This content is sponsored by Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois

Sponsored by Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois

This content was produced by Boston Globe Media's BG BrandLab in collaboration with the advertiser. The news and editorial departments of The Boston Globe had no role in its production or display.

This is what virtual business school looks like today

As technology and perceptions about online education progress, online MBA programs are becoming more attractive to professionals.

Richard Walls, a business manager at Dell Technologies in Austin, Texas, was satisfied with the way his career was progressing. But the 29-year-old felt that earning an MBA degree could help expand the opportunities available to him in the future, so he began researching business schools.

Walls quickly decided that enrolling in an in-person MBA program didn’t make sense for him. “I’d have to quit working for two years. That’s not something I could afford to do,” he says. “And I’d potentially have to move, which was not an option for my family situation.”

After considering his options, Walls chose the fully online iMBA program at the University of Illinois Gies College of Business. The 24- to 36-month program offered Walls an MBA at a world-class business school, the flexibility he needed to study while working full-time, and an affordable tuition of $22,000.

Pursuing an MBA quickly began to benefit Walls’ career. Not long after beginning the program, Walls received a promotion and a new role at his company, along with a 40% raise. “I think just going through the program sent a signal to the hiring manager that I am really passionate about learning and I’m interested in improving my skill sets and becoming more valuable to the organization,” Walls says.

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Options for business students

“Gies has taken a high quality on-campus program and reimagined and redesigned it into a powerful online experience. It has the exact same rigor that you’d put yourself through if you were completing the course on campus,” says Khem Singh of Virginia, who graduated with his MBA in 2019.

In the past, in-person classes were the only option for MBA students looking for a quality education. But as well-known schools embrace online learning and guarantee academic excellence, they give students like Walls an unprecedented opportunity to enhance their skills and advance their careers without making drastic changes to their lives.

Increasing numbers of students are drawn to MBA programs because of their career advancement potential. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers with a master’s degree in business earn as much as 36% to 89% more than workers with only a bachelor’s degree.

Many of the students who enroll in online MBA programs do so with the goal of getting promoted or increasing their salary in their current field. Others enroll to prepare themselves for a career shift. The latter was the objective for Gabrielle Young, director of marketing at Mighty Distributing Systems in Atlanta and a 2019 Illinois Gies iMBA graduate. After holding several positions in the design side of marketing and advertising, she found herself drawn to the business side.

“I decided I needed to invest in myself and go through a proper training to drink in everything I needed to learn to build, grow, and contribute to a business,” says Young, 39.

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Rigorous classes

“It’s a global community of colleagues, mentors, and cheerleaders. It’s like being at work and being part of a great team, collaborating to make something happen,” says Judy Safian, a Rhode Island native, who will complete her MBA in 2020.

As student demand for online MBA options grows, business schools are investing in their programs. “Enhanced technology is drastically increasing the quality of online education,” says Scott Edinburgh, founder of Personal MBA Coach, a business school admissions consultancy in Boston. “Video chats, virtual group meetings, remote conferences, and virtual career fairs give students most of the benefits of an in-person program. This is the best time ever for an online education.”

The Gies iMBA program offers classes that are as demanding as in-person classes, according to Fataneh Taghaboni-Dutta, Ph.D., clinical professor of business administration at Gies. “The business statistics class I teach for the iMBA program is exactly the same as the class I used to teach on campus,” she says. “It requires the same high-level thinking, assignments, and exams. The modality changed, but not the content or the rigor.”

Gies’ online MBA classes include recorded lessons, as well as weekly 60- to 90-minute live sessions and optional online office hours with professors.

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Real-world relevance

“The opportunities within the iMBA program have exceeded my expectations. I work and speak to my classmates daily through live sessions, social apps, and group projects,” says Christin Gomes of Georgia. She graduated from Gies with her MBA in 2018.

During live class sessions, Gies professors extend learning by linking career-focused course material to current, real-world business scenarios, which connects the classroom to the workplace and allows students to apply their knowledge immediately.

That’s what happened for Jaime Xinos, a recent Gies graduate and the executive vice president of commercial at Achieve Life Sciences, a biotech firm in Vancouver. Xinos wanted to earn an MBA for several reasons: to expand her knowledge, become a more well-rounded leader, and empower her to contribute more to her organization. But Xinos, 44, had no idea that lessons learned in her iMBA classes would help her lead her company through a global pandemic.

Xinos chose digital marketing as one of her iMBA specialization areas. This turned out to be particularly relevant to her and her company as the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly began to accelerate changes in the world of digital healthcare.

“As a result of the iMBA coursework and exposure to emerging trends and analytical tools, I was better prepared to lead my organization through this disruptive time,” Xinos says. And with her Illinois MBA degree in hand, Xinos feels better prepared to face other unexpected business challenges that may arise in the future.

“I now can add more value when contributing to critical decisions that shape the future of our business,” she says.

This content was produced by Boston Globe Media's BG BrandLab in collaboration with the advertiser. The news and editorial departments of The Boston Globe had no role in its production or display.

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