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University of Illinois College of Business Launches New $20,000 MOOC-Based MBA

iMBAThe University of Illinois College of Business this week announced the launch of an online-only MBA degree program designed to democratize access to graduate management education, according to U. of I. College of Business Dean Larry DeBrock. Called the iMBA, it will be the first complete online graduate business degree offered in partnership with Silicon Valley educational technology company Coursera, which offers courses from many other leading MBA programs through its platform of massive open online courses (MOOCs).

The College of Business is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and development of this new program was designed to mark the occasion, according to DeBrock. “We’re entering the online MBA field motivated in part to find new ways to return to the tradition of great public universities making an elite education available to all,” he said in a statement.

With a price tag of just $20,000, the program is radically less expensive than online MBA programs offered by leading business schools like Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business and UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Of course, the U. of I. College of Business is not as highly ranked as the other schools offering more expensive online degrees. And the iMBA will not feature in-person components like Tepper’s Part-Time Online Hybrid program, which includes six weekends on the CMU campus over the course of the program, or MBA@UNC, Kenan-Flagler’s online program, which features quarterly global immersions bringing participating students together for group sessions in cities around the world.

Nonetheless, iMBA courses are all taught by College of Business professors, and each Specialization has an optional additional component, offered through the web platform, that includes discussion with classmates and instructor feedback. And the ability to obtain an MBA for less than the cost of a single year’s tuition at many undergraduate colleges—from a school ranked among the top 50 in the world—is noteworthy.

The program also puts a new spin on the traditional MBA curriculum, featuring what the school has dubbed “stackable credentials” —stand-alone specializations in subjects such as corporate finance, strategy, marketing and social responsibility—that together build toward the full MBA degree.

“Rather than simply transferring traditional MBA content online, we’re mixing academic disciplines into active-learning packages about how businesses work that are preassembled for students,” Raj Echambadi, associate dean of outreach and engagement at the College of Business, said in a statement. Each specialization is self-contained and designed to equip students to apply what they’ve learned in a given subject area immediately in a real-life business setting.

As with most MOOCs, any of the iMBA program’s courses can actually be taken for free on Coursera. To obtain a certificate of completion, participants pay $79, and to obtain college credit they pay $1,000 per course or $3,000 per specialization. They can apply for the official iMBA program before they start or after they have completed any or all of the individual courses or specialization.

This means that current professionals can sign up for classes in topics they need for work and later stack together individual certificates to construct a complete degree. “This is part of what makes stackability possible – each sequence brings together all the pieces of the puzzle in one place,” said Echambadi.

The stackable nature of the program gives students the flexibility to take courses in whatever sequence they want. A full degree requires completion of 18 courses, which students who take two courses at a time can do in two years. But they also have the option of stretching the courses out over as many as five years. In this way, the iMBA program “reimagines graduate education to be more flexible and accessible,” Daphne Koller, co-founder and president of Coursera, said in a statement.

That students can complete coursework before even applying to the degree program is also a radical departure from traditional business school admissions. Make no mistake. Official enrolment in the iMBA program does require applying and being admitted, but “success in Specializations in the program will be considered as a factor in admission,” according to the program’s website.

“The iMBA really leverages the power of MOOCs for the first time,” DeBrock said. “The first portion of every course is open enrollment and involves people from all over the world, not just those who have applied and been accepted into an online MBA program. Instructors lead through a cohort system that creates constant, direct interaction among peers.”

Learn more about the U. of I. College of Business’s new iMBA program.