Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The Cost Of Business

I'm going to upfront in my writing this evening. I have struggled with the costs of post-secondary school since I went the first time, so it might surprise you that I went back for a second stint in the hopes of improving myself and my career prospects. I have yet to see many people hold up their Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts degree and say, "It was worth every penny" upon graduating. Down the road, I can see more graduates finding value in their degrees, but I'm not sure there are many who finish their final exam who aren't in some sort of debt. I want you to remember this debt load as you read through today's information.

There has been some noise made recently about the newest program being offered at Athabasca University as the media has gotten a hold of the news. Athabasca University is offering the world's first Hockey MBA program! The program is based on the normal MBA program, but geared towards a hockey-minded individual in the hopes that he or she will graduate and become the next great hockey mind in a front office.

Seems pretty reasonable, right? We haven't seen anything like this where a program is built around a solid MBA program offered by Athabasca University. The first enrolled students will start in May 2015 as they work towards a job as one of hockey's brightest new minds.

Therefore, the question must be asked: what's the catch? As per Athabasca University's webpage,
Athabasca University has collaborated with the Business of Hockey Institute (BHI) to develop an elite, graduate level, hockey specific Executive MBA to elevate the business side of the game. For the first time in hockey’s history, a program is in place to develop the leaders in the boardroom, rather than on the ice.

This exclusive program is designed for specific individuals working in a managerial capacity within the hockey industry and related industries. Students will have significant management experience in important functions within the business of hockey including: ticketing, marketing, communications, fan development, customer service, social media, sales, events, building operations, legal, merchandising, finance, media, analytics and hockey operations. Students from hockey related industries will also bring rich perspectives on corporate partnerships, revenue generation, and leveraging fan involvement beyond the game.

The Hockey Executive MBA builds on AU’s internationally acclaimed online Executive MBA program and focuses specifically on the issues, challenges, and opportunities confronting middle and senior level managers in a rapidly changing, global hockey industry.
This sounds like a promising program that Athabasca University has put together, and their partnership with the Business of Hockey Institute gives this program a little credibility in being a true hockey-based program. Designing a program that puts graduates into a managerial-ready role with a hockey program or hockey franchise takes out a lot of the guesswork and "learning on the job" that most managers have to endure.

I'm not going to call out anyone from BHI just yet despite the fact that one of the Directors is Athabasca University President Peter MacKinnon. BHI isn't a school whereas Athabasca University is - that's where the partnership was formed. There's a bit of a "who's who" on the BHI Board of Directors including AHL President and CEO David Andrews, Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish, WHL Commissioner Ron Robison, Hockey Canada COO Scott Smith, and Canadiens Executive VP and CFO Fred Steer. In other words, the "think tank" is diverse in their experience and extremely intelligent in terms of their combined knowledge of the game.

Using that information, you can understand when Athabasca University writes,
The curriculum is challenging. It concentrates on the key management areas affecting organizational performance (strategy, accounting, analytics, human resources, finance, marketing, operations) as these disciplines impact the game of hockey and its business operations. The Hockey Executive MBA will bring industry leaders, managers, executives, and academics together to debate, exchange ideas, conduct research, and collaborate. The curriculum requires students to exercise critical thinking and hone their decision-making skills.
Nothing worth having comes easy in life, right? I'm glad that it will be a difficult curriculum because being an NHL executive IS hard work, I've heard. It sounds as though this course will not only teach students to be effective hockey executives, but will also work to foster relationships between students as well, and that's a skill that all NHL executives need. Networking is a truly beneficial skill when you're in a limited network such as professional hockey, so making friends can be extremely useful.

Phase One of the curriculum has some heavy lifting as students will be enrolled in Strategic Management, Human Resource Management, Financial and Managerial Accounting, Marketing Management, Managerial Economics and Quantitative Analysis, and Operations Management. In other words, it's a basic MBA course load for the first phase of the Hockey MBA program. Nothing too surprising here as these courses are the foundation of all MBA graduates.

Phase Two brings in more of a hockey focus as students will be enrolled in Hockey Information Technology Strategy, Hockey Corporate Finance, Hockey Strategy and Organizational Analysis, and Hockey Managerial Ethics and Decision Making. It's a little tough to say what these courses provide since all of the links to those courses go nowhere. That's probably not the best thing to have on your website when touting a brand-new course, but what do I know?

In addition to these courses, students will also be enrolled in The Business of Hockey, Marketing Hockey Strategically, Integrated Marketing Communications for Hockey, Game Day Management & Marketing, Hockey Operations, and Managing Franchises Strategically. These definitely sound very hockey-centric, and will undoubtedly have the students prepared for life beyond Athabasca University.

