MBA for Life – Willamette University Atkinson Graduate School of Management

prmeAs the business world and graduates career options change, a school’s alumni require new skills and knowledge to help them take on roles and responsibilities that require fresh insights and ideas. Willamette University responded to this need by developing a lifelong relationship with its alumni through the MBA for Life programme—a programme where graduates have access to the courses in the MBA curriculum throughout their careers. I spoke with Judy O’Neill, Associate Dean and Director of Admission at Atkinson Graduate School of Management about this programme.

What is Atkinson Graduate School of Management’s approach to sustainability, ethics and responsible leadership?
Our commitment to sustainability, ethics, and responsible leadership stem from our organisation’s mission, purpose and values—and thus are inherent in all that we do. The University motto is “not unto ourselves, alone, are we born.” Atkinson School believes that ethics and environmental responsibility are essential for social and financial well-being, and that sustainability encompasses the four “E’s” that influence long term success—environment, economics, education and equity. We believe, practice and teach that an organisation’s long-term success depends on a commitment to sustainable practices in all four “E’s,” ethics and responsible leadership. Every student at the Atkinson School experiences the unique differences and strong integrations between business, government and not-for-profit organisations, and emerge better prepared to lead and make decisions in a greater societal context. The required and elective MBA curriculum integrates ethics, responsible leadership and sustainability through cases, projects, class discussions, and professional development activities. This content is also evaluated as part of the student course evaluation process and course syllabi are reviewed for relevant content by the faculty lead curriculum committee.

What is the MBA for Life programme?
The MBA for Life programme provides alumni of Willamette University’s MBA programme the opportunity to return to the school and take MBA courses free of charge, for life. The programme encourages lifelong learning, a lifelong relationship with our alumni, and the opportunity for alumni to connect with and learn from faculty and fellow alumni across sectors and industries.

How does it work in practice?
MBA for Life participants may enroll in MBA courses offered by the Atkinson Graduate School of Management free of charge. Alumni who take advantage of this benefit commit to being fully engaged in classes in the same manner as current Willamette MBA students. Participants are expected to attend all class sessions and are graded according to the expectations outlined by the course instructor. Grades appear on the participant’s official academic transcript as post-MBA education. Registration is based on a space available basis.

Why did you introduce it?
The programme was developed as a direct result of conversations between the school’s administration and alumni. As our graduates advance in their careers and take on more responsibilities, they are looking for opportunities to continue their professional development and growth. The Atkinson School’s innovative curriculum and market-focused courses are an excellent fit for those making career transitions or seeking career advancement. The Willamette MBA for Life programme provides alumni the continuing education they desire, the opportunity to reconnect with our school, faculty and alumni, and an MBA investment that continues to deliver a return on investment for years to come. For the school, this programme supports and helps communicate our belief in lifelong learning and our commitment to a lifelong relationship with our alumni.

What benefits are you hoping will come from it?

For the school: Support our lifelong relationship with alumni through a programme designed to enhance their opportunity for lifelong learning and professional success.
For the alumni: Free access to lifelong educational opportunities that support the attainment of new knowledge, fresh insights, and new tools for personal and professional growth.
For the students: The MBA for Life builds the network of our current students and provides for rich course discussions.

What have been some of the challenges? Successes?
All Atkinson School programmes are high-touch, face-to-face, and experiential in nature. Thus, the MBA for Life programme takes a commitment of time and effort from the participant to engage in real Atkinson School academic/professional experience. Participants are taking real MBA courses with the same level of rigor, attendance and course requirements expected of current students. This commitment of time and effort can be an issue for some practicing professionals. In addition, some popular classes do not have seating capacity for MBA Life participants every semester because they have filled with current students who have first priority for registration. Lastly, the scope of alumni who can participate in our programme is limited by geography, because participants must attend courses in person.

Since the programme inception in fall semester 2013, 22 alumni have completed course work through the MBA for Life programme, and one alum has completed 3 courses. The topics selected by alums spans the realm of courses we offer, from Lean Six Sigma to Public Policy, from Not-for-Profit Management to Fraud and Controls, from Product Planning to Managing Organizational Change, and from Enterprise Data Management to Principles of Management Consulting. Alumni are excited about the opportunity to expand their knowledge and stay in contact with the school. Faculty and current students appreciate the benefit of the experiences and input from alumni.

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?

Global delivery of an MBA for Life programme might be easier for programmes with a significant online component. Face-to-face programmes could consider other ways to engage alumni on a global basis. For example, we use our MBA Alumni Book Club, which is a virtual programme involving reading a book and participating in a call with the book’s author, to provide an option for lifelong learning for all alumni, regardless of geographic location. Another thing you might want to consider are the implications on both the alumni and the current students enrolled in the class in regard to whether the programme should be audit-based or require participants to meet the same requirements of currently enrolled students.



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