Dr. Bruce Stetar is executive director of Graduate Business Programs for SNHU’s College of Online and Continuing Education. He sits on the Accreditation Council for Business Schools & Programs’ (ACBSP Board of Directors and Accreditation Governance Board and chairs its Baccalaureate/Graduate Degree Board of Commissioners. Dr. Emad Rahim interviewed him about his responsibilities, views on education, business schools, the SNHU’s College of Online and Continuing Education graduate programs, adaptive learning technology in business education, careers strategy and MBAs.
Emad Rahim: What is the responsibility of the Graduate Program Director and what makes your role different from a College Dean?
In reality the roles are not that different but the differences that do exist are important ones. Like a traditional Dean on a brick and mortar campus, I am ultimately responsible for the success of the students who are in my programs. That means being responsible for the quality of the programs which make up the Graduate Business portfolio and the courses that make up those programs. My team and I develop, maintain and enhance the curriculum of the programs within our area of responsibility while constantly working with stakeholders to look for and develop new opportunities. I am also responsible, via the Associate Deans of Faculty, for the faculty who teach those courses including training and performance evaluations.
Like a traditional Dean I am also responsible for collaborating with other Executive Directors, controlling a yearly budget, and leading a strategic planning process; I also have a team of associate deans who report to me and who perform many of the day-to-day functions of running the team. However, due to the nature of the online environment in which we work, my faculty are all remote and mostly adjunct in nature – and there are over 650 of them. The relationship that I have with my faculty is different than the one that a traditional Dean would have.
My faculty do not work full time for me and may only teach one or two classes a year – hence I am not as involved in their career progression and development as I might be in a more traditional setting. I am, however, more involved with the issue of student success on a day-to-day basis — spending a portion of every day reviewing real-time data on how students, faculty, courses and programs are performing and working with my team to constantly improve the student experience, and the quality of our courses and programs. I also tend to look at every situation both from an academic and a business standpoint — since my role is less pure academics and more about using resources effectively to improve the student experience.
Can you please tell more some background information on your business school and what makes your graduate programs unique?
Southern New Hampshire University is a private, nonprofit, accredited institution based in Manchester, New Hampshire with an 80+ year history. In 1995 SNHU saw the opportunity to take its programs nationally and globally by entering the field of Internet-based distance education. Out of that decision was born the College of Online and Continuing Education (COCE) which functions both in collaboration with and yet separately from, the traditional campus.
The Graduate and Undergraduate Business Teams jointly oversee and manage the development and delivery of business programs in the online environment for SNHU. Our programs share the same outcomes as the same business programs delivered on campus but are delivered using different platforms, resources and even courses to meet the unique needs of our students.
Our graduate programs are unique in that they first and foremost are designed to provide our students with a world class learning experience by providing up-to-date, quality and academically rigorous programs of study. Those programs are then delivered in a format which allow students to make the educational experience fit into their life, rather than fitting their life around their education.
Our programs are also very practical and real-world based; and we provide students with a range of programs, concentrations and certificates which allow them to tailor their learning experience. Our programs are also designed to be holistic, to leverage prior learning and to deliver both quantitative/hard skills and non-quantitative/soft skills in a technology rich environment.
How large is your business school and what types of things are you and your faculty doing to make sure students are learning the most updated business?
Graduate Business currently has 14-degree programs with 57 concentrations and 17 certificates.To ensure our curriculum is as up-to-date and relevant as possible, all of these programs, concentrations and certificates are developed by the Graduate Business Team — including the Executive Director, Associate Deans of Programs, Associate Deans of Faculty and faculty — in close cooperation with subject matter experts from outside the university who are drawn from industry, community and academic stakeholder groups.
The broader team includes outcomes and assessment specialists, instructional designers, course architects, learning resource specialists and educational technology specialists to support program and course development. The Graduate Business team also partners with the COCE Marketing department to constantly scan and monitor the business environment, both from an industry and an educational perspective, which allows us to stay at, or near, the leading edge of both business and business education.