According to Athabasca University, the Hockey MBA is an online course. Yes, you read that correctly: it's an online MBA program. I don't know about you, but it takes some serious concentration, willpower, and determination to do online courses and avoid distractions. In saying that, Athabasca University expects you to follow their asynchronous courses anytime you can, and commit to a 20-25 hour per week study time with assignments due during the eight-week courses. According to Athabasca University, "Usual program completion time is two and one-half to three years; the program must be completed in five years." So there you have it.

At this point, you may be asking what qualifications are required to enroll in the Hockey MBA program. Let me tell you that the bar for qualifying for this program has been set here. You'll see that "management experience" comes up often. This is defined as "experience managing people, projects and/or budgets". With that in mind, the qualifications are as follows:
  1. You have an undergraduate degree from an accredited university plus at least THREE years of management experience, OR...
  2. You hold an accepted professional designation (see list) and at least FIVE years of management experience, OR...
  3. You have at least EIGHT years of progressively responsible management experience.
This pretty much eliminates a large segment of the population from the qualification process. I, for example, have not achieved three years of management experience nor do I hold a professional designation found on that list. Therefore Teebz, you've been eliminated. That was quick, right? Needless to say, there will be a lot of people who won't make the cut based on these admission requirements.

However, maybe you have made the cut. Maybe you're still in the running. Maybe you're gearing up to be a hockey executive! Let me just tell you that the next part of this article is depressing.

Remember when I said this was a correspondence course that was done online? Generally, correspondence courses cost less than in-class courses because there are no associated costs of having a classroom. In Athabasca University's Hockey MBA program, that is far from the truth.

Allow me to post the tuition fees expected by Athabasca University.
If you're having trouble reading that figure, allow me to make it easier to read: $80,000. Eighty-grand for a correspondence course. $80K for three years of working from home without ever seeing a professor or setting foot in a classroom. Are you kidding me?!?

Here's where I have issues. I get that the admission standards are set high to ensure that executives in the MBA mold are transitioned into the hockey world. That makes total sense. But $80,000 for a correspondence course? Is Athabasca University insane?

BHI's main page states that it is "a newly formed, non-profit, 'think tank' focusing on business and management related aspects of hockey". See that little "non-profit" part? Before Athabasca University has even licked a postage stamp to send you course material, you've already paid Athabasca $1000 and BHI $5000 just for application and admission fees!

Why am I paying BHI $5000 for anything? As per BHI's website, "BHI is responsible for administering and promoting the Professional Hockey Manager (PHM) designation." Except I'm not enrolling in this PHM designation; I'm enrolling in the Hockey MBA program! I'm going to speculate that BHI gets paid for their research and consulting services and probably gets some sort of kick-back being an advocacy service on behalf of its members. So is this a $5000 membership fee? WHAT AM I GETTING FOR $5000 FROM BHI?!?

The other $74,000 is all going towards courses and course material, and that seems like a steep price to pay for a correspondence course. The one-year MBA course at the University of Manitoba is a mere $35,000 and it comes with a pile of stuff that Athabasca University doesn't guarantee: Health and Dental Insurance, Sports and Recreation fees (for use of recreation centers), and a classroom you'll take classes in at the Asper School of Business.

Still not convinced that this correspondence course's price is insane? Check out this chart from canadian-universities.net that shows all of the MBA prices across Canada. The national average for an MBA tuition in Canada is $20,592 to $22,249. Some of Canada's most prestigious schools - McGill, University of Ottawa, and Carleton University - fall below the national average. Manitoba is amongst those around the national average. You know who is above the national average? Athabasca University at $40,425! In fact, they are the fourth-highest in terms of tuition fees across Canada.

I had high hopes for this program, but I can't see aspiring business graduates assuming $80,000 in debt without some sort of guarantee that there is a high-paying job awaiting them at the end. While there are definitely parts of the program that interest me greatly, I also value my good sense in not plunging head-first into a vortex of debt because I love hockey. Then again, I wouldn't qualify as it is based on the admission requirements, but we're talking about assuming half the value of my mortgage in student loans to possibly get a job in hockey.

I love hockey. But not at that price.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Chris said...

