Online program ranked in top ten

By Kimberly Wethal

Feb. 10, 2016

UW-Whitewater’s online bachelor’s business degree program tied for seventh last month in a ranking of the best online programs in the nation.

Tied with Daytona State College (Florida), Ohio State University–Columbus and Oregon State University, the ranking from U.S. News and World Report comes as “no surprise” for John Stone, interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.

“The online BBA is a relatively new to the mix, but with the online MBA, they learn very quickly what problems they need to address,” Stone said. “They have won so many awards already, including international awards. The new success of the online BBA and its recognition is new, and I’m glad we’re earning a name for ourselves.”

The university’s master’s of business administration degree program was ranked 27th in the nation by the same organization.

The program, implemented during the 2007 school year, was judged on a variety of criteria including how well students are engaged in the curriculum, the training and credentials of the faculty employed, the amount of technology assistance and support available to students and the overall peer review.

UW-W’s peer review was a 3.6 out of a potential five.

The university’s MBA degree was launched almost 10 years prior in 1998, and was the first to be accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), Stone said.

While the program didn’t start off servicing many non-traditional students – many were on-campus students taking the class in their dorm rooms – the average age of an enrolled student in the online MBA is now 31.

“It was designed for working adults,” Stone said. “It was a way for people who were working full time who wanted a college degree could do so in business online … the pendulum has really shifted and swung. Now the online BBA program attracts far more non-traditional adult students.”

The majority of the curriculum structure was developed by Robert Schramm, assistant dean of the College of Business and Economics. Almost two decades after the first program launched, he can still be found on the third floor of Hyland Hall working on the advancement of the online programs.

“There really wasn’t a lot going on; a lot of people were experimenting with online programs back then,” Schramm said. “Back then, we called it a ‘cottage industry’ and I would teach faculty members what I learned from seminars, and then they would develop the courses.”

Much of the curriculum is designed to deal with global business economy rather than just the U.S. or Wisconsin ventures, allowing students to fully participate no matter where they’re taking the class.

What students found most useful, Stone said, was the diverse background of people they had worked with.

In collaborating on assignments online with others from different states and from different countries, students found their peers’ unique backgrounds to be something of value to their own education, Stone said.

“Since it was a program that was drawing international students in, one of the things people would write is that when they worked in teams of five doing case study analysis. It was truly fascinating to be in a group if you were a student from Beloit, but in your group is someone from South Korea, Texas, England and North Dakota,” Stone said. “[There were] diverse perspectives on how to approach this based on the personal experiences of the students in there.”

The online degrees have gained strong footing because of high enrollment and a method of being self-supportive through tuition. It was helpful to the university at the time, which was looking to increase the number of students enrolled as the UW System was experiencing a round of funding losses.

With enrollments closing in on 200 in the BBA degree and 315 self-identified online MBA students (in comparison to 200 on-campus students), the program has been able to meet its financial needs.

The MBA’s numbers have been showing a decline in enrollment in recent years because of the increasing number of other institutions offering MBA programs, emphases of the program are continually being introduced. Despite the drop in student enrollment, marketing and data analysis was available this year, and a finance curriculum will be introduced in Fall 2017.

‘Ahead of the curve’

What started off as a Powerpoint presentation with audio during the degrees’ earliest days has turned into a full-blown media studio that “can do anything a TV station can do,” Schramm said.

The media lab, housed in the Online Education and Technology Support Center with similar equipment in the ICIT’s lab, allows professors to record short segments of their lectures to place on D2L.

“We require all of our online classes to have some number of media files to be included,” Schramm said. “Lectures aren’t the same online as they are in a traditional class because you’re much more succinct to more independent learning, but you can still give them the basic ideas.”

The lab, a darkened room on the third floor of Hyland with different colored backgrounds of Warhawk purple and a green screen rolled up on the ceiling is run by Schramm and student employees, to make the jobs of the professors teaching the BBA and the MBA courses a little easier.

The student employees will set the scene in the lab for the instructors, do the recording and then edit and process the video.

Instructors aren’t the only ones encouraged to take advantage of the studio – guest speakers who come to speak in traditional business classes are asked to “carve out some time” to record their message in the media lab, Schramm said.

It allows the online students to learn from professionals in the field for future semesters.

The technology for online classes hasn’t always been so easy; when the MBA was launched in the 90s, it became a source of irritation for the students and the instructors, Stone said.

“Students would register and it was just endless problems,” Stone said. “Since this was early in the online world, these things just couldn’t sustain. They’d run into problems if too many students were logging in at a time; they’d shut down. Faculty were just so frustrated.”

The university went through multiple outside web server vendors until it integrated all of the campus to D2L. The media lab has undergone its own changes in those same years, moving from its first home in one of  the former Carlson Hall’s closets with a drapery to cover the boxes in the background and a camera.

“We’ve always been ahead of the curve when it comes to technology and new ideas on how to teach online through various methodologies,” Schramm said.