We also strive to be part of the national discourse by attending relevant conferences, contributing to online discussions and being members of key business and education associations.Graduate Business, for example, has individuals who are members of groups like the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), The Project Management Institute (PMI), the Academy of International Business (AIB), the Association of Continuing Higher Education (ACHE), the American Conference of Academic Deans (ACAD) and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) – to name just a few.
In fact, several members of the Graduate Business Team hold leadership roles with ACBSP — I myself am currently a member of the ACBSP Board of Directors, its Accreditation Governance Board and Chair of its 4-Year Board of Commissioners. One of my ADPs, Dr. Alex Manus, is on the Global Business Education Committee. We follow all of this up by ensuring that our highly-qualified faculty relevant academic credentials in their field as well as, wherever possible, online teaching experience and, preferably, industry experience as well.
The business schools play a critical role in preparing graduate students for their career. What type of career programs and services do you offer for your student option?
SNHU-COCE currently offers graduate level courses in accounting, finance, economics, human resource management, management, marketing, project management, organizational leadership and sports management — as well as an MBA and an IMBA. We also offer a range of concentrations and certificates which are highly specialized and designed to meet the needs of specific industries.
Included are concentrations and certificates in such diverse areas as auditing, forensic accounting, environmental and natural resource economics, business intelligence, CSR, entrepreneurship, healthcare informatics, and supply chain management — to name just a few. We offer more than two dozen MBA concentrations alone, spanning a wide variety of industries and disciplines, to provide our students with the coursework they need to be successful upon degree completion. For example, we recently partnered with Worcester Polytechnic University to offer an MBA with a concentration in Engineering Management.
SNHU will provide the business core and foundation, while concentration courses in engineering management will be developed and taught by WPI faculty. Similarly, SNHU offers an MBA in Music Business in collaboration with Berklee College of Music. This one-of-a-kind program pairs our business education expertise with Berklee’s long-respected music business experience.
We also provide students with exposure to professionals in the field — through real-life course projects, webinars, career fairs and networking events. For example, through SNHU’s partnership with Major League Soccer, we have students undertaking project assignments for teams within the league, as well as enjoying internship opportunities. Our Career Services department also provides support for life — from résumé tips to networking and placement opportunities, even after graduation — to help students progress in the career they already have or move to the new career that they want.
The MBA degree program has grown significantly in the last few years. Can you please share what you believe are some of the contributing factors to your success?
Having been in the MBA space for over 40 years, we’ve continued to enhance and evolve the type of program that we’re offering to our students. This academic year we launched our newly revised MBA program which better balances the quantitative/hard skills and non-quantitative/soft skills required by the industry.
Designed in close cooperation with industry-based subject matter experts, this more modern MBA offering will provide students with the opportunity to complete their degree more quickly and with fewer credits (36 versus 39) than the previous version. It also provides an updated set of foundational courses which allow a student without a business background, or who has been out of undergraduate school for an extended period, the opportunity to gain the requisite knowledge/skills needed to enter the MBA.
This revised MBA program was developed holistically to offer course sequencing — ensuring students take courses in a certain order — as well as to leverage prior and applied learning and to have a capstone experience. All of this is wrapped around a program long, real-world project selected individually by each student from their own work environment, or from one they are interested in, which follows the student from course to course.
This provides students with an environment in which they can actually apply what they learn in the classroom everyday — while they are still in the program learning — and to see how all of the various business areas and disciplines come together holistically to produce successful business ideas. Weaved throughout these core courses are a series of overarching themes such as ethics, communication, decision making, social responsibility, innovation and business sustainability which were highlighted by industry experts as skills needed for future success.
Our MBA program continues to be one of the largest and most popular degree programs offered by SNHU because it is providing students today with the skills they will need tomorrow.
Does your MBA degree program have any special accreditation, awards or rankings?
All of SNHU’s programs are accredited by its regional accrediting body the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) and the business programs – including the MBA – are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). Courses offered within the MBA are also recognized/certified by bodies like the Project Management Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
There has been a lot of talk on the value of competency-based learning and adaptive learning technology in business education. Does your MBA program offer any competency-based curriculum and adaptive learning options for your students?
