Two Views: The Online & On-Campus Perspectives of Alumni From the Miller College of Business

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Attending classes online was seamless with my job. Because I do a lot of virtual meetings, I could stay in the office and take the class as I would any meeting. It wasn’t disruptive to my team like it may be to leave early multiple times a week to go to campus.
Carrie Van Sickle, Miller College of Business Alumna & Senior Director for Strategic Programs at GE Digital

Making the decision to get an MBA is relatively easy: graduates often double their pre-MBA salary, even in a financial recession. Where to get that MBA, however, has been a dilemma for decades. And today, with the proliferation of cutting-edge online MBA programs, the question isn’t only where to get one’s MBA, but how: online or on-campus?

In the early days, the logic was simple: you went on-campus if you could, and you went online if you didn’t have another option. That logic is drastically outdated. Technology has caught up to its promises and especially considering the Covid-19 pandemic, online MBA programs are looking much more like the future than the alternative. Online and on-campus MBA programs aren’t in competition with each other anymore and as schools increasingly offer both options, students can now make a nuanced and personal decision about which one is right for them.

Consider Ball State University’s Miller College of Business. Their MBA options are some of the most flexible in the country, with online, on-campus, and blended formats available along with ten different concentrations. The online MBA at Ball State ranks in the top 15 nationally, according to US News & World Report, while on-campus MBA students gain access to immersive learning projects, graduate assistantships, and business-related student organizations. Which option is right for you?

Read on to get the perspectives of two Ball State alumni: one who got their MBA online, and one who got their MBA on campus.

The On-Campus View: Kyleigh Mazer

Kyleigh Mazer

Kyleigh Mazer fell in love with Ball State straight out of high school. She was drawn to its beautiful campus, its proximity to her hometown, and the warm and welcoming people she met on her first visit. Earning her undergraduate degree in entrepreneurial management from Ball State only reinforced the feeling.

“Thanks to the network I built in undergrad, I went to work for a startup in Indianapolis right out of school,” Mazer says. “Shortly afterward, I was invited to come back to Ball State as a Graduate Assistant (GA) and to pursue an MBA. It was an incredible opportunity due to the benefits of the GA position, but also exciting to be back at Ball State.”

Mazer valued the interactions she was able to have with professors and students while being an on-campus student. But those interactions weren’t limited to the physical world: online students were involved, too, as the classes were filmed and broadcast live.

“I would sometimes log on as an online student while I was physically in class,” Mazer says. “That way I could access the chat feature and talk to online students directly and keep up our engagement, especially for group work.”

The benefits of being an on-campus student meant that Mazer was able to maintain close connections with her instructors, too. She’d visit for office hours if she needed help on an assignment but often stay later just to talk. And the campus itself provided numerous opportunities for positive social collisions and further interactions with her peers.

“The campus is beautiful. It’s a great place to study or meet with other students,” Mazer says. “You can access all the resources Ball State offers, such as the Career Center, the Counseling Center, the Rec Center, and more. I also got to meet several of my classmates and work with them more closely because of our campus chapter of the MBA Association (MBAA), which is a student organization for students in the MBA program in any concentration.”

Mazer credits the faculty and staff for helping her complete her MBA in a single calendar year, but she also appreciates that Ball State made her aware of the option to extend her schedule and add extra concentrations. The flexibility of the program, the diversity of her peers, and the personal attention of faculty and staff all made her MBA experience at Ball State not only successful but also fun.

“I’ve gained a lot of new knowledge, not just in the content of the classes but also in how to apply skills I either had previously or developed in the program,” Mazer says. “I often refer to things I learned in my program and can make connections to real-world situations. A lot of the professors also really like to tie in real-world applications to the material, so I was able to use assignments to excel in my position as I worked in a full-time job during my last semester, which helped me after I graduated and still does each day.”

For those about to start their MBA journey, Mazer advocates coming in with an end-goal in mind, with flexibility on how to achieve that goal, too. She also underlines the fact that the program at Ball State is a rigorous one and candidates should come in ready to work. Despite the intensity of the program—or perhaps because of it—the initial love Mazer felt for the Ball State campus has endured to this day: she’s now the assistant program director for the Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute at Ball State.

“I definitely feel that I have a stronger network of genuine people made up of both faculty and staff, as well as classmates,” Mazer says. “We all built great relationships, and I wouldn’t have met a lot of these people or built those close relationships if it wasn’t for being in the program.”

The Online View: Carrie Van Sickle

Carrie Van Sickle

Living in Arizona, Carrie Van Sickle didn’t have the luxury of attending the on-campus MBA program at Ball State, though she did consider on-campus options closer to home. After spending 15 years working for top companies like PwC, SAP, and GE Digital, she wanted a program that wouldn’t interfere with her career but would still afford her the maximum level of involvement possible.

“What attracted me to Ball State’s online MBA (versus a more local on-campus option, for instance) was that Ball State has synchronous classes, meaning that online students attend the same class at the same time as on-campus students,” Van Sickle says. “I loved this option because I wanted to have a cohort that I could share questions with and have discussions with live rather than just learning through recorded lessons.”

The synchronous nature of the classes led to far more frequent interactions with students and professors than Van Sickle had expected. The faculty members were active on chat boards; the in-class discussions were lively; and group work collaboration took place over text, email, and Adobe. If Van Sickle ever wanted to revisit a topic—or if she ever missed a class—the fact that the classes were recorded meant she always had the opportunity to go back and review it again.

“Attending classes online was seamless with my job,” Van Sickle says. “Because I do a lot of virtual meetings, I could stay in the office and take the class as I would any meeting. It wasn’t disruptive to my team like it may be to leave early multiple times a week to go to campus.”

Being an online student did, at times, require a little extra effort. Although Ball State provided the tools for virtual meetings and chat rooms, not being face-to-face reduced some of Van Sickle’s opportunities to get to know her fellow students better. But it didn’t stop her, either: Van Sickle connected with her classmates on LinkedIn, and, through outreach programs offered to Ball State’s distance students, had the chance to meet professors, alumni, and even the president of the university at events in her hometown of Phoenix.

“With being online, it was also up to me to plan my work and execute,” Van Sickle says. “This suited me well, but I could see it as a hindrance for students who need encouragement and connection with others to prioritize schoolwork. Ball State has a team dedicated to distance students—get to know them!”

Van Sickle earned her MBA with a sales management concentration in 2017, graduating summa cum laude. She’s now leading large Internet of Things (IoT) transformations for global customers through her position as senior director for strategic programs at GE Digital.

“The MBA at Ball State gave me the skills and confidence to pursue a career that paid more and had more responsibility,” Van Sickle says. “Prior to the program, I was overlooked for sales roles because sales leaders saw me as too risky and requiring too long of a ramp-up period. But having an MBA with a sales concentration gave management the confidence that I would quickly succeed in the role.”

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog
Writer

Matt Zbrog is a writer and freelancer who has been living abroad since 2016. His nonfiction has been published by Euromaidan Press, Cirrus Gallery, and Our Thursday. Both his writing and his experience abroad are shaped by seeking out alternative lifestyles and counterculture movements, especially in developing nations. You can follow his travels through Eastern Europe and Central Asia on Instagram at @weirdviewmirror. He’s recently finished his second novel, and is in no hurry to publish it.

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