Taking his education to the next level is something Jeff Potts wanted to do, but it was difficult to find the time while he was working.
“Essentially, a master’s degree is something I’ve always been interested in obtaining,” Potts says. “But when you look at doing it the traditional way while having a professional career, it’s something that would probably take three, five, or maybe even seven years.”
But then he discovered UW-Oshkosh’s new executive MBA, which allows busy professionals to complete the program in 16 months. The program also waives the Graduate Record Examination for students with enough professional experience, eliminating lengthy preparation time.
“That was really what tipped the scale and made me go back to school, was the format of the education,” Potts says.
Nationally, undergraduate enrollment is showing a slight decline. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reports national student enrollment for all four-year and for public two-year colleges in Fall 2014 was down 1.3 percent nationally and 1.6 percent in Wisconsin.
At the same time, demand for graduate programs is on the rise as companies seek workers with more skills and even require their current employees to complete their education before job advancement. Educational institutions are responding to the trends, developing new programs to capture the attention of non-traditional students.
UW-Oshkosh, which had a master’s of business administration program, developed the accelerated program after seeking input from more than 500 prospective students and employers, says Kathy Hagens, director of the MBA program at the university.
In addition to its 16-month format, students also wanted immediate applicability — being able to learn something on Saturday and apply it to their professional lives the following week, Hagens says. The program also includes an international component.
“For us, it’s critical to be able to make sure that we are always aligned with what are the needs of businesses and how can we support those needs now and into the future in this ever-changing and evolving world,” Hagens says.
Likewise, St. Norbert College is seeing an increased demand for graduate education and is launching a new MBA program in September. College officials were careful to consider how it could fill the MBA niche in a unique way, and decided to offer three tracks — business, supply chain/manufacturing and health care/medical, says Kevin Quinn, dean of the Schneider School of Business and Economics at St. Norbert College.
“There’s no doubt the gap between the labor market outcomes for those who have skills, especially advanced skills, and those that lack those skills, is growing,” Quinn says. “It is getting increasingly difficult to be able to find a job that can really earn you a living and support a family unless you have a substantial amount of training.”
Quinn says St. Norbert wanted to develop a program that fit the college’s style and mission, emphasizing soft skills such as communication and thinking critically, and also placing a focus on networking.
Zach Voelz, vice president for enrollment management for Lakeland College in Sheboygan, says flexibility is key to attracting busy professionals, and many opt for an online degree.
“The traditional go-to schools of Northeastern Wisconsin are losing some traction as prospective students are swarmed with options from around the nation,” Voelz wrote in an email message.
That was really the impetus for Lakeland to develop its BlendEd LIVE format, allowing students to stay home and connect to a live classroom, Voelz says.
“We spend a lot of time with industry leadership discussing their needs — including the types of positions they anticipate filling and the skill sets needed,” Voelz said.
Already, UW-Oshkosh’s executive MBA program has paid off for Potts, who in January joined Habitat for Humanity as executive director.
“I’ve always wanted to lead an organization, so personally one of my professional goals was to get the MBA to help put me in the position where my professional experience would be complemented.”
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