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May 9, 2018 2018-05 Business Administration Student

University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business Graduates First iMBA class

CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS – The first graduating class of Gies College of Business’s iMBA program is travelling to campus for convocation ceremonies on May 13. They, along with other graduates who will participate online, are part of a disruptive approach to earning an MBA that is attracting learners from 46 states and 56 countries. They range in age from 22 to 61 years old. The iMBA program launched in January 2016 on the online education platform Coursera at a time when higher education, employers and students were beginning to rethink the value of an MBA in the rapidly evolving world of business. It is an example of the three pillars for the future of higher education – Accessibility, Excellence and Innovation – developed under the direction of Jeffrey R. Brown, the Josef and Margot Lakonishok Professor of Business and Dean of the College.
Reimagining the online MBA
“We have expanded access to high-quality graduate-level business education by reducing geographic and financial barriers,” said Brown. “By re-engineering how we teach, we are delivering an affordable and transformative MBA experience for talented people across the globe. It’s innovative and making a global impact.”
The classes are taught by the same world-class faculty that teach the on-campus MBAs. The College partnered with Coursera to develop this break-through model (98% rated the program as excellent or good). The 76 people in the 2018 graduating class, along with the 1,100-plus currently in the program, represent a different profile than the typical MBA student. Most have life constraints that have made fulfilling the dream of a top-ranked MBA education out of reach, whether it is cost, family commitments or living in a rural area. They include working mothers, veterans, and first- generation college students. They come from Arkansas to Beijing and skew older with more varied backgrounds; their average age is 37 years old with 12 years of work experience.
“We broke unwritten rules and wrote new ones,” said Arshad Saiyed, Executive Director, Online Programs at Gies College of Business. “We drew attention with a disruptive price point well below our peers, but the program’s success has hinged on the power of the University of Illinois brand and how we offer classes, how we teach learners, and the unique ways we connect students to each other and faculty.”
Affordable Pricing Shifts Trial to Loyalty
The program initially drew attention for its $22K cost, a fraction of the price of similar programs from top-tier universities across the country. Instead of teaching a coursework linearly, students were encouraged to try for free single “stackable” classes that interested them. If they liked the format and quality, they could then apply to earn a degree. Yuhai Xuan, Academic Director iMBA Program and Associate Professor of Finance, said the faculty attribute the 92% retention rate to a natural shift from trial to loyalty. They also cite the intimacy of the learning environment and opportunity to connect with learners from around the globe.
“Universities must play an expanding role in preparing people for the demands of the workplace, and the University of Illinois is leading the way with the iMBA,” said Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of Coursera. “We have opened up the possibility of earning a highly ranked MBA by making open online courses the gateway to these degrees on a technology platform that enables unprecedented flexibility for students.”
New On-demand and Live Virtual Teaching Methods Create Relevant, Real-Time Learning
The iMBA’s technology allows faculty to develop group projects that connect people with very different backgrounds who have a passion for the same topic. Learners with busy lives – and “day jobs” -- can complete this degree on-the-go with Coursera’s robust mobile app and even sign up for more intimate coaching sessions.
“It’s completely changed my approach to teaching. Our class format relies heavily on prepping all material in advance so that during class we’re not relying on static images of me standing at a lectern with a PowerPoint presentation,” said Larry DeBrock, Dean Emeritus and Professor of Finance and Professor of Economics, who has taught in the College of Business for 39 years, and now teaches a weekly live video class session for the iMBA. “Instead, we may start an economic markets class looking at a sea of faces telling us what gas prices are in their city. It’s relevant, real-time learning created by real world conditions.”    
About Coursera
Coursera is an online education company that partners with 160 of the world’s top universities and industry leaders to offer courses, Specializations, and degrees that empower learners around the world to achieve their career, educational, and personal enrichment goals throughout their lives. Since launching in 2012, the company has grown to 31 million registered learners who can choose among 2,600 courses and 230 Specializations. Leading universities are now also working with Coursera to offer online degrees in areas like business, computer science, data science, and public health. For more information, visit
About Gies College of Business
Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign provides a world-class educational experience for the next generation of business leaders. For more than 100 years, the College has delivered on the promise of innovation in business education, with a commitment to cutting-edge curriculum design and delivery, exceptional experiential learning opportunities, and unparalleled academic excellence. Today our faculty prepare more than 5,100 students, including 3,100 undergraduates, to be at the forefront of innovation and leadership in the global economy.