Master of Business

Master of Business
What makes each unique, are they still relevant and why online programs are growing in popularity.
by Lilly Rockwell
The Master’s Degree in Business Administration has consistently been one of the most popular graduate degrees a university can offer.

It is viewed as the ideal career booster, giving graduates the tools necessary to make the often-lucrative step into management, the right networking to land that new job or even provide a safe shelter in an economic storm.

Though MBA programs remain popular, they have evolved to meet the needs of today’s students. Most cater to working professionals with evening and weekend classes, and now many universities are shifting into online-only programs.

But given the still-troubled job market and lingering economic woes, does it make sense to take on additional debt to earn an MBA in an uncertain economy? What’s available in Northwest Florida? 850 provides the answers to some of those questions in this guide to MBA programs in the Northwest Florida region.

University of West Florida

Pensacola, Florida
MBA Programs Offered
Geared toward the working professional with its evening classes, UWF’s MBA program promises to graduate students in five semesters. Those with no prior undergraduate degree in business also have to take one semester of business foundation courses. Unlike neighboring schools, UWF has stayed away from the trend of offering an all-online MBA.

Why Pick UWF
The school requires students to focus on one industry throughout the program, making its students veritable industry experts by graduation. UWF also offers an MBA program in Germany, giving professors international exposure.

Located near several military bases, with multiple campuses in Pensacola and Ft. Walton, the University of West Florida’s Master’s Degree in Business Administration is a popular choice for current or former members of the military.

“Because of our location in the heart of a very large military community, with both the Navy and Air Force, we get a lot of very well-qualified military individuals in the program,” said Ed Ranelli, the dean of the College of Business at UWF.

He said the decision to focus on industry portfolios, in which students intensively analyze a given industry throughout the five semesters, has paid off. At the end of the program, students have to write an extensive 30-to 40-page research paper on their industry. “We have folks who have gone on interviews and been hired on the spot,” said Timothy O’Keefe, the director of the MBA program.

Ranelli agrees. “It gives them a real advantage,” he said. “When they come out of the MBA program, they are really an expert in that industry.”

For Jeremy Wyatt, the vice president for software engineering at Pensacola-based ActiGraph, which makes health monitoring systems, getting his MBA at UWF just made sense. Back in 2006, the now-35-year-old was given more management responsibilities at ActiGraph and he wanted to gain more management expertise.

He started researching programs in 2007.

“West Florida started advertising their finish-in-five program and that caught my eye and I started exploring it,” Wyatt said. “I found out they are highly accredited.” UWF’s MBA program is accredited through The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. “The biggest thing was it was local and it was quality.”

He liked taking classes with the same people — cohorts — that he could meet face-to-face. “The program is designed to allow you to enter at a certain time and leave the program exactly five semesters later,” Wyatt said. “I made friends after one or two semesters with everybody in my class.”

Wyatt kept his job at ActiGraph and had a secondary job as part owner of an entertainment hall called Farmer’s Opry, while taking evening classes for his MBA. He said it was definitely a challenge balancing work and school. “If it was easy everybody would do it,” Wyatt said. “It was tough, no doubt about it.”

In the end, getting his MBA was beneficial for his career. Wyatt got a promotion after getting his degree to the vice president position he now holds.

“I can’t put it into words,” Wyatt said. “Now if I go into a meeting with executives, I understand accounting better and our position against the market. It gave me a better understanding of the company’s direction.”

Florida State University *

Tallahassee, Florida
MBA Programs Offered
FSU offers a full menu of MBA options. The school has two “accelerated” programs: a full-time one-year on-campus program and a part-time program that takes seven months to complete. FSU also has an online MBA program that takes most students a little over two years to finish.

Why Pick FSU
Students in every type of program get the chance to participate in the “global business experience,” which includes an expenses-paid one-week trip abroad. It’s a good pick if you want to go into real estate, law, social work or start your own business. The school also offers: an MBA with a real estate specialization; two joint degrees; one law degree and an MBA; and one Master’s of Social Work and MBA. And the school has the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship.

Getting an MBA from Florida State University also means becoming a Seminole. It’s more than just inexpensive football tickets. Graduates are plugged into the extensive network of Seminole alumni, with 300,000 members of the alumni association.

Doug Stevens, the director of FSU’s MBA program, said the same professors teach online and traditional courses. This is different from some schools that turn to adjuncts or part-time faculty for online courses.

“Every time we added a new delivery format, we insisted that the same faculty teach all the formats,” Stevens said.

The full-time accelerated MBA program is designed for students with at least two years of work experience, Stevens said, though some students do come straight from undergraduate school. The part-time and online MBA programs are geared toward people with more work experience — typically five or more years.

Getting an MBA from Florida State is a great investment, even in a tough economy, Stevens said. “As far as a cost-benefit perspective, it cannot be beat,” Stevens said. “It is so relatively inexpensive, it is one of the best buys in the country.”

Matthew Amman, a financial advisor for Merrill Lynch in Savannah, knows this firsthand. He picked Florida State University for his MBA over other universities because it was accredited and had a high-quality online program.

At the time, the now-38-year-old was working for South Carolina-based Core Communities, a real estate development company. He saw obtaining his MBA as a way of elevating his career there and opening new career doors.

Amman said the online program helped him stay in his job while focusing on schoolwork on evenings and weekends. He started the program in 2009, finishing in 2010.
The classes were not easier because they were online. “They are very rigorous. I wanted a program that would really put me to the test,” he said. “The big benefit of the online program to me was having the ability to do it in my own time.”

