Tippie merges MBA programs, with a focus on flexibility and online development

The Tippie College of Business has merged its part-time professional, online program, together with its professional program, allowing more flexibility for students to choose online or in-person formats without losing out on learning.


Cecilia Shearon

The John Pappajohn Business Building on a sunny afternoon on Sept. 1, 2021.

Ryan Hansen, News Reporter

The University of Iowa Tippie College of Business has reinvented its online Master of Business Administration program, merging the part-time professional and full-time programs together with student flexibility as the top priority.

The program, which was introduced in 2019, is the only online MBA program offered by a public university in Iowa. The program is mostly conducted asynchronously, with students completing most work at their own pace online. There are also synchronous weekly sessions for students to ask questions and get help.

Jen Blackhurst, the Tippie associate dean of graduate management programs, said that before the merger, professional MBA students, who took classes in person at the three sites across Iowa, and part-time professional students, who were in the online format, ran into many barriers when trying to go from one format to the other.

“Students now have the freedom and the flexibility to choose the format that they want,” Blackhurst said.

She added that many students may choose to take an online course in Des Moines about one topic but opt for the online version of a different class because of their work schedule or other desires. 

For those who choose online instruction, Blackhurst said Tippie felt it was important that nothing was lost between the in-person and online instruction. To achieve this, professors coordinated with the UI Distance & Online Education department’s instructional designers when creating their online program. 

According to Blackhurst, professors spent nine months collaborating with the designers to develop each individual class’s program thoroughly and thoughtfully to facilitate online learning just as much as in-person learning.

Amy Colbert, a professor of management and entrepreneurship at Tippie, said she has been involved with online education since 2010 and teaches in the program. 

Colbert said her first online class was just a primitive, voiceover PowerPoint presentation. The evolution of her classes over the past decade, she said, has been strongly influenced by the way she and her instructional designer have developed the class. Still, she said she misses in-person and in-class interaction, which energizes her.

Some aspects of Colbert’s class design are enhanced by online learning, she said, to make it more beneficial to take her online course in-person. 

She said her frequent usage of Zoom breakout rooms in the online classroom works better than any in-person activities could. She also highlighted that smaller, more focused discussion boards aid students to connect and learn from each other.

“It is important to me that students interact with each other and with me because there is a lot of learning that happens in those interactions,” Colbert said. “It’s really interesting to see how well those conversations play out in an asynchronous or on-demand environment.”

Susan Bailey, the lead instructional designers of Tippie’s online courses and UI Distance & Online Education program member, said it is important for students to feel welcome as they interact with their course page, as they might with a classroom.

“We ask [professors] to do things like infuse warmth and personality into their writing,” Bailey said, “Because not everything about facilitation is something you’re doing in the moment. In an online class, some of that you’re doing in advance.”

Blackhurst developed a course in the online program and said that the success of the program requires a lot of dedication from faculty on multiple fronts, both in their instruction and their personal education in how to best conduct online courses.

“It’s a change, and change is difficult,” Blackhurst said. “What we’re seeing is that we’re able to reach more students and connect with them no matter where they are.”