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WSU adding online MBA program

Washington State University’s College of Business plans to offer an online MBA program starting this fall. If approved by school regents this week, WSU will be the only state-funded school in the Northwest to offer the master’s in business administration program online, according to area higher education officials.

Other area colleges and schools, including Gonzaga University, Whitworth University and Eastern Washington University, offer on-campus MBA courses.

Administrators at those three schools and at the University of Washington say they have no plans to provide online MBA programs.

If approved, the WSU program would cost a student more than $30,000 to complete, not counting books or other materials.

EWU’s MBA program costs about $11,000 for in-state students. Gonzaga’s program costs about $25,000. Whitworth’s is $23,900 and includes the cost of books, said Mary Alberts, director of Whitworth’s graduate business programs.

David Sprott, associate dean of WSU graduate programs, said the timing to launch the online MBA program is right.

“I think it’s the perfect time,” Sprott said. In general online graduate programs are growing in popularity as students who can’t move near a campus or are in a job find Web-based instruction a handy solution, he said.

An economic downturn also encourages some workers to go back to school to sharpen career skills, said Mark Fuller, chair of the WSU Department of Information Systems. He will be one of the instructors in WSU’s online program.

Fuller said WSU has already established a successful online program for undergraduates.

“We’ve had a (bachelor’s degree) in business administration online since 1997,” Fuller said. “We have a track record of graduating highly employable students.”

Sprott said WSU would be able to offer the first year of the program without taking any money from university budgets. All program costs, he said, would be covered by tuition.

He noted no new faculty will be hired – instructors will teach the online courses on top of their regular schedules.

Neither Sprott nor Fuller could come up with an estimated operating budget for WSU’s first year of MBA online courses. Sprott said that figure would vary depending on how many students enrolled.

The likely first pool of MBA students will be from across the Northwest, Sprott said. The first year could attract 30 to 60 part-time students, based on initial projections. Most MBA students take one or two courses per semester, taking up to three years to earn the degree, Sprott said.

Over time, the WSU online MBA program should attract students from anywhere on the planet. Fuller said the selling point and main advantage of an online program is allowing students to take courses at any time, from wherever they have a connected computer.

Another reason WSU has pushed forward, said Sprott, is to be ahead of the curve.

“There’s a big opportunity here. There aren’t a lot of good schools in this space, and that will change over the next few years,” he said. He said he’s certain many more universities will add online programs and compete for MBA students over the next decade.

The only other Spokane-based online MBA program is the one offered by privately funded University of Phoenix. Sprott made a point of noting that WSU, but not the University of Phoenix, is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. That group is regarded as the foremost body for validating the quality of business school programs, Sprott said.

The University of Phoenix earned its business program accreditation from the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs, said Spokane campus director Paul Green. It just graduated about 30 students in its online MBA program.

Most of those taking online courses through the University of Phoenix come from Spokane, North Idaho and the Tri-Cities area. They paid $22,500 for the courses; books and online materials add $1,200 on average to the bill, Green said.

The University of Phoenix, he said, doesn’t see WSU’s online effort as disrupting its own business program.

There’s plenty of demand for online graduate education, he said, leaving more than enough students for both schools.

“We know students will look closely at their choices. They will still decide by looking for the program that is best for their needs,” said Green.