Amman said the MBA also offered valuable networking opportunities. “I met and had working partners throughout class that were from all over the world,” he said. “The professors were also readily available to answer questions. The professors were great, they challenged us and cut us no breaks whatsoever.”

Tacking on “MBA” to his resume did help his career. Shortly after graduation he approached Merrill Lynch about a job. Having Florida State University on his resume and his MBA opened the door to an interview. To help him prepare for the interview, he got advice from a Merrill Lynch worker who was also a Florida State graduate.

“It made all the difference in the world,” Amman said.


Thomas University

Thomasville, Georgia
MBA Programs Offered
All of Thomas University’s MBA programs are online. The private school offers a regular MBA; a combination MBA and Master’s Degree in Nursing; an MBA with a concentration in public administration; and an MBA with a concentration in accounting.

Why Pick Thomas
This small, private university near the Georgia-Florida state border really caters to working professionals who want to gain the educational credentials to move up their respective career ladders. For instance, future hospital administrators find the combination MSN and MBA degrees helpful.

After retiring from his job as a business professor at Florida State University, Paul Wilkens took a job teaching MBA students at nearby Thomas University.

He liked the small, intimate classes at Thomas University. “We have very close, personal contact with our students,” Wilkens said. “When I taught at FSU, sometimes I would have sections, even at the MBA level, of 40 people. What we do here is we get to know the student, and they have my home phone number and email.”

Though he started out teaching night MBA courses, Wilkens said shifting to all-online classes makes sense for Thomas University students, the great majority of whom come from Florida and Georgia and already had full-tome jobs.

“These people work a full day and in some cases, the nurses work a 12-hour shift,” Wilkens said. “They can’t come here to campus and sit through night classes.”
Linda Jones, an operations controller at Thomasville-based Flower Foods, said she picked Thomas University because of its flexible online program. A married mother of two with a full-time job, Jones said getting her MBA was a personal goal.

“It was an opportunity to go back and sharpen my skills and get another perspective,” said Jones, who has bachelor’s degrees in accounting and management.

Jones, 43, said the online classes were intellectually stimulating, prompting lots of discussion between classmates. “You would go online and post your response to a case study and then respond to three or four other peoples’ response,” Jones said. “They may disagree with you, and it wasn’t bad to disagree.”

She said she got the personal email addresses and phone numbers of classmates and got to know them well as they worked together on class projects.

One benefit to Jones was learning more about other aspects of a business’s operations, such as marketing. Since she works primarily in accounting, it helped her understand the value Flower Foods’ marketing team brought to the company.

“We think about counting the numbers, and just going through the executive marketing class was such an eye-opener,” Jones said. “It gave me a new appreciation for our marketing department.” She said it made her a more well-rounded person.

After taking roughly two years to get her MBA, Flowers said the sense of accomplishment it has given her made the endeavor worthwhile.

“For one thing, most people were amazed I could do it,” Jones said. “They said ‘How did you find time to do it?’ It was inspiration to others.”

Florida A&M University

Tallahassee, Florida
MBA Programs Offered
Students can aim for their MBA starting as early as their first year of undergraduate school, thanks to FAMU’s five-year program that earns graduates both a bachelor’s degree and MBA. The school also offers an “accelerated” one-year full-time MBA program and an online program that takes five semesters.

Why Pick FAMU
Unlike some other schools, FAMU is welcoming to students who come straight from undergraduate school. They bring online students to campus for an introductory session and require students to complete internships. FAMU also offers a one-week study abroad experience.

When North Carolina native Orlando Hankins was choosing where to go to college in 2006, he applied to Columbia University, the University of Maryland, the University of Virginia and FAMU, the historically black college.

While he got into most of the schools he applied to, it was FAMU that impressed him the most because of: its five-year MBA program that channeled bachelor’s degree students straight into graduate school; its tight-knit, welcoming community; and the promise of international exposure through study abroad internships.

“When I came in (to FAMU) and spoke with the recruiting director and current students, I was sold,” Hankins said. “They told me about all the different experiences I could have within the U.S. and overseas. They haven’t let me down.”

Dean Shawnta Friday-Stroud, who oversees the School of Business and Industry at FAMU, said the school places a strong emphasis on real-world experience. “At a minimum, they have to do a semester-long internship,” Friday-Stroud said. “We actually encourage them to do a year-long internship.”

She said the school has partnerships with companies from all over the country and flies in corporate executives to speak to students as part of the school’s leadership development program, providing invaluable networking for students.

Master of Business

For Hankins, his study abroad dreams came true in 2008. Just after his sophomore year he spent the summer in Shanghai, China, taking classes in Mandarin and completing an internship at Shanghai Yongguan, a company that manufactures and supplies shelves. He also taught English classes for his co-workers.

“Going over to Shanghai gave me a new perspective,” Hankins said. “You may read about (China) in World Cultures class, but actually being immersed in it you see how different people see things and take a step out of your own shoes.”

Hankins, 23, graduated this year and now works for pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. in New Jersey doing a 24-month “rotational” program that exposes him to different parts of the company and prepares him for a permanent position.

Hankins said classes at FAMU were small, and the administrators at the business school took the time to know the students. The dean knew who he was and what his goals were, Hankins said, helping him land the internship in China.

“One of the great things about FAMU’s business school is you have such a tight-knit group going through that MBA with you,” he said. “It was great to come in and have that support. You all have that drive and you all push each other forward.”