Student club day drew visitors to the courtyard of UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management. Photo courtesy UC San Diego.

Student club day drew visitors to the courtyard of UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management. Photo courtesy UC San Diego.

Universities stand conventional thinking on its head. It’s what they do. So it should be no surprise that the classic MBA is getting a makeover.

At San Diego State University’s Fowler College of Business, administrators are reviewing the classroom-only master’s program in business administration. Graduate programs director Nikhil Varaiya said the college might add an online component to its MBA program, perhaps as soon as fall 2021.

“We are all struggling to determine the best mix of face-to-face and online,” Varaiya said in a recent interview.

SDSU already offers online courses in its undergraduate business curriculum. Varaiya said MBA curriculum coupled with state-of-the-art technology may be a significant improvement to what was offered 10 years ago, when technology was “rudimentary.”

Not only is technology better. “The world has changed,” Varaiya said.

The University of Illinois made headlines recently by cutting off enrollment to its full-time and part-time residential MBA programs. Going forward, it plans to concentrate on an online MBA program. It’s not alone. Market demand for traditional formats is declining, the midwestern university said, while applications to its online program have nearly tripled in three years to a projected 3,200.

“The [online] iMBA is the right format for the times — providing a powerful learning experience with anytime/anywhere accessibility at an affordable cost,” said Jeffrey Brown, dean of Illinois’ Gies College of Business, in a statement released in late May.

‘Extremely Crowded’

Today, San Diego residents find they can take advantage of MBA programs in far-flung markets. On the flip side, some San Diego universities are tapping faraway student populations. One quarter of the student body at National University is active-duty military or veterans. The private, nonprofit university has seen San Diego students complete its programs in war zones.

San Diego institutions offer both in-classroom and online MBA programs. Some universities mix both approaches.

As in the business world, competition for MBA students is fierce.

“The graduate management education market is extremely crowded right now,” said Kacy Hayes, assistant dean of graduate programs at the University of San Diego’s School of Business.

An increase in online programs gives students even more choices, Hayes said.

The University of San Diego offers full-time MBA programs “on the ground,” said Hayes, and an evening professional MBA program. USD developed its hybrid MBA program — mixing weekend classes and online work —in 2016.

The Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego does not have an online program yet, but is considering what technology can offer its MBA program, said Dean Robert Sullivan.