Focus, Higher Education, and Technology

Davenport launches online competency-based MBA degree

Program puts more emphasis on business experience than classroom time.

October 17, 2014
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Davenport MBA
Davenport MBA students are tested for their understanding of materials, which could shave time off their degree track. Courtesy Davenport

Business professionals interested in earning an MBA can now be graded based on their proficiency of material rather than time spent in a classroom.

Davenport University announced Oct. 6 that its Donald W. Maine College of Business is launching an online competency-based Master of Business Administration program in January 2015 that is tailored for experienced business professionals.

The competency-based MBA allows students to earn credit based on their proficiency of a certain subject matter through online assessments to complete the curriculum at a self-motivated pace.

Designed for experienced professionals, prospective students are required to have at least three years of experience in a business field. Depending on transfer credits and prior experience, a student is able to earn an MBA in less than a year, according to the press release.

Irene Bembenista, interim dean of the college of business, said the competency-based MBA is a completely different approach to graduate education and is the first of its kind in Michigan.

“We are eager to offer this online program to business professionals wherever they may be, helping them prepare for accelerated career advancement in a more cost-effective way,” said Bembenista in the release.

Brian Miller, vice president of IT services, chief information officer and interim dean for Davenport Online, said the program allows the university to measure a student’s proficiency and provide credit based on knowledge rather than time spent in a classroom.

“The competency-based program allows us to coach a student through the learning process — however much of that learning they need to get to a certain level of competency — and then we assess their progress and knowledge,” said Miller. “When they can prove they have mastered a certain subject or certain proficiency, then we can give them credit.”

With a framework of more than 80 modules comprising 14 competency areas, students will work with a faculty coach to help design a customized degree plan, and receive topic materials and related information from a modular facilitator. The 14 competencies were identified as core subject areas of a MBA program, such as leadership and management, according to Miller.

“We decided that is clearly a competency an MBA student could demonstrate. We split that into six modules, so there are six very discrete things that a student works on to demonstrate and prepare to prove competency in the areas of leadership and management,” said Miller. “Each of those modules has its own assessment, so we can dig down deep and find out where strengths and weaknesses are. … We can analyze specific components.”

Specific modules include globalization of business, strategic human resource management, managing information technology, leadership development, organization of legal systems, product and integrated marketing communication decisions, project management, organizational behavioral principles, descriptive statistical methods, and creating and sustaining competitive advantage.

Students are tested on their understanding of the material through an assessment that can take on a quantitative or qualitative manner depending on the module, according to Miller.

“If you are in accounting, the assessment is very quantitative. You can take an exam that demonstrates your proficiencies in the topics of accounting,” said Miller.

“In leadership or organizational behavior, you could be writing a paper for a summative assessment because we have this high-level faculty involvement. The method by which we assess can be flexible depending on which subject you are actually studying.”

The competency-based MBA program was developed with the assistance of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, according to Miller.

Davenport was chosen earlier this year as one of 14 colleges and universities across the country to work with the council to build capacity for creating competency-based educational initiatives through the CBE Jumpstart Program, which is funded by the Lumina Foundation for Education.

“I think the reason we wanted to offer this to students is we recognized the cost of an MBA can be overwhelming for students, and the time it takes to get the degree done can also be something that is not feasible for professionals,” said Miller.

“What we are trying to do is offer something that allows those students who are willing to work hard to get their degree done more efficiently and probably for a more cost-effective price.”

Davenport’s experience with online courses extends to programs and certifications offered through its College of Technology, College of Health Professions and College of Business for students pursuing an associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree, and post-baccalaureate or post-graduate certificates.

With Davenport’s experience in offering online degrees, Miller said the competency-based program is a new way for the university to offer similar academic and professional credentials. The trick was shifting an existing educational curriculum to an assessment-driven delivery model.

“This is a new way for us to do something we have been doing for quite some time,” said Miller.

“Nobody else is doing this yet in Michigan, but I assume everyone will be doing this eventually. I think this is the direction that higher education is going because it allows you to demonstrate exactly what you are getting for your money.”

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