The Customized MBA

When students asked for an MBA program that would cost less, could be finished more quickly, and could be customized to their personal interests, the Asper School decided to redesign its MBA program to suit.
When employers and prospective business students are asking for something different, it’s important to listen, says Marci Elliott, executive director of MBA programs at the University of Manitoba’s Asper School of Business in Winnipeg, Canada. Two years ago, when students asked for an MBA program that would cost less, could be finished more quickly, and could be customized to their personal interests, the Asper School decided to redesign its MBA program to suit.

In 2014, the Asper School introduced its new 60-hour MBA, in which the credits for the core curriculum have been reduced from 48 to 30 and those for electives have been increased from 12 to 30. Students now can take preparatory online boot camps in subjects like Excel and basic quantitative skills so they can be ready to complete the course content. Finally, they can qualify for up to 30 credit hours of course exemptions based on professional designations or on prior business courses in recognized programs. Students can take as little as 12 months or as long as six years to earn their degrees.

One of the biggest changes in the program is the addition of what the school calls “cross-pollinating courses.” Students can combine these courses to earn a concentration in marketing, finance, supply chain, or leadership and organizations. In addition, they can choose to pursue one of three specialized themes: international and emerging markets, sustainability, and entrepreneurship and innovation.

“When we asked employers and prospective students what kind of learning would be most important to them, they identified these three themes in particular,” says Elliott. “We’ve designed our courses and curriculum so that, if students take a functional concentration in, say, finance, they’ll cross all three of our themes, and if they take a thematic concentration, they’ll cross all functions.” Students will be paired with executive mentors in their fields of choice. All but those in the 12-month track participate in an international study trip and projects for local businesses.

So far, she says, the new format has paid off—its fall enrollment of 52 students will be its largest in years. Elliott hopes the school’s January 2016 intake will match the 20 students who enrolled during the spring intake. The design of the new Asper MBA, she adds, offers students the specialized training they asked for in a format that’s efficient and manageable for the school. “We don’t have a lot of money, so we don’t have the luxury of having multiple different programs,” Elliott says. “We had to be resourceful and offer everything all at once in a single MBA.”