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Achieving Excellence in a Volatile Marketplace: How USC’s Online MBA Drives Student Success


usc online mba drives sucessHow do you prepare to lead in a global marketplace where disruption has become the status quo? Are organizations finding the necessary insights in big data to stay ahead of the curve? What technological advances are around the corner that will shake the foundations of industry?

These are the questions that leaders confront in today’s hyper-connected business landscape. Meanwhile, online education has massively expanded access to MBA programs, with thousands of people enrolled in the largest ones. However, the outcomes for those programs can vary wildly for students who are striving to update their skills and advance their careers.

To help professionals excel in this constantly changing marketplace, business schools must prioritize online student success. Posting recordings of traditional business school courses to an online portal is not enough to achieve consistent excellence. Rather, administrators and faculty can help students reach their goals by rethinking curricular structure, teaching methods, and interpersonal interactions to align with the myriad ways professionals learn and work today.

Launched in 2015, the Online MBA from the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business set itself apart by establishing a new model for equipping graduates to succeed. In 2019, this reimagined program was declared one of the world’s top three online MBA programs by QS and the best in the nation in the rankings from Poets&Quants. The program has also received accolades from The Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report. In small, selective cohorts, Marshall engages professionals from around the world with remarkably personal learning and networking experiences that build in-demand skills for leadership and problem-solving.

“One of the reasons the program was so enriching was everybody came from different backgrounds,” said Nidhi Modh, who finished her Online MBA in 2018. “The program opened up horizons and provided psychological safety, where everyone could voice their opinion and ask questions they wanted in order to excel in their career path.”


Groundbreaking Integrated Curriculum

Marshall’s AACSB-accredited Online MBA curriculum provides a holistic perspective on how various concepts, including marketing, finance, management, accounting and entrepreneurship, contribute to growth in today’s organizations. The program cultivates effective leaders who communicate clearly and persuasively with stakeholders at all levels. With an overarching focus on data-driven insights, students discover how analytics can help to resolve emerging challenges and enable better decision-making.

All courses in the online program are taught by Marshall’s faculty of premier researchers and educators, who work together to offer team-taught, interdisciplinary classes. The instructors in the Online MBA include experts in areas such as management and organization, data sciences, business communication, and finance and business economics. That means each of the five required courses offers multiple perspectives on concepts like the manager’s role in an organization and the process of creating a new venture, informed by real-world experience and input from executives.

Asynchronous activities allow students to complete many required tasks on their own schedules, like:

  • Watching in-depth video presentations
  • Posting to discussion boards
  • Learning from case studies
  • Completing self-assessment exercises
  • Participating in interactive games

However, live interactions and discussions are standout aspects of the Online MBA experience. In addition to synchronous classes, Marshall professors meet with students in one-on-one video teleconferences during office hours, even if they live in a different time zone or on another continent. Academic Director Miriam Burgos emphasized the importance of professors who are flexible about scheduling and dedicated to forming close relationships with an international cohort.

“Our faculty members absolutely do not treat this as a 9-to-5 job,” Professor Burgos said. “They go out of their way to work with their students, so if you live in Dubai, Shanghai, or Tokyo, you’ll have office hours with your faculty.”

Advantages for Diverse Professionals at All Stages of their Careers

The Marshall Online MBA is designed to benefit even long-time management professionals, and the average student enrolls in the program with 11 years of work experience. Each cohort includes individuals from a broad range of educational and professional backgrounds, many already holding advanced degrees or employed in leadership roles. That wealth of first-hand knowledge means students can learn from each other, as well as from their instructors.

The Online MBA program welcomes busy people who want to enrich their understanding of business strategy, communication and analytics. For example, Ray Scannell, a financial advisor and the owner of a group of Chicago-based financial services companies, completed his master’s in 2019. According to him, the convenience of Marshall’s online program makes all the difference in attracting professionals who possess extensive résumés.

“After working for five to 10 years, business professionals are finding it too difficult and time-consuming to go back for an in-person MBA,” Scannell explained. “Interactive programs like these allow students to manage their time more effectively and spend more time with family or other interests. It also creates the opportunity for international students and military personnel to be included.”

