now both the Online MBA and Online Healthcare MBA programs rank fourth out of 47 on business school publication Poets & Quants’ 2021 list of the best online MBA programs. GWSB’s online MBA programs were ranked 25th on the 2020 list, jumping 21 spots in a year. This is the second time a GWSB MBA program saw a similar jump in rankings this year, with the MBA program rising 20 places to 70th in the world in the Financial Times’ rankings in January.
Students in GWSB online programs can focus in a variety of areas, such as finance, human capital and project management. Given the pandemic, healthcare is a popular option, and many of the students pursuing this path are doctors with decades of work experience.
GWSB Dean Anuj Mehrotra attributed the program’s success to the work faculty have made in enhancing online learning and experiences, and the efforts the school’s staff have made to support and build community with the online student population.
“We are thrilled to receive this recognition at a time that online education is more important than ever,” Dr. Mehrotra said. “Our GWSB instructional design experts and faculty work together to tailor course content for the virtual classroom and prioritize creating community among our students online. And our staff have extended operational hours and are utilizing new platforms to provide an outstanding online student service experience.”
The online MBA program saw a jump in rankings largely due to its admission standards, the strength and size of the class that it recruited into the program and the academic experience it offers, according to the Poets & Quants ranking. GWSB had the second-highest average number of students enrolling in the program with 15 years of work experience. Academic experience was measured on alumni survey responses on satisfaction with quality of faculty, satisfaction with alumni network and the opportunity for international experiences.
Students in GWSB's online MBA program participate in engaging experiential learning opportunities that are built into course requirements. For example, this summer one class organized, hosted and co-crafted a white paper and conference on the topic, Leading in a Healthcare Crisis.
Bryan Andriano, executive director of global and experiential education, said that in developing the program it also was important to offer students short-term study abroad opportunities even though they are learning in an online environment. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, students in the program had the opportunity to meet with on-campus MBA students in countries such as Sweden, Rwanda, Indonesia and Mexico to get project-based experiential learning.
The intense nature of the short courses that draw students to the online MBA program allow those students to build interpersonal connections that last well beyond their degree programs, Dr. Andriano said, which speaks to the type of motivation to be successful that these students bring to the programs.
Those courses have been adapted during the pandemic to be fully virtual, Dr. Andriano said, and involve collaboration with partner institutions from around the world. Those partnerships were key to that transition, he said, and the work that he and GWSB faculty have been doing for years laid the groundwork for the online MBA program to be well-suited to meet the growing demand for reskilling in a virtual learning environment.
“I don't want to make it seem like it was too easy, because it certainly did involve a lot of careful thought about how we continue to meet learning objectives,” Dr. Andriano said. “I think that's really been our focus: What is it that we ultimately want students to learn from these experiences, and how do we design backwards from there to make sure that they're still able to receive the kind of education that we're proud to call a GW education?”