One of the obstacles to getting an MBA has always been time. Getting an advanced business degree often means taking time away from the job in which you want to grow. And in today's all-consuming work culture, who can afford to take a break? As the cost of higher education grows, that time has become even more expensive. 

It's perhaps unsurprising, then, that applications to full-time, two-year MBA programs were flat in 2018 after four years of decline, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council. Seventy percent of U.S. business schools reported a slide in enrollment last year. 

But creative MBA programs are springing up across the country, hoping to buck that trend. Some schools offer degrees that require less time to complete, can be taken online, or concentrate on relatively new specialties like data analytics. Others have customized programs for certain companies, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported last week. 

Drexel University in Philadelphia has created an MBA program especially for investment firm Vanguard. The company pays for employees to take the course, which meets three times a week for two hours near its HQ in Malvern, Pennsylvania. Since the program started in 2014, 100 Vanguard employees have gotten degrees. Some give the initiative high marks for convenience. "Vanguard and Drexel have created a good and seamless transition for us with the satellite campus and flexible working schedules,” Emily Magee, an education consulting services manager at Vanguard, told the Inquirer. “The peer group has positively impacted me the most. We’ve been able to discuss course-related and work-related topics, sometimes, simultaneously, allowing us to strengthen our performance at school and work.” 

 

Coast to coast, top business schools are loosening up. Like Drexel, Stanford and NYU will work with companies to develop MBA programs for their employees. Cornell allows its MBA students to create customized immersion programs in their particular field. Harvard now offers an accelerated leadership development program it's billing as an alternative to a rapid-fire MBA; the course lasts six months, and half the sessions are done remotely. 

And the flexibility doesn't necessarily come with a premium: In Harvard's case, the leadership program costs $52,000 — well below the average cost of a two-year MBA, which stands at about $60,000. 

Online MBA programs are also booming, and student satisfaction is high, experts say. "It's common for more than half the students to attribute a raise or a promotion at work as a direct result of their online program," wrote John Byrne of PoetsandQuants.com, a site that covers business schools, in Forbes on Friday. "Even more surprising, 40% or more of the students say they have changed jobs entirely thanks to their online degrees."

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