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Wharton Adds Online Specializations in Entrepreneurship, Financial Modeling

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Touting its pioneering role in the massive online education space, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania this week announced that it will add two new online specializations to its series of Coursera offerings, one in entrepreneurship and another in business and financial modeling. This brings the school’s total to 16 individual online courses making up four distinct specializations, more specializations than any other business school on the Coursera platform, the school notes.

Wharton adds online specializations
Wharton Marketing Professor Peter Fader teaching a course in the “Business Foundations” specialization

Wharton blazed a trail in 2012 as the first business school to offer a massive open online course (MOOC), and again in 2013 as the first to offer an online specialization. That specialization, “Business Foundations,” includes courses in marketing, accounting, finance and operations, which form the bedrock of a Wharton MBA. To date, more than 2.7 million students around the globe have enrolled in Wharton’s online offerings, says Anne Trumbore, director of Wharton Online.  

The school also boasts the largest number of certificates awarded to students online, with more than 32,000 going through the additional identification verification steps to certify their completion of a Wharton course, Trumbore adds. “We have really been just thrilled with the response globally,” she says.

Chance to Identify Unique Talent
Why is Wharton working so hard to deliver its course content to the world for free?  “We have the ability to provide the Wharton learning experience at scale, and we feel that it is our duty to share this world-class education,” Trumbore says. In a video about Wharton Online, Dean Geoffrey Garrett cites the same primary motivation and adds two more, the opportunity to innovate with technology and a chance to draw the best students to Wharton from wherever they are in the world. “We probably can’t always find the very best students,” he says. “I think that our online specializations give us the chance to identify some unique talent.”

Indeed, approximately 25 of the 500 students who completed the “Business Foundations” specialization capstone project in its first round will be offered an admissions fee waiver to apply next fall as part of Wharton’s Round 1 MBA application cycle. While far from a guarantee of admission, the fee waiver demonstrates Wharton’s commitment to helping the strongest of its online students have an opportunity to become on-campus students. And for those who successfully navigate the competitive admissions process, Wharton will also award up to five $20,000 scholarships.

The final course in Wharton’s second specialization, “Business Analytics,” was only launched last week, so students haven’t had an opportunity to take part in a capstone project and no reward has been designated for the highest performers, Trumbore says.

Top Entrepreneurship Students to Score Audience with VCs
The new “Entrepreneurship” specialization announced today will also offer a reward to the top online performers. The learners with the top scores on the capstone project will be introduced to the most appropriate venture capital (VC) firms in Wharton Entrepreneurship’s network, according to region and sector.

The process to select these students will mirror the one used for the “Foundations” specialization. “Students will be peer reviewed—they will use a rubric developed by the professors to evaluate one another,” Trumbore says. The teaching staff will hand grade the highest scoring of this lot to identify an elite group to present to the entrepreneurship professors, who will make introductions to appropriate VCs, she continues.

Entrepreneurship was a natural next addition to Wharton’s Coursera offerings given the school’s deep history of innovation and entrepreneurial success stories such as Indian online marketplace SnapDeal and online eyeglass retailer Warby Parker, Trumbore says. “We also have some of the world’s best professors, so it seemed like that would be a really good specialization to bring to a global audience.” Its courses will tackle key topics in the conception, design, organization and management of new ventures and be taught by superstars on the Wharton faculty, including Karl Ulrich, Lori Rosenkopf, Kartik Hosanger, David Hsu, David Bell, Laura Huang and Ethan Mollick.

Wharton’s not worried about cannibalization—that is, online learners eating into a population of students who might otherwise apply to and enroll in the school’s premier two-year MBA program. “I really don’t think that someone who has the commitment to even consider coming to an MBA program for two years would be satisfied with a 16-week course of study online,” Trumbore says. “They are just very different types of learners.” The more likely outcome, she says, is that the specialization will draw people who have an entrepreneurial idea they want to develop, who then decide they want to apply for the full MBA program. “It’s not an ‘either or’ situation,” she says.