SNHU offers true CBE programs through its CBE vertical, The College for America, in a B2B model. COCE, however, is also currently investigating the development of CBE and accelerated program tracks for some of its programs. For example, the MBA is currently investigating the possibility of using an adaptive learning/test-out option to allow students to complete the MBA-foundational courses in an accelerated time-frame and options for completing the core courses more quickly based on prior learning.
Your MBA degree program has a strong online presence. What type of things are you doing to make sure your online students get the same quality of education as your in-class (campus) students?
The MBA was designed originally to be delivered in a face-to-face environment and then was moved online – so its pedigree is solidly routed in a traditional educational environment. In fact, the new MBA is still delivered face-to-face in a hybrid format at our regional centers. During the redesign, the program was crafted to ensure that it delivered a set of program outcomes which all stakeholders agreed were appropriate for a modern MBA, independent of the delivery mode.
No matter what platform the students take the courses in, they all must achieve the same outcomes – a fact which is measured and monitored by our student outcomes assessment processes. The program was never designed from an academic standpoint to be an online degree, it was simply designed to be a great MBA. It was then built to be delivered either online or in a hybrid environment and in that context we are definitely not trying to provide the same experience in different modalities since that simply does not work. Students may complete different formative exercises along the way but they all complete the same key summative assignments at the end of the core courses and in the program’s capstone course.
Students may complete different formative exercises along the way but they all complete the same key summative assignments at the end of the core courses and in the program’s capstone course. Those summative assessment are then assessed using standardized rubrics which ensure that students all achieve the same stated outcomes for the course which are then mapped to and support the achievement of the program learning outcomes – thus ensuring that every student online or hybrid achieve the same outcomes to the same quality standards even though the delivery mode may be different.
The business market is consistently changing, which creates lots of challenges for business programs. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges that business schools are facing now and how are you dealing them?
Post the 2007-08 world financial crisis and the collapse of companies like Enron, Worldcom and AIG, the general public had lost a lot of faith in the business world and in many of is leading companies. Business schools were not immune to that fallout and are now working to re-instill confidence in what they do. In addition, more people are returning to school after extended periods in the workforce, looking to either change careers, enter new industries or advance in their field. This has created a need for more flexible delivery models, adaptive learning techniques, and a need to assess and grant credit for prior learning – whether gained in or outside the classroom.
Business schools need to change the way they look at students from being a one time in and out relationships to a life-long partnership in which students keep coming back to their chosen business school over and over throughout their careers — adding to their skills and knowledge toolkit as required by the needs of an ever-changing business environment.
Micro-credentials which would allow students to add to their toolkit, or stack credentials to gain higher level credentials, are just now really being looked at by business schools and may be a main focus moving forward. Wrapped around all of this is an ever-changing governmental view, and expectations, of higher education and higher education accreditation.
SNHU, COCE, and the Graduate Business Team continue to deal with these issues by being involved in the national discourse on these topics; by staying in close contact with the various government and accrediting bodies; by listening to, and learning from, industry experts; by constantly seeking new partnerships both within, and outside, of business; by seeking feedback from our stakeholders; by employing the best people possible at all levels; and by employing a mindset of productive paranoia — always checking ourselves to see if we are where we need to be.
We learned a great deal about you and your school. If I was a potential student or employer that was stuck between choosing two different MBA programs, what other things would you want me to know about your degree and school to help with their selection?
SNHU, COCE and the Graduate Business Team first and foremost care about their students. You can walk anywhere in the building and talk to anyone and if you ask them what the one goal is, they will tell you it is student success. The added bonus is that you will achieve that success in a quality program that will not lower its academic standards to help you achieve that success — we will just work harder and find better ways to help you get there. SNHU’s MBA is tomorrow’s MBA today — delivering the skills and knowledge identified by industry as those which they need their employees to have to be successful in the future.
We are confident that our new MBA is both relevant and rigorous, based on validation by our subject-matter experts, continued levels of student success, and the positive feedback it has received from students and faculty since its rollout. We will deliver you the skills you need, in a supportive and enriching environment that will help to ensure that you are successful.