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Jan 28, 2021 2021-01 Alumni Business Administration Faculty Student

iMBA marks 5-year anniversary, posts exponential growth, diversity

In 2016, it was a disruptive, unproven educational model. Today, the iMBA program at Gies College of Business celebrates its fifth anniversary as an undisputed leader in high-quality online graduate business education at an affordable price.

What started as an inaugural class of 114 has grown exponentially to more than 6,000 students served by the program. The program continues to attract a mix of US and international students hailing from 48 states and 92 countries, up from 12 initially. They now connect around the globe from Botswana to Boston to Brazil. This success prompted business education publication Poets&Quants to name the iMBA its number one biggest business school innovation of the decade.

“By re-engineering how we teach, we are delivering an affordable and transformative MBA experience for talented people across the globe,” said Jeffrey Brown, the Josef and Margot Lakonishok Professor of Business and Dean of the College.

Today, the iMBA attracts students from 21 to 69 years old and they average 11 years of work experience. Citing the online MBA’s flexibility and affordability, many select the program as a way to position themselves for a promotion or new job. Although coming to campus is not a requirement of the degree, students can attend meetups around the globe or on-campus events such as iConverge and graduation.

The 2016 class included learners employed by Amazon, Boeing and Microsoft and the 2021 class draws students from Fortune 500 companies across all major business sectors. The program has always attracted top caliber students from diverse backgrounds; doctors, lawyers, farmers and entrepreneurs see the iMBA as a way to broaden their business acumen.

“Completing such a rigorous program in parallel to a demanding family and professional life meant a lot to me and showed me that you can achieve a lot if you really want to. It has also laid the foundation of a continuous learning journey,” said Stefan Tryba, who works for Bosch in Luxembourg and was valedictorian of the inaugural class.

Added Champaign-based fellow graduate Dana Kennedy ’18, “I had no business background prior to launching my own company, and after eight years thought I could learn something about what we could be doing more efficiently. I am aware of every process going on around me now from various perspectives that I never had prior to my MBA.”

The genesis for the iMBA was the College’s shift to blended in-class and online learning in 2008. Looking for a way to scale, it partnered with Coursera to offer its first massive open online course (MOOC) in 2013. Gies then spent two years designing the iMBA before its launch in 2016. The College has created more than 100 MOOC courses taught in a suite of state-of-the-art production facilities by award-winning faculty. Over the years, its 61 instructors have embraced the platform, creating content that’s tailored to online learning with plenty of avenues to engage in real-time.

Based on the iMBA’s success, Gies has expanded its online programs to include master of science in accountancy (iMSA) and master of science in management (iMSM) degrees.

“Our first five years have been an exhilarating journey,” said Brooke Elliott, associate dean overseeing the strategy for online programs. “We hope our example as pathfinders will inspire others.”