The 2009 Guide to MBAs in B.C.

Career in a rut? Looking to take your business global? Want to put your spare hours to good use? Earning an MBA no longer means spending two years poring over case studies: there’s a specialization for every need, and part-time and online options to suit every schedule.

Back in the ’90s, if you wanted an MBA in B.C., you had just three options: UBC, SFU or UVic. Since then a proliferation of new universities and delivery options has opened up a whole new array of choices.

A couple of new universities arrived on the scene in the ’90s, with their own MBA programs, and a handful of junior colleges have been promoted to university status, some of them developing their own MBAs along the way. The increased competition has spurred a multitude of specializations, both at the original three universities and the newcomers.

Looking for an MBA specializing in technology? How about law, human resources or health care? No problem; there’s a graduate business degree for every specialty. And gone are the days when advancing your credentials meant taking 18 months out of your career to sit in a classroom. Local MBA options range from full-time classroom learning to entirely online courses, with varying residency options in between.

One of the relative newcomers is Thompson Rivers University, which graduated from University College of the Cariboo in 2004 and began offering its MBA in 2005. The Kamloops school has become quite a draw for international students, with about half its student population coming to class from outside the country. School of Business dean Murray Young attributes the international mix to a network of international agents steering undergrads toward the Kamloops campus. Many of those students stay on for graduate degrees or go home and spread the word about what Young describes as the university’s exceptional “customer service.”

Over on Vancouver Island, the newly renamed Vancouver Island University is seeing its first MBA cohort make its way into the workforce. The former Malaspina University College has granted a joint degree with the U.K.’s University of Hertfordshire since 2002; then in 2007 it began delivering its own MBA, alongside a master of science in international business from Hertfordshire. Retaining ties to the U.K. university gives an international dimension to the newly minted university’s MBA program.

While hardly a newcomer, the province’s only private Christian university continues to hone the non-denominational MBA it has been offering since 2006. Trinity Western University in Langley infuses its MBA program with an ethical component, promising students a program that challenges them to not only examine new ways of doing business but to approach each learning module with questions about doing business ethically.

Settling in to his second year as dean of the Faculty of Management at Royal Roads University, Pedro Márquez is putting his stamp on the university’s MBA program. Márquez reports that he’s overhauling the program with the aim of breaking down barriers. Instead of offering marketing, accounting, human resources, etc., as separate classes, the revised core program will be built around guiding principles, such as leadership and sustainability, and will use those as filters through which individual skills are sifted. The revised format won’t take effect before 2010, and it won’t change the course length or residency requirements.

Also on the island, University Canada West is under new ownership. When former UVic president David Strong opened the private university in 2005, an MBA and executive MBA program were among the original offerings. After running into financial difficulty, the school was sold in November last year to Eminata Group, an education conglomerate based in Vancouver that has 800 employees and 30 campuses.

The change of ownership has not affected the MBA program, according to Eminata vice-president Royden Trainor, except to offer back-office support for what the school was already doing. The university is working on responding to increased demand for flexibility by strengthening its recognition of prior education and work experience, and by beefing up its online delivery component, says Trainor. Future plans include developing “a virtual environment” that will replace the current residency requirement.







Going the distance

Distance education offers an option for students seeking to broaden their horizons with an MBA from beyond B.C.’s borders. Typically designed for mid-career professionals balancing work and family, distance MBAs allow students to earn a degree from anywhere in the world. Typically, a distance MBA program requires a minimum of three years of professional experience. More often than not, distance MBA students are also from a particular business background; for example, the University of Guelph, based in Guelph, Ontario, caters to students wanting to specialize in hospitality and tourism or food and agribusiness. Sudbury-based Laurentian University’s distance MBA is exclusive to CGAs and Halifax’s Dalhousie University targets students with financial-service backgrounds.

The online format typically offered by these programs allows for far more collaboration than a student working from his or her living room (or plane, hotel room or, dare I say it, office) might expect. And because the programs target mature students with distinct specialties, their value depends as much on students learning from one another’s experiences as on the instructors. Students will typically take one or two courses at a time and spend 20 to 25 hours a week on each course, including reading, assignments and online group projects. This does not mean, however, that students are necessarily tied to their computers at a scheduled time.

Distance programs are designed with flexibility in mind, so online discussions are typically threaded and monitored by the instructor. Students may log on from any work station at their convenience, meeting assignment deadlines that are often weekly. If final exams are required, they are typically held at invigilation sites across the country. Program prices and lengths vary. Guelph and Dalhousie offer three-year programs at $38,500 and up to $27,000 respectively (depending on the number of courses taken). Laurentian’s online program is designed to be completed in 15 to 18 months at a cost of $10,000, and Alberta’s Athabasca University offers an online MBA program that costs $42,000.


Have MBA, will travel It’s no surprise that students are seeking an MBA that can help them adapt to an increasingly global economy. In response, a well-rounded MBA program today includes a component in international business. Full-time MBA programs, such as SFU’s (12 months with four-to-eight-month internship; $27,000 tuition) and UBC’s (15 months; $39,000 tuition) have become progressively more global in content and focus. Some time abroad is increasingly seen as essential for exposure to diverse cultures and business practices.

SFU offers an optional international trip to students and the possibility of internships outside Canada. UBC’s program includes the option of a three-month exchange with one of 27 partner universities in 23 countries as well as a sub-specialty in international business and an international internship. Some schools offer MBA programs specifically focusing on international business. After increased demand for a short international MBA program, Trinity Western University founded its 12-month, full-time IMBA program a year and a half ago. Designed to attract both Canadian and international students, the $32,625 program includes five business specializations in a global context.


Side project

Students in B.C. who want to supplement their work experience without putting their careers on hold might opt for a part-time MBA. Part time, however, is not synonymous with slack: coursework is still intensive. Royal Roads University offers a blended two-year program, combining elements of online and part-time MBA programs. Students complete three three-week residencies at the Victoria campus, during which they take between three and five courses. Each residency is followed by an eight-month online distance component, where students work in teams, combining text-based assignments with podcasts and blogs. Assignments and case studies are sent to instructors for evaluation. Students take two courses at a time and can reasonably expect to commit between 25 and 30 hours a week on coursework. At the end of the program, students work individually under the direction of a faculty advisor to complete a consulting project; typically this involves offering business solutions to real clients (who can participate in the program for free). Tuition is $35,070 plus materials and residency costs.

Students may also opt for a more traditional part-time program by attending classes at a local university. For example, the UVic part-time MBA ($29,000 plus materials) is a 29-to-33-month program delivered through on-campus evening classes. Students will complete two courses at a time, spending six hours a week per course in class and an additional 12 to 18 hours a week in group work and personal study. Collaboration is a key component of this option, and students enrolling in the program typically have an average of three years’ work experience. Courses tend to be highly integrated (case studies may be shared between courses so that students may approach a problem from a variety of disciplines) and, upon completion of four semesters, students may choose to specialize in such areas as international business, entrepreneurship or service management. Students are also given the option to attend full-time classes in addition to their evening work to accelerate the completion of their chosen specialization.

An on-site, part-time option is also available at the University of Northern B.C. ($18,360 for the first year and $12,240 for the second plus additional student fees; the program is 20 months in duration). Classes are held on campus once a month in three- or four-day sessions, and students may expect to spend 20 to 30 hours a week on additional study. Again, student collaboration is central to the success of the program, and a fair portion of the benefit comes from the close personal working relationships students develop with their classmates. Professional experience in their chosen field is not a prerequisite, and the university stresses that this is not a distance MBA. When students are off campus, specialized software is used to facilitate communication between students and their professors but not primarily to deliver course material.