Will Traditional Universities Ever Recover from Coronavirus?

Michael Loren


Photo by delfi de la Rua on Unsplash

Between June 2019 and the end of September 2019, I earned a master’s of business administration (MBA) degree online from Western Governor’s University. I learned a lot and I wasted no time. Previous to enrolling in WGU, I spent 1.5 years at California State University. I earned 15 credits of a master’s degree, I learned very little, and I wasted more time than I care to think about.

Here’s a quick little back story: I decided to obtain my master’s degree because it was a requirement for advancement at my place of employment, so I took the GMAT and signed up to attend evening classes at Cal State Los Angeles. As a working mom, I wasn’t able to take a full load of classes, so I took one or two night classes per semester in the fully employed degree program.

After five classes and three semesters of sitting at desks wishing I could press the fast forward button on overworked teachers regurgitating antiquated information, the CEO of my company basically told me, “It’s now or never on the promotion. If you want it, you need that degree sooner than later”. I couldn’t get out of Cal State fast enough.

I googled affordable online MBA degrees, picked what seemed to be the most reputable, signed up, and received my degree within four months (five if you count the amount of time it took to sign up and the time before it arrived in the mail). None of my fifteen credits transferred to my new university, so I started with 0 credits, finished in 4 months, and I learned so much.

Here are three reasons why my educational experience at an online university was significantly more efficient and enjoyable than my experience at a traditional university.

I Progressed At My Own Pace

No offense to my lovely classmates at Cal State University, but some of them were not as quick on the uptake as I was. And, conversely, as a person with a bachelor’s degree in English, I was the weakest link in classes like accounting and finance. In short, most of the time, I was either ridiculously bored or so lost that I gave up and figured I’d google Youtube tutorials when I got home.

At Cal State, I found that I was frustrated by classes like leadership and management where, as someone who had been genuinely interested in business before pursuing the degree, I had already read ALL of the suggested and required texts. I spent that entire four months from 6pm-8:45pm on Tuesday nights either correcting my teacher or scrolling Instagram.

I will be the first to tell you that I do not know everything, so when any financial management or accounting classes came across my path, I was dumb as a box of rocks. In an in-person class setting, I felt like I didn’t have the time in class to ask the questions I needed because the (kind but very scattered) teacher plowed through things like calculating depreciation while I was still trying to figure out the difference between a balance sheet and an income statement.

In stark contrast, at my online university, WGU, I was able to choose to take the final exam if I felt I already knew all of the information in the course. Or, I could spend months listening to lectures and reading articles about things I did not know. (WGU is competency-based learning — you receive a pass or fail grade rather than an A or B and you can “test out” of classes if you know the information).

At my online university, it took me one of my four months of working every day to get through C214 Financial Management. My mentor and a few online teachers walked me through capital management, long-term financing, and regulations and I eventually passed the test (in my guest bedroom proctored through Examity by a lovely young lady in India). On the other side of the coin, it took me exactly one week to complete the marketing course.

When you place 30 different students into the same classroom with vastly different learning styles and backgrounds, it is impossible to pace a class that will keep everyone interested. Particularly when educating adults. Because of this, I truly felt that my online education respected my most valuable nonrenewable resource — time.

I Saved SO Much Money

Let’s break it down. The Fully Employed MBA Graduate Program at California State University is currently priced at $35,100. (I took almost half of this program, paid out of pocket, and received no financial assistance). That’s not inclusive of a myriad of other fees and add ons. Conversely, the tuition for the Master of Business Administration degree at Western Governor’s University is a flat rate of $3,800 per six months.

Because I finished my entire degree in four months, my total cost for a master’s degree was under $4,000. Almost 10% of what it would cost at a traditional university. And, for some universities, that $4K wouldn’t even cover books and fees.

I Saved SO Much Time

This point sounds like the first point, but it’s not. Yes, I was able to progress at my own pace in terms of the material in the degree, but I also saved so much time in other ways. And, again, the older I get, the more I realize that time is the last thing we should squander.

When I left work around 5:15pm, I would hop into my car, drive to campus, arrive around 5:40pm, relentlessly battle undergrads in Beamers for a parking spot, walk 10 minutes across campus to the classroom, and arrive right at the beginning of my 6pm class. Then, after class, I’d drag my comatose brain box to my car and drive home between 8:55pm and 9:30pm. Considering the inevitable commute home from any location, let’s say that’s an extra 45 minutes of driving.

If you take that 45 minutes of driving and multiply by 4 days per week over 4 16-week semesters (2 years), do you know what you get? 192 hours. I don’t know about you, but I am not interested in spending 192 of my 692,040 hours of life in a car on the way to a place where I don’t necessarily need to be.

Additionally, at WGU, I was assigned a mentor to check in on my progress and make sure I had all of the resources I needed. My mentor Amanda, after hearing my goal of finishing the degree as soon as possible, created a timeline for my courses and called me at 5:30am every Friday to check in and make sure I was on track to finish on time. Less time wasted AND more time saved.

At the end of the day, colleges are not all created equal. A degree from Harvard or MIT is not the same as a degree from the University of Phoenix. (Not even remotely, in fact). You should, obviously, choose your education facility based on your needs and how you envision using your degree in the future.

This story is neither an advertisement for Western Governor’s University nor a complaint against California State University. It is simply an account of my experiences. I will say, though, that if you are not interested in the academic prestige or deep-pocketed alumni guilds that come with a degree from a large well-known university, I highly suggest you consider online study.

Online education has come a LONG way in the past ten years. If you are in the mindset that this kind of education is, by definition, subpar, I’d encourage you to do some research. Yes, some online universities are not as good as others. However, with current innovations in technology, online education could potentially be even better than the traditional model. In my experience, it definitely was.

In the end, I received my master’s degree and I also received my promotion. I am now an associate dean at a college and I am very grateful for everything I have learned in my studies at both universities. The moral of the story is that sometimes, learning what you don’t want is just as useful as learning what you do want. As long as we’re learning, we’re always growing.

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Writer, dad, entrepreneur, observer, cautious optimist

Burbank, CA

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