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Interview: Dr. Lillian Hallberg, Director of MBA Programs, Suffolk University

Dr. Lillian Hallberg, Assistant Dean of Graduate Programs & Director of MBA Programs at Suffolk University's Sawyer Business School joins us today to discuss distance education.

Tell us about the distance learning programs offered at Suffolk University.

Suffolk University offers an MBA completely online. We also have an Accelerated MBA for Attorneys and an Accelerated MBA for CPAs also offered completely online. Students may complete a concentration in accounting, finance, entrepreneurship, information systems or marketing. Although we do not have a required residency, our online students have the option of enrolling in MBA classes at our main campus in Boston, and our off site location in North Andover, Massachusetts. For those who do not live in the Boston area, we offer the option of transferring in 6 credits of MBA elective courses from another AACSB accredited MBA program near where the student lives.

What is the typical duration of each of your programs?

The Suffolk MBA Online is a 30 to 55 credit program, depending on your educational background. The 24 credits of MBA core classes may be waived with appropriate courses taken at the undergraduate or graduate level, within 5 years prior to entering the MBA, with an earned grade of B or better. With three terms in the MBA Online (Fall, Spring and Summer), a student taking 2 classes per term, could complete the 55 credit program in three years; much less if the core courses are waived. Some students choose to accelerate the pace. Alternatively, those with financial concerns or caps on reimbursement from their companies, may take up to 5 years to complete their degree.

What would you say makes Suffolk University programs different and better than other comparable online programs?

We have September, January and May entry points. In addition, our MAPS option allows an individual to register for a maximum of 6 credits (2 core courses) prior to taking the GMAT. This allows an individual to test-drive the online delivery method....or perhaps decide if the MBA is really the degree of choice before making a final commitment. Others need more time to study for the GMAT but don't want to procrastinate on beginning their coursework. Obviously, MBA core classes completed in the MAPS option then count toward the Suffolk MBA if the student subsequently applies and is admitted to the MBA - either online or on campus.

I also believe our weekly live chats for each course insure a richer learning and networking experience than say, a program that provides all materials via i-pod. One more thing to add: for those Suffolk MBA Online students within commuting distance of our main campus in Boston, our one-week global travel seminars are a popular option. In 2007- 08 we have one-week travel seminars to China, Brazil, London, United Arab Emirates, and Germany. Students must attend three classes on campus, generally on Friday evenings, and then travel for one week to the particular country, experiencing global business first-hand. These count as an elective toward the MBA degree and include corporate visits and meetings with global executives.

How important would you say accreditation is when choosing an online college?

I believe accreditation is a benchmark for standards of excellence. Suffolk University's Business School holds AACSB accreditation and thus our campus MBA and online MBA are AACSB accredited. For an individual seeking an online education, AACSB accreditation means the online MBA is held to the same standards of quality as the campus program in terms of faculty quality and curriculum content.

There is some debate as to whether or not online degrees are as worthwhile as traditional degrees. What steps does Suffolk University take to ensure that online students are receiving the same education that they'd receive in a classroom?

This is an easy one to answer! The admission criteria to the MBA Online Program are identical to Suffolk's campus MBA. The curriculum, faculty, course expections and learning objectives are also identical to the campus MBA. Although Suffolk University has an excellent library, let's face it. Today's busy professional who is a part-time student on campus is going to access library resources remotely, just as the online student does! And Suffolk's library has incredible resources specifically related to an MBA student's needs, all available from remote access. Online and campus students have advising appointments with the same MBA advisor, either in person or via telephone. Perhaps the best testament to the quality of our online courses is that part-time campus MBAs have the option of completing up to 4 of their courses online and many of our students take advantage of this option! Thus the networking experience is all the more richer for our online students.

What would you say are some of the benefits of earning a degree online rather than in a traditional classroom?

For today's busy professional, the flexibility afforded by an online program may be the only way some individuals can attend graduate school. Some people tell me they worry an online class will lack the interaction you get in a face-to-face campus classroom. I belive that is a myth, at least in a high quality online program. While there is no residency requirement in the Suffolk MBA Online, we do require a 90-minute weekly live chat for each course. Chats are scheduled in convenient evening hours and are limited to 18 persons per course to insure maximum learning. This insures weekly real-time interaction between faculty and students. Chats are archived so a faculty member can go back and evaluate an individual's participation. Each week faculty also put up several open-ended questions about the weeks' lesson and establish a "threaded discussion". Students log in any time, any place, and enter their comments. What we find happening, just like in a conversation, is the content gets richer and more detailed as the threaded discussion progresses through the week. Again, this is archived and faculty can evaluate participation. I also believe today's globalization of the business world means that membership in a virtual community and learning to work in virtual teams is a vital line on a resume for today's corporate executive.

If a student enrolled in one of your programs was interested in finding an internship in their field in their area, do you have any means of assisting them in acquiring an internship position?

Yes, our MBA Online students have access to our Career Services Office, precisely becuase they are considered Suffolk MBAs. If a student does not live in the Boston vicinity, they can access our Career Services Office via the web or telephone.

Is financial aid available to students in your programs?

Yes. Students applying to the MBA Online Program at Suffolk are eligible for financial aid in terms of merit awards (scholarships) and low interest loans. Merit awards are based on the GMAT score and undergraduate cumulative GPA.

Do you have any advice for students enrolling in online classes for the first time?

Yes! Think of an online class as a virtual community and remember the importance of networking in terms of career enhancement! Because of the nature of online education, many of your classmates will be working professionals. Get to know your online classmates just as you would your campus classmates. Also, never make the assumption that because you are an online student, you are an outsider to the University or to your particular program. You are a bonafide student and therefore should expect all of the rights and privileges afforded to campus students in terms of library resources, etc. If you live near the campus, ask to be notified about campus events and, in particular, networking opportunities. For example, we invite all of our Suffolk MBA Online students to our MBA EDGE events on campus. These are professional development events open to all MBAs. For example, in October we are having a Bring Your Boss or Colleague to Lunch event with the President and CEO of Au Bon Pain as a speaker, talking about the globalization of that company. All MBAs, including online students, are invited to come!

What do you enjoy most about your position at Suffolk University?

As Assistant Dean of Graduate Programs and Director of MBA Programs, I am responsible for the MBA, MBA Online, and Global MBA Programs. I especially enjoy talking with prospective students about these different options and how they might fit their career goals. I also enjoy the opportunity to interact with the corporate world and our alumni as I meet with individuals to discuss internship possibliities, professional development opportunities, and ways to insure the Suffolk MBA curriculum remains relevant in a career focused way.

To Request more information about the online MBA programs available through Suffolk University, Go here to visit them online.

Thank you Dr. Hallberg, for sharing and participating in this piece for Online Degrees 2.0

That concludes our interview!
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