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Daniel Canis lives in Germany, with a family and a career he enjoys as a UX designer in the auto industry. His job let him be creative, and he was always learning something new — but after more than a decade in the field, he felt like there was an opportunity for him to grow and do more in his role.
“One of my best friends once called me an education addict, and he was right about it,” Canis says. “I had the desire to better understand the business aspects in design work.” So, he began considering pursuing his MBA.
Canis spent several years weighing his options, but none felt like a good fit; ultimately, he wanted to enroll in a U.S.-based college, but the time and expense required seemed to put that out of reach. On a whim, he began enrolling in MOOCs, or “massive open online courses,” where he learned business fundamentals — and through which he discovered the iMBA program at the University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business. Canis was “on fire,” he says, applying almost immediately, and entering into the program’s first cohort in 2016.
Today, during COVID-19, the fact that education can exist online may not seem surprising. But the Gies iMBA differs from typical remote learning in that it’s “online by design,” offering students a learning experience that’s made to be flexible with courses that are carefully created for maximum impact and engagement. With the Gies iMBA, the University of Illinois offered a path for students just like Canis, who wanted to fit their education into their lives — not the other way around.
“Working full-time in addition to raising a toddler is not an ideal situation, but it’s certainly not a unique one,” says Mariama Trotman, another Gies iMBA graduate, who lives in Barbados. Trotman was working in the travel industry, but wanted to pivot her career and become a tourism consultant. Earning an MBA would help her reach that next level.
Trotman knew she wanted an academically rigorous and respected program with an innovative curriculum, and a price point that wasn’t out of reach. As a busy mom, she also needed a flexible online program. “The Gies MBA fulfilled these and more,” she says.
With the Gies iMBA, Trotman was able to choose between joining live sessions of classes, which are offered across multiple time zones, or participating in a later, pre-recorded session. “I was able to listen to classes during my daily commute, at lunchtime, or during breaks,” she says. With the support of her friends and family, as well as advice from other women balancing their careers and families who she met during her studies, Trotman successfully completed a two-year track and graduated in 2020. “For working mothers seeking to pursue an MBA, the Gies iMBA is the ideal option.”
As for manageable tuition, the price tag for the full Gies iMBA program is $22,500. That comes in well below the tuition of over $100,000 at many top programs, where costs have been rising faster than inflation over the past few decades.
While Canis and Trotman may not be the “usual” MBA student, their experiences are fairly typical within the Gies iMBA program. The average age of a current Gies iMBA student is 37 years old, and they have around 11 years of work experience by the time they enroll. Gies iMBA students and alumni also come from around the world — they’re on every continent, except for Antarctica. Making higher education more accessible is part of the University of Illinois’ mission as a land-grant public institution, and by reimagining what an MBA program could look like, both in terms of flexibility and cost, they’ve done just that.
While satisfaction for students in the program is high — 97% said they’re pleased with the overall quality of the iMBA — the big question many students seeking advanced degrees have is: Is it worth it? In a recent interview, Brooke Elliott, the associate dean overseeing Gies’ online programs, said iMBA students are looking for an “immediate return on investment” for their courses. Much like Canis and Trotman, many students are looking to apply what they learn in their current careers — not just after graduation, but right after class, too.
Out of all Gies iMBA graduates, 95% report having applied knowledge from their classes directly to their jobs — and 54% of 2019 graduates say they received a job offer or promotion before graduation. With students represented at a number of Fortune 100 companies, it’s no surprise that interest in the Gies iMBA has grown exponentially. Since Canis was in the first cohort back in 2016, the program has expanded to more than 4,000 enrolled students from 78 countries around the globe, with a nearly 60% increase in enrollment from 2019 to 2020. By providing a more flexible and affordable MBA program, Gies College of Business hasn’t just revolutionized what business school looks like — they’re helping students change their lives.
“I think through the iMBA program, both my skill set and my self-confidence have grown a lot,” says Canis. Today, after graduating from the iMBA program in three-and-a-half years, he’s a manager who leads a team of 10 UX designers. He now feels he has the experience to make more strategic business decisions, and he’s able to tackle operational questions from his team, too.
For Trotman, who like many students graduated in the midst of a pandemic job market, her MBA gave her a leg up when it came to pursuing new opportunities. She landed a dream role as a project assistant, helping tourism businesses in the Caribbean recover from COVID-19. The initiative is part of the United Nations Development Programme, and competition for the job was “significant,” says Trotman. “Undoubtedly, the skills I learned through the iMBA helped position me as the ideal candidate.”
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