Accelerated Programs Offer Value

December 6, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — The West Michigan region has no shortage of post-graduate opportunities for working professionals.

But while nearly all local options are part-time programs, some schools have positioned themselves as options to deliver an education with the least amount of inconvenience possible.

CornerstoneUniversity, DavenportUniversity and the University of Phoenix all aggressively market accelerated programs. FerrisStateUniversity's Grand Rapids campus and Baker College of Muskegon also offer accelerated programs.

With such a large variety of MBA options available — not to mention those of questionable quality — some concerns might arise about whether accelerated programs offer the same level of quality as traditional programs.

Local college officials say such concerns are baseless — that it takes work to earn an MBA locally.

"That accelerated programs are an easy option to get a degree is an outright myth," said Phil Baster, dean of DavenportUniversity's graduate school. "Accelerated programs are just as effective as the semester-long or traditional programs if everybody understands the rules of the game and plays according to those rules.

"We're not going to cut back the academic value of a program to fit it into an accelerated format," he explained. "We don't change the learning outcomes. We make sure that people in an accelerated class don't get shortchanged on their education."

Davenport students attack the same subject matter in a seven-week course as those in traditional, semester-long programs. But they use methods reminiscent of manufacturing's LEAN concepts. Baster said instructors avoid tangential topics of no value to learning objectives. He said Davenport also avoids downtime and busy work common in traditional programs.

Accelerated courses also have less classroom time — only 28 hours compared to the traditional 45 — so that the student does much of the work on his or her own.

"There is going to be a burden on the students," Baster said. "There is a significant amount of responsibility placed on the student out of class. It puts a lot of pressure on the student and I think that helps a lot. We don't see students get disinterested or lose focus."

Craig Jacob, director of the University of Phoenix West Michigan campus, is himself enrolled in his school's MBA program.

"There really is no compromise of the academic rigors," he said. "We don't cater to everyone, though. But it is especially valuable to working adults."

At Phoenix, courses run for only six weeks. And — as is the case at Davenport — students enroll in only one course at time, becoming entirely immersed in a single subject.

Jacob said he believes this aids in retention, especially when the subject matter can be applied at work the next day.

The largest credit requirement of any local program — 48 hours — is for the basic Phoenix MBA, which takes 22 months. At WesternMichiganUniversity's Grand Rapids campus, traditional semester-length programs can produce a degree in 24 months. Most students, however, take three to four years.

Cindy VanGelderen, dean of AquinasCollege's School of Management, is careful not to describe her school's master of management as an accelerated program.

"At one time our eight-week sessions would have been considered accelerated," she said.  "Our students see the quicker pace as a real advantage, but we wouldn't want to go any faster than that."

VanGelderen takes an opposing view to the accelerated programs. She explained that Aquinas instructors often have trouble fitting the material into an eight-week session, and some courses have been extended longer to meet learning objectives.

GrandValleyStateUniversity's Seidman College of Business also does not describe its part-time MBA program as accelerated. According to Business Week's college ranking data, however, the average Seidman MBA can be completed in 18 months, five less than the Phoenix program.    

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