5/1/14 Paul Townsend, a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot stationed at the Pentagon, passed over part-time MBA programs at Georgetown University and the University of Maryland when he was looking for schools in 2012. The Air Force Academy graduate knew he would be restationed in the coming years, so he enrolled in the online program at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business and expects to graduate this summer. Soon afterward, he and his family will relocate to Okinawa, Japan, for a three-year tour. “So much has changed,” says Townsend, 36. “Previously, the only folks that played in the online space were for-profit programs, and I didn’t want to do any of those.”
While some top-tier business schools have experimented with making classes available via websites such as Coursera and EdX, just a small minority of highly rated schools offer online MBAs. Two of the best regarded are Kelley and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. Active-duty military personnel and service members making the transition to civilian life have become one of the largest groups of working professionals to enroll in these programs. “The military is a major industry where we see students coming from,” says Susan Cates, executive director of the online MBA program at UNC.
Veterans and members of the U.S. armed forces make up 25 percent of the 551 candidates enrolled in UNC’s online MBA classes. At Indiana University, which has 1,072 online MBA candidates, they account for 15 percent to 20 percent of each graduating class. At Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business, where the full-time MBA program is ranked 49th by Bloomberg Businessweek, the proportion of online students coming from the military has almost doubled since 2010, reaching a record 20 percent last fall. At most elite B-schools, active-duty personnel typically account for less than 1 percent of the class, while veterans make up about 5 percent, according to data supplied by individual schools. “The level of flexibility has always been a barrier,” says Mike Haynie, executive director of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, a research center.
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