Kelley School launches Propel, a new professional development program for online MBA students

Program is designed to meet needs of those looking to advance at their current firms as well as career switchers

  • May 24, 2016


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Kelley Direct, the online MBA program of Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, is launching a unique, comprehensive professional development program in the fall, tailored to serve both those looking to advance at their current companies as well as an increasing number of those planning to change careers.

The initiative, called Propel, combines individualized academic and career advising that will help students develop a career plan and prepare for life after graduation from the moment they begin the admissions process.

Propel is a continuation of efforts by the Kelley School to improve career development at every level of instruction. The Kelley Compass program at the undergraduate level and Me, Inc., in the residential MBA program, also offer similar approaches, tailored to students’ individual needs.

“Most career offices around the country take one approach to career management and find a way to bolt it on to each of the graduate programs they offer,” said Eric Johnson, director of graduate career services at Kelley. “We take a different approach -- we acknowledge that each of our graduate programs are different, and cater to students with unique needs and contexts. So we build a program-specific career management platform for each degree program at Kelley and execute it in a way that works for that program.

“There are definitely similarities, and we can reuse some best practices, but the career platforms also have significant differences in content and execution based on the varying needs of the student populations,” Johnson added. “Me, Inc., wouldn’t work for Kelley Direct, and Propel wouldn’t work for our in-residence MBA program, and I think that’s a great testament to the value of each platform for the program it supports.”

So while the professional development programs at Kelley have equivalent outcomes, Propel will serve the unique needs of students in the top-ranked online MBA program.

“We’re the first online MBA program to bring full-time MBA-caliber career services and guidance to our students,” said Phil Powell, Kelley Direct’s chair and the Daniel C. Smith Faculty Fellow in the Kelley School.

Established in 1999, Kelley Direct was the first online MBA offered by a top-ranked traditional business school. Initially, nearly all its students were looking to move up within their current companies and stay within the same career path.

Today, at least half of Kelley Direct students are looking to transition into other careers and have different needs than those simply looking to progress at their current company.

“We need to support the needs of both kinds of students,” said Terrill Cosgray, Kelley Direct’s executive director. “Not all of our students are looking for jobs right now or while they are in our program, but many more have that desire. … But we saw this need as not just being for ‘transitioners’; we saw this as being a need for all students."

Powell noted that the “fastest-growing subset of the MBA market are career-switchers who don’t want to come back to campus."

"We’ve gone from 10 to 50 percent career switchers in the last three or four years," he said. "We’re actively positioning people to switch industries.”

Over the past five years, Kelley Direct has been engaging companies and developing new ways to monitor success through a career services strategy. Thus, several companies that previously only recruited students in the residential MBA program are hiring graduates of the online program. The median outgoing salary has increased from $85,000 in 2011-12 to $101,000 this year.

While Kelley Direct is delivered largely online, students work on-site with each other at the IU Bloomington campus during Kelley Connect Weeks. They also may elect to go abroad as part of AGILE -- Accelerating Global Immersion Leadership Education. Students also can choose from a variety of immersive global consulting experiences that combine online and in-country experiences that fit their schedule.

Propel now becomes the “eco-system” encompassing all of these experiential learning experiences within Kelley and is another investment the school has made to help its graduates succeed in the job market and their careers, Powell said.

Most online business programs wait for students to approach them for career advice. Propel features a step-by-step interaction that begins with admission and continues throughout students' experience in the program. A minimum of five one-on-one sessions are scheduled with each student.

“We’re anticipating that every student is going to have a different kind of need at different points in their progress in our program,” Cosgray said. “We’re reaching out to them; we’re not waiting for them to come to us.”

Johnson said he’s seen a shift over the past decade toward a greater desire among students to be more self-aware about themselves and away from the transactional nature of the job hunt.

“So many of our students come to us knowing exactly why they left their last job -- or why they want to leave their current job -- but they’re not very clear on the vision they hold for their future,” Johnson said. “We begin by understanding each individual’s values, interests, skills, personality and demeanor and use that to help them understand what makes each of them unique, relevant and interesting. With this knowledge, they can begin to see what career options are the best fit for them and how they need to position themselves to get there.”

After students are admitted to Kelley Direct, arrangements are made for a one-on-one counseling session before Kelley Connect Week, an intensive introduction to the program at IU Bloomington. Not only does this help them prepare for the week ahead, but it helps them manage expectations for optimizing their personal success.

In their first academic term, Propel challenges students to prepare their professional development plan. Learning expectations are applied and include a review of the plan of study and coaching of a student’s work/life balance. An academic advisor helps to identify challenges and the strategies to help them meet their professional objectives. A career coach provides guidance on how to best use resources for networking with companies and alumni.

This continues into the second year of the program, when academic advisors may suggest opportunities of a dual degree or experiential learning. The final stage of Propel, right before graduation, provides coaching on being an effective Kelley alumnus. A final review of the professional development plan, goals and an action plan will be conducted as part of an exit interview.

Kelley has doubled the staff resources devoted to academic advising and career coaching for its online MBA students and is seeking new ways to share resources and information from across the school. Incoming enrollment in Kelley Direct has grown from 240 annually three years ago to 311 this year.

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Eric Johnson and a student

Eric Johnson, director of graduate career services at Kelley, meets with a student.

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Propel is a continuation of efforts by the Kelley School to improve career development at every level of instruction. Me, Inc. -- part of the residential MBA program -- offers similar approaches.

Propel is a continuation of efforts by the Kelley School to improve career development at every level of instruction. Me, Inc. -- part of the residential MBA program -- offers similar approaches.

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