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UW MBA Consortium students appreciate online program’s flexibility, engagement

| Gary Johnson

Photo caption: Vanessa Raye of Atlanta received her MBA degree in December 2020 from the University of Wisconsin MBA Consortium, which is managed by UW-Eau Claire. Raye says the online program was a perfect fit for her.

Vanessa Raye admittedly was concerned that an online MBA program might limit the engagement she would have with other students and instructors.

But the Georgia resident discovered that faculty members in the University of Wisconsin MBA Consortium, managed by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, were readily available and used course delivery strategies that prompted students to collaborate with each other.

“It embodies an academic culture that emphasizes trust, community, meaning and collaboration,” says Raye, who graduated in December 2020. “Team members are encouraged to speak up and share in the decision-making process. As a result, we all have a vested interest and are accountable for team performance.”

Raye is an information technology project manager at Koch Industries in Atlanta, focusing on enterprise-wide applications. She says her company encourages employees to pursue lifelong learning, and completing her MBA was the next step in her personal development.

When choosing an MBA program, Raye needed it to be completely online, accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, affordable and ranked as a top program.

The UW MBA Consortium certainly qualified as U.S. News & World Report listed the program as the top online MBA program in the Upper Midwest in its 2021 rankings. The consortium includes UW-Eau Claire, UW-La Crosse and UW Oshkosh as the governing partners.

The UW MBA Consortium turned out to be a perfect fit for Raye.

“The online classroom technology improved so much over my time at the university that you can learn the same MBA material taught at in-person programs without feeling like you sacrificed with an online program,” Raye says. “All the material was focused on building a framework for students to identify and solve problems versus telling them how to think.”

Raye hopes to use her MBA to advance in her company to a position where she will lead major, transformational initiatives and be a vital member of the leadership team that designs and implements the division’s strategies.

Raye’s experiences in the program are not unique, says Jessica Franson, UW MBA Consortium managing director.

Students are drawn to the program for its innovative and applicable curriculum that integrates business concepts into the team-taught core courses such as financial management and strategy development, business communication and inclusive leadership, Franson says. Students also value the personalization, flexibility and engagement of the program, she says.

“I’ve had a number of students, including practicing physicians and top-level business executives, tell me that an MBA degree would not have been possible for them without the flexible course delivery model the UW MBA Consortium program offers,” Franson says. “We know that students also value engagement so we keep class sizes small, with a maximum of 30 per class, to ensure they still have opportunities for meaningful interactions with their faculty and fellow students.”

More than 300 students are enrolled in the consortium program in 2021, with about 70 students receiving their MBA each year. Students from multiple countries and more than 35 states are represented in the program each year. The program has experienced sustained growth since its inception and has more than doubled in size over the last five years.

Real-life scenarios

Jennifer Cragun started in the MBA program in spring 2018 to further develop her business management skills for her job in accounting and financial management at Harrison Construction, a commercial construction company in Davis, California. In addition to working full time, she is raising four young sons, so she needed a program with nontraditional hours.

Her experience with the program has exceeded Cragun’s expectations.

“One of my favorite aspects of the program is the intentional application of the lessons and information to our real-life business experiences,” Cragun says. “In all my classes, we were asked to continually apply the course material to our individual careers and share our unique experiences.”

Cragun now sees the bigger financial picture for her company because of her enhanced management skills. She feels confident she can make informed contributions to important company business decisions.

“I would absolutely recommend the UW MBA Consortium program to others looking for a flexible program with a comprehensive curriculum,” says Cragun, who expects to receive her MBA in spring 2022. “I have already recommended the program to several of my family and friends looking to advance their own careers in business.”

Family business

Husband and wife Ben and Jennie Wunderlich work at PSC Distribution in Iowa City, Iowa, as they pursue their MBA degrees online. Jennie is the fourth generation in her family’s plumbing and heating, ventilation and air conditioning business that also has a kitchen and bathroom showroom.

The Wunderlichs are looking to grow the company and believe the UW MBA Consortium program can provide additional knowledge of e-commerce, supply chain management and other business areas.

“We wanted to gain additional knowledge and tools to help us better lead the company in the future,” Jennie says. “We also both love challenging ourselves. By pursuing our MBAs, it would not only be a challenge, but stretch us in ways that could help us both inside and outside our business.”

The couple has three elementary and middle school-aged children so they needed a flexible online program.

Ben calls his instructors “exceptional” as they genuinely want students to gain more understanding and competence in the concepts studied.

“They are open to suggestions, flexible in providing options when alternative formats can help learning and very willing to share real-world experiences,” Ben says. “Through collaboration with classmates, I have found the online MBA experience to be enjoyable and the understanding of each week’s materials to be enhanced.”

As they pursue their MBAs, Jennie says the couple already is using the lessons they’ve learned in their daily business. For example, a course called “Communicating for Success” prompted them to make immediate changes to more effectively disseminate ideas, goals and sometimes difficult issues.

Jennie says an improved understanding of financial statements, marketing and corporate entrepreneurship strategies are helping to drive innovations in the company. They hope to receive their MBA degrees in December 2022.

“I wish we would not have delayed getting our MBAs as long as we did,” Jennie says. “Each class has gone much smoother and faster than I could have thought when we applied.”