This material originally appeared as one of Jim’s Daily Herald columns


You’ve moved past 18th century British poet Alexander Pope’s often misquoted, “A little learning is a dangerous thing” and decided a little more learning – maybe even an MBA – might make you a better business owner-manager.

Time and money likely will be an issue, of course, and the number of MBA choices can be daunting.  But the University of Illinois has created an interesting option:  You can get what essentially is a free MBA from the university.

Okay, nothing is free, but you can take the MBA coursework, online, free.

If learning is your goal, the coursework – which is the same MBA coursework others take online and pay for – may be enough.  If, however, you want that fancy, frame-ready diploma that proclaims you have indeed earned an MBA from the University of Illinois, you’ll pay.

By MBA standards, you won’t pay much, however:  Tuition, fees, books and supplies for what Illinois calls the iMBA will run you slightly under $22,000 – if you want the diploma.

By comparison, Raj Echambadi, senior associate dean MBA programs and strategic innovation at Illinois (and driver of the iMBA bus) says cost for the university’s 19-month Executive MBA is $100,000.  The cost for either the more traditional two-year, full-time MBA or the university’s two and one-half-year professional MBA is about $60,000 plus living expenses.  (https://mba.illinois.edu for details.)

There is a twist or two:  iMBA courses are online, run through Coursera, a Mountain View, CA company that provides online educational support to some of the country’s most prestigious universities.  (Vanderbilt, Chicago, Virginia, Duke and, of course, Illinois are among the 145 schools listed on the Coursera website.)  And there are other colleges with programs similar to the iMBA.

The fundamental question, though, is whether the knowledge you gain is worth the effort regardless of cost.  If more knowledge is the goal, the iMBA is pretty interesting – especially since Echambadi is looking for more small business owners.

“We had some entrepreneurs in the first cohort (or group),” Echambadi says, “but only a few.  We want to increase our marketing penetration” in the small business sector.

“We know business owners have time and resources constraints.  That’s one reason we’ve teamed with Coursera” to offer the online MBA option – which, at the least, offers business owners an opportunity to test both their abilities and affinity for an MBA.

“You have to invest in yourself,” Echambadi says.  “Be curious.  We finally have an affordable MBA.  Don’t put constraints on yourself.”

The iMBA is a surprisingly creative approach to the need for colleges and universities to develop new types of education products, especially in a state such as Illinois where so much of the educational discussion has been about budget cuts.

In case you’re wondering, Forbes ranks the U of I business school 34th nationally; the MBA program is ranked 39th by U.S. News & World Report.


© 2016 Kendall Communications Inc.  Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter.  Write him at Jim@kendallcom.com.  Listen to Jim’s Business Owners’ Pod Talk at www.kendallcom.com/podcast.