We met with Joseph Wells of Morgan State University to discuss their online MBA program, HBCUs, traditional vs online degree programs, and more. Enjoy!
Joseph Wells, Director of the Earl G. Graves School of Business Masters Programs at Morgan State University, explains the advantages of an online degree program when compared to evening, full-time or part-time programs. His program provides on-demand asynchronous classes, perfect for students with less flexible schedules. In his experience, employers do not differentiate between online degrees and traditional degrees when hiring.
Morgan State’s online MBA is highly ranked by our ranking algorithm that ranks business schools based on the influence of their faculty and alumni.
As a Historically Black College or University (HBCU), Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, offers unique in-person experiences. Throughout the pandemic, the university has worked to ensure that students remain engaged and have felt a sense of community, which has been especially beneficial during such a trying time. Those that come to Morgan State for the student body and cultural experiences offered at an HBCU typically choose to come in person, but the convenience and flexibility of the online MBA program is the perfect path to a college degree for many students. In either case, students have two very strong routes to a college degree, and the choice is up to them!
Are you interested in finding out more about HBCUs? Discover which schools are the most influential HBCUs in America.
If you are specifically interested in an online college degree, check out the Best Online HBCU programs.
For a fascinating look at the history of HBCUs in America, check out our look at back at the critical role HBCUs play in higher education.
Considering a degree in business? Visit Our Business Page, where you’ll find the best business colleges and universities, career information, interviews with top businesspeople, influential scholars in the field of business, great books, a history of the discipline, online MBA programs, and more.
(Editor’s Note: The following transcript has been lightly edited to improve clarity.)
Karina: Hi, my name is Karina Macosko from Academic Influence, and I am here with Joe, and we are looking into online programs, so if you could just start by telling us how your program got started, what were the goals and the vision when your program was started.
Joseph Wells: Sure, so our program was started... The proposal, I should say, was written in 2015 when I joined Morgan State for the online MBA program. We already had an approved online program in project management, but I was tasked with writing the proposal to launch the online program, and it really was because for a business-school delivery, for educational delivery, you need a couple of different modalities, and our program was an evening-only program and it was a face to face-only program, and so that only gave us one modality, and so for competitive reasons, we needed a second delivery platform. And so most business schools, for example, have a full-time daytime program, that is what I did when I got my MBA, they’ll have an evening or part-time program, will have an online program, and will have an executive program, think about four legs to a table. We are not gonna make the investment for a full-time program daytime, and the executive program is still a long ways off, but the online program could provide us with that critical second leg for reaching a market who was interested in the MBA program, but was unable or unwilling to travel to campus, they wanted a asynchronous educational experience on demand, so those are really some of the brief history and rationale behind how we got our program started.
Karina: Well, that is great, and so for the school for Morgan, it was for a competitive advantage but obviously it is been beneficial to a lot of the students who have also gone through the online program, so what type of person do you think would benefit the most for this program and thrive the most at online versus in-person?
Joseph Wells: I think there are a couple of things. One is, the person has to be more disciplined because nobody is checking on you, especially in an asynchronous program. Now, some of our classes are synchronous, so again, with the pandemic, we introduced what we call "remote instruction," which is just a synchronous class, and so that was coupled with asynchronous learning, but a person simply has to be more disciplined to be able to go in, complete and do the assignments. They have to be a little bit more self-motivated. Again, there is nobody coming and telling you to come to class or to do that sorta thing. They have to be comfortable working at their own pace. I think those are some of the things are key.
And then there is also an aspect of engagement, so we try to be, throughout the rest of the other aspects of the program, as engaged with the student as we can, professional development, career or other types of programming, but again a student really has to be self-motivated simply because pre-pandemic, they literally were not here, they were not able to come to the office, the communications... We set up town halls for the online students, and we are always available to them, but it is just that they have to be a little more self-directed, self-motivated.
The students have tended to be a little bit older, a couple of years older than some of our traditional students. Not all of them, but they are skewed that way, we have more older students coming into the online program, and they tend to be a little more directed in terms of, "The MBA is for a more specific purpose, so I am working and I need to get the MBA to move up the ladder," or, "There are promotional opportunities and the MBA would be very helpful," so they tend to be a little more directed than our traditional face-to-face students.
