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UNC Courts Its MBA Alumni to Go Back to School Online

The program, which alumni will take for credit and at a cost, is getting positive reviews so far.

MBA alumni at UNC are being encouraged to go back to school to take online business courses.
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B-school may be out for the summer, but the latest foray in alumni outreach—what administrators call "lifelong learning"—is one business school's advice to its graduates: Go back to school online.

Officials at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill's Kenan-Flagler Business School, home of the online MBA@UNC program, are telling alumni that re-enrolling in paid, for-credit online MBA courses can help them remain current in their fields.

The program is an "elegant solution" to a problem that all business schools face—that completing an MBA at age 30 doesn't preclude the need to refresh one's knowledge several times during a career, according to James Dean, the dean of Kenan-Flagler. "Alums can take courses without leaving their homes or disrupting their work," he says.

Mary Toverovskaya, who recently earned an MBA from Marymount University in Arlington, Va., anticipates wanting to return to b-school down the road for a "refresher."

[Learn why proliferating online MBAs remain controversial.]

It makes sense for schools—which incur costs—to charge for such courses, and having current and former MBA students in the same class would be an overwhelmingly positive learning environment, says Toverovskaya, who is a business analysis manager at defense contractor Raytheon.

UNC's concerted push to invite alumni to take online courses appears to be charting new digital ground for a business school, says Peter Hirst, the executive director of executive education at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management.

"UNC is certainly at the front edge of doing something like this, in part because ... most of the top business schools, ourselves included, are really still at quite early stages of fully taking executive education courses online anyway," Hirst says. But, he cautions, there has been "relatively small participation" from Sloan's MBA alumni in its executive education programs.

[Read about how more universities are joining a free online education provider.]

That's mostly because alumni "feel they've received a very comprehensive education in their master's program," he says. What might attract graduates back to MIT would be a "really new curriculum, based on faculty research that's much more recent than would have been current or available when those people were taking the programs themselves," he says.

UNC isn't aware of other schools operating similar programs, but if other schools take the "leap into the online world, I would expect them to make this same offer to their alums," Dean says.

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