For Nidhi Modh, the Online MBA’s structure and flexibility made it possible to work full time and start a family while working toward her degree. An experienced software engineer and entrepreneur who already held a USC master’s in electrical engineering, Modh was confident that expanding her knowledge in areas like finance, strategy and marketing would help her progress into a dream job. She has since become a product manager at Google, and she credits in part the instructors who helped her along the way.

“USC was an obvious choice because it was an enriching experience earlier and I knew how committed and amazing the professors are,” Modh said. “They have a commitment that goes beyond the scope of the subject. They understand what an individual’s career path and aspirations look like, and they invest in that with a lot of individualized attention.”

In addition to attracting students from all industries and experience, the MBA program has prioritized intersectional aspects of diversity. Some Marshall initiatives include scholarships to boost enrollment for women and a pilot boot camp to equip applicants from underrepresented minority groups with the advanced quantitative business knowledge they need for admission.

Marshall illustrates a welcoming attitude from the very beginning of the online curriculum with an orientation video that features executives emphasizing the business case for inclusion and diversity as advantages for an organization. Specifically, it recognizes the vital learning, innovation, strategic, and leadership imperatives as students navigate a vibrant global economy.

Forming Lasting Relationships

Professional networking is a crucial part of any MBA program that can be challenging when students don’t regularly visit campus. However, the Marshall Online MBA prioritizes helping students build relationships that will last throughout their careers with numerous opportunities to make genuine connections with faculty, peers and staff.

“We have so many students who tell us they feel more connected to their OMBA classmates and faculty than they did to their undergraduate classmates who were residential,” noted Professor Burgos.

The chances to network and collaborate start with the on-campus residency included in the first course. Students come to campus for a week of coursework and participate in a consulting competition. Teams work together to analyze a real-world business problem and recommend a course of action, receiving feedback on their ideas from company executives.

Beginning with that initial class, the members of a USC Online MBA cohort also work together on a long-term project that evolves over the following four courses and culminates with a capstone at the end of the program. Throughout this process, students stay in touch with one another through live meetings and WhatsApp messages so they can collaborate, study or just talk. Student Services Advisor Kristen Chan pointed out how valuable these informal exchanges can be for the professionals who must balance the challenges of graduate-level business courses with other responsibilities.

“A lot of what keeps students in the program and helps them support each other is their connections,” she said. “That’s something that’s built very strongly from the residential week and that’s maintained largely through their instant messaging.”

Online MBA students have access to communication platforms that allow those with similar interests, backgrounds or concerns to stay in touch. They may start or join many different messaging groups, such as forums specifically for women or military veterans. Through these conversations, students form invaluable connections that can last well past graduation.

Meanwhile, special events like the monthly Marshall speaker series serve to engage USC online students in the wider Trojan community. The business school welcomes participants from all cohorts and departments to network while hearing talks from influential business leaders. Every session is available live online, and participants are invited to engage in the conversation and ask questions. This year, online MBA students can even opt to participate in Marshall’s international programs by taking a trip to China; along with students from on-campus programs, they meet executives and immerse themselves in the local business culture.

The program’s focus on student engagement and success has resulted in a near-100% completion rate and created a proud alumni community. Graduates consistently rate Marshall with the high marks for satisfaction that vaulted the online MBA to the front ranks. Alumni often stay in touch with each other and their instructors, and many are even eager to help out with projects like focus groups and advisory boards.

In a volatile marketplace fueled by technological innovation, it matters more than ever that business schools produce leaders who understand the intricate connections between all aspects of an organization. Marshall’s Online MBA enables student success by going beyond the traditional master’s curriculum with an integrated approach that’s delivered by dedicated full-time faculty members. An inclusive, supportive culture allows a wide range of professionals to move forward in their careers with confidence and backing from an international network of fellow Trojans.


About the USC Marshall School of Business

USC Marshall is one of the premier business schools in the U.S. and internationally recognized as a home for path-breaking research that emphasizes entrepreneurship, innovation, leadership and social responsibility. The USC Online MBA from the Marshall School of Business is built to help students succeed in the digitally driven business landscape, providing a curriculum focused on the practical skills expected of today’s global leaders. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, Marshall brings undergraduate and graduate students a unique perspective on the world, including global opportunities for experiential learning. The vibrant and active Trojan alumni community includes more than 89,000 people in 92 countries.


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