Karina: Well, that is interesting, and with that engagement part, obviously coming out of the pandemic, all of your MBA classes, not just the online ones were moved online, and so what do you think, first of all, the difference was between the one that was traditionally supposed to be in person and the other one? And also, with that degree, how do you think employers look at an online degree versus getting an in-person? Do you think there are distinctions or do you think most of the time they view the in-person and online degree fairly similarly?
Joseph Wells: I will take your second part first.
Joseph Wells: We have not noticed any difference with employers. I think, to be frank, prior to some of your bigger and some of your more name-brand schools introducing an online MBA, it was the province of your DeSales and your Phoenixes, who were for-profit institutions, so they may have been looked upon or looked down upon, I think, and it is not to say anything about the quality of the education, but I think once some of your larger name-brand schools entered the online space, then I think it gave the online MBA itself credibility, and then I think it was simply a matter of, how innovative or differentiating did you make your own curriculum?
I think from the standpoint of engagement, we have several students who came to campus to be in a face-to-face program, who graduated 100% in an online environment because of when they came in, due to the rise of the pandemic. We worked harder as an office to drive more engagement, drive more groups of students together, students came into the program, and formed WhatsApp chat groups as first students, so that there was a way for them to communicate with each other, irrespective of whatever was going on in the classes or coming out of our office, we had, like I said before, many more town hall and other events to keep students engaged, and they were intentional, we are gonna be keeping some of those going. Some of those may transition now to face-to-face.
Interestingly enough, we came back to be face-to-face in the fall, and then the day of classes, the decision was made at the provost level or somewhere in that office to keep our classes all virtual, so we did not come back live until the spring this semester, and even coming back live, several classes which were supposed to be in person, students actually voted to make them remote.
And so that is been somewhat of a cause of consternation because we have had some students who have made significant efforts to travel to the US to attend classes in person and unfortunately, some of those classes have gone virtual, so imagine traveling from Sri Lanka, or from Africa or from the Middle East, Latin America to get here, given all that is going on with covid and you are taking two out of your three classes from a dorm or from a department someplace in Maryland, so that is been problematic I think for some but we, like I said, worked hard to drive the engagement and to keep driving engagement with students, particularly around classes, and then particularly also around the career, we have not seen falling off of engagement with students or employers hiring or students getting really great job offers coming outta that online experience, so we have worked hard and been intentional to keep the experience as status quo as we could.
Karina: Well, yeah, and obviously the pandemic has been difficult for a lot of people, including, well, especially schools, but I think having that online program already established has probably helped to make that transition a little easier. And so just finishing out our interview, this is more specific to Morgan, and so as a HBCU, obviously there is a lot of draws when you are choosing a college if you are going in person, but what do you think is the main difference or the main benefit of going to Morgan for the online program and HBCU compared to maybe a different school for an online program?
Joseph Wells: Yeah, I think the... And we get a lot of students who will tell us that they went to a PWI, predominantly white institution for undergrad, and they wanted a "HBCU" experience for graduate school, and those are the students that are coming in person who want to be on the campus, who want to be on an HBCU campus and want to have all of that entails in terms of the classes, it is not really the content, it is really more the, "Who’s in your class?" Maybe you were one of two black or minority students in your classes in college, and now you are in the majority in terms of your classes, another cultural things that the school does that you would not necessarily find if you were at another institution.
So those folks that are coming and there are several I know ’cause will tell us they are coming for that, but those are the in-person students, you are not gonna get any of that flavor, so to speak, in an online setting, you are just not gonna get that because you are sitting wherever you are virtually, whether you are in Baltimore or you are in Sri Lanka taking classes, so we found that that is been pretty much exclusively people who have explicitly stated, "I want an HBCU experience." Those have been the people that have been in-person.
So again, if you came for that in-person and happened to come during the pandemic, then you got very little of that until recently, this fall, when the campus has started to loosen up and have engagements this past... A few weeks ago, we hosted the CIAA, that is the big college conference. We hosted the tournaments here in Baltimore, and that was a massive draw for people to come, so a lot of our graduate students actually went ’cause that was a big thing to partake of, so that was fun but again, if you wanted that experience and you were really coming in person as opposed to being an online student.
Karina: Wow, well, thank you so much, it is really interesting to hear. And we have talked to a lot of university professors but you are one of the first for our online program, so it is really interesting to compare that experience. And like you said, I think a lot of it has to do with the individual student’s needs and what they are looking for in their program, so I hope this helps people when they are trying to determine to go online or to go in person, so thank you so much.
Joseph Wells: You are very welcome.