Good Article Teebz,
Thanks for pointing out the links to four of the courses aren't connecting, we're fixing that right now.
A quick note on the AU MBA's delivery. The program is online vs. correspondence. Correspondence typically means studying alone with materials (either online or print) sent to you. In the AU MBA, students are in small groups of 8 to 10 students and each group has a professor embedding into it. This makes for extremely low teacher-student ratios. In the case of the hockey Executive MBA, we're bringing in experts from around the world, high level executives from leagues and teams, as well as bringing students together for an in-residence component in either Toronto or New York.
It's also important to know this is an Executive MBA. When you look at tuition fees for other Executive programs, this one is not at the highest end. It's intended for managers and leaders who will continue to work while studying. A lot of the benefits of being on a campus (dental, medical, fitness, etc.) don't really apply to the needs of our typical student.

If you need anything, or decide that maybe this is the right program for you, let me know. Again, a very well written and thought through blog.


Teebz said...

Ok, there are a lot of things that you point out, Chris. Thanks for that, but there are still some glaring holes in this story.

1. I appreciate the fact that this is an online course, but with everything being asynchronous, it is technically a correspondence course with an online component to it. I've taken online courses where multiple students are online at a specific time for teaching, and this course specifically states that it will not offer this component. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck....

2. You state that this course is intended for managers and leaders who continue to work, so why not offer a Hockey BA so that those of us who aren't in a managerial position can make inroads? If there's one thing that hockey gets a bad rap for, it's for being an "old boys' club". We of a younger age think a little differently than the older generation, so wouldn't it be good to open up the scope of this project? You're really limiting this to a niche field of people who, for the most part, are already established leaders in their chosen fields.

3. The in-residence doesn't really fly for those who are currently working either. My boss wouldn't grant me an eight-week sabbatical to pursue an MBA in a field which won't help my current position. I'd like to know which managers/leaders would be granted this sabbatical without having to quit their jobs. And without having a job to go back to once done.

4. Why is the cost so high? If you're "bringing in experts from around the world, high level executives from leagues and teams", why isn't the non-profit BHI - which is loaded with hockey experts - picking up at least some of that tab? Why are you bringing in anyone with the list of "who's who" on the BHI Board?

5. What is the $5000 worth of fees to BHI getting me? This has yet to be explained anywhere.

6. You tout this as an Executive MBA, so I'll look exclusively at those numbers. Athabasca U's EMBA program is one of the more affordable programs as per the Globe and Mail 2012 study: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/careers/business-education/which-canadian-emba-schools-cost-the-most/article4508437/

The issue is that your course also takes the longest to finish at 30+ months, and offers no bonuses like the vast majority of other EMBAs. For example, the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary's University in Halifax takes just 18 months to complete and offers an international study trip. What are you offering other than a diploma that would attract me to your program other than "work from home"?

6. You claim to offer small groups of 8-10 students with a professor, yet there are 100 students enrolled as per the G&M article. Only Queen's and Royal Roads have more students, and most have half or less students than your EMBA program. The Hockey MBA program will have 31 students total in it, so what are group sizes going to be for that program?

7. I already know I don't qualify for the program, Chris, but thank you for keeping the door open. However, your admission requirements and the financials alone make it impossible for me to apply for application, let alone be accepted into the program. I'd love to take a shot at it, but I have a mortgage to pay first.

Feel free to email me if you'd like to discuss more. I'm very interested in some of the details, but there are a pile of questions that need answers before I change my view on this program... despite how interested I am.

Chris said...

Only a couple minor comments although I think you aren't understanding the richness of our learning environment and the collaborative nature of the program. If you want more details, I can share.

The in-residence course is a total of eight weeks, seven of which are online and five days are face-to-face.

Your point about having a more entry level program like a BA for hockey does make sense and I agree that there would likely be student demand for that. We haven't done any research with leagues around their desire for that type of graduate. Maybe that's a good next step for us, we can't do everything at once. We'd also want to make sure there's very strong career potential for those types of students. We've done that work for the MBA.

The 100 number, was actually just one student cohort. We have about 900 active students in the program, around 230 entering each year. We have many professors to draw on and each usually teaches two to three groups (max per professor is 24 students). For Hockey this will be smaller, one professor to 16 (two groups). Bringing in top teaching faculty costs us more. And this is a very specialized program, making it harder (more expensive) to have the very best. You're right, this is supplemented by people from BHI to round out industry perspectives.

The BHI fees are for earning the Professional Hockey Manager designation. The goal is to make this the industry standard much as other professions have their own designations (CPA, P.Eng, CA, etc.). BHI will also be hosting conferences, conducting research, advocacy, etc.

We're not arguing that this isn't expensive, it is. It's also rigorous and academically challenging.

It's a very unique program that will only attract a small number of people. We're really working hard to make sure it does attract diversity and doesn't perpetuate the "old-boys club".

Thanks for the discussion.