Simmons Makes Bold Move

Changes in the market inspire the school to adopt a new online strategy for its MBA.
THE SIMMONS COLLEGE School of Management (shown at right) in Boston, Massachusetts, has long been the only U.S. business school where women make up 100 percent of students. Now that’s about to change. The school recently announced that it was closing its full-time on-campus MBA and replacing it with MBA@Simmons, a fully online program delivered through educational technology company 2U. It also is accepting applications to its new HealthcareMBA@Simmons to be delivered via the same model.

This dramatic move is necessary because so much has changed since the school first launched its MBA in the 1970s, explains Simmons president Helen Drinan. “At that time, most business schools weren’t accepting women, and those that were did so in begrudgingly small numbers,” she says. “Today, most business schools are trying to attract more women, and many top-ranked schools are offering tremendous scholarship assistance.” In addition, about 25 business programs now are located in the Boston area, leaving Simmons little room to compete in its local market.

The school is taking its two MBAs online to expand its reach beyond the New England area—and to enroll men in larger numbers, says Drinan. She explains that although Simmons has never barred men from enrolling in its on-campus programs, men do not choose the school because of its reputation for focusing on women’s perspectives. Both Drinan and Cathy Minehan, dean of the School of Management, agree that, by moving its MBA fully online, the school can cast a much wider net and create an environment where women and men feel comfortable.

With 2U’s support, the school is building an on-campus studio where faculty can record lectures and hold real-time classroom discussions with geographically distributed students, and it also will hire faculty based nationwide, rather than only locally. Its current faculty are working with Simmons’ Center for Excellence in Teaching to design coursework for the new program.

Both of Simmons’ MBA programs will be modeled after two other master’s programs at the college. Two years ago, Simmons began offering an online version of its master’s degree in nursing through 2U—the program now enrolls approximately 1,000 students nationwide, in addition to 150 students on campus. Next, Simmons moved its master’s in social work online, and that program now enrolls 500 students online and 400 on campus. Unlike these two programs, however, Simmons’ online MBA programs will not include on-campus enrollment.

Although some alumni have expressed dismay about the change, many current and prospective students are excited, says Drinan, who is a Simmons MBA alumna herself. The kind of growth the nursing and social work programs have seen “is simply not possible with traditional recruitment methods,” says Drinan. “Going online has brought a whole new life into each program.”