Key Features of Top Executive Education Programs That Support Work-Life Balance

This post first appeared on http://www.ivyexec.com.

Executive MBA students quickly learn that corporate mergers need to be positioned as “one plus one equals three,” a clear message to shareholders, customers and employees that the combination is greater than the sum of its two parts. Schools with the best records for work-life balance deliver another benefit: they ensure incoming students realize that one-half (work) plus one-half (personal life) plus one-half (school) can actually summarize one holistic experience.

And that’s a good thing! Your decision to commit nearly two years to earning an Executive MBA must fit into your existing life, which — because of career and family commitments — already can feel like it’s bursting at the seams.

Every year, members from Ivy Exec review and rank the Best Executive MBA Programs for work-life balance. There are certain collective threads that run through all programs, of course, including being team-based, sharing meals, and emphasizing the uniqueness of their cohort, ambassador, and alumni programs.

Beyond those characteristics, however, there are some other noteworthy features at the leading executive education programs that support work-balance.

Relevant Curriculum

EMBA courses, by necessity, need to relate to the real world. At the Auburn Executive MBA (#20), the healthcare curriculum is skewed to specialty courses such as healthcare finance and law and policy. It also includes a trip to Washington, D.C., to get a close-up view at national policy formation. Operations studies, meanwhile, cover courses in quality management, project management, and supply chain management. Students at Auburn (and in some other programs, as well) are even awarded a 6-Sigma Green Belt in Quality, and will meet the instructional requirements for the PMP certification.

Since 2010, the Fisher Executive MBA at Ohio State University (#6) has offered an Innovation Practice specialty aimed at executives and senior managers tasked with driving innovation in their companies, and for business leaders wanting to drive sustainable, profitable growth.

All programs, of course, emphasize a global perspective. Noteworthy among the top programs, the Executive Master of Global Management – Arizona Cohort (#10), where a global perspective flows throughout its program. Two key areas of focus: creating a sustainable IT-dependent competitive advantage and understanding how multinational organizations make strategic use of Big Data to gain a competitive advantage in the global economy.

At #5-ranked Pace University Executive MBA, meanwhile, global competitiveness is a key study focus. Students are challenged with formulating a diversification strategy for a theoretical company with a portfolio of businesses in various countries with differing cultures, regional economies, and local needs.

Begun in 1995, LBS Executive Education Programmes Global Business Consortium brings together delegates from six world-leading organizations, meeting in three global locations over 20 days, to explore new concepts and discover transferable solutions.

Class Size

work-life balance Even among Ivy Exec’s top 10 programs for work-life balance, class size varies greatly. At Pace, the average class size of 12, while the class size at the Broad Executive MBA at Michigan State University (#7) is 109.

The importance of the make-up of your class size extends beyond the learning environment, however. According to Diane Sharp and Barbara Craft, EMBA students need to depend upon their classmates for support because, inevitably, issues at home are going to surface every once in a while. Their advice: Ask for support and give it back in return.


How can you avoid occupational burnout? Try work-life fulfillment.


Schedules and Structures

At first glance, would-be EMBA students might believe all programs have essentially the same structure and meeting schedule.  Not the case: the mix between classroom learning, online classes, and experiential activities is markedly different across these top 10 programs.

At Saint Mary’s Executive MBA Program (#8), Silicon Valley’s first EMBA, two-hour classes are held twice a week in the evenings online via live web conferencing (representing 42% of the learning experience). Classroom discussions are held approximately every other Saturday. Pace’s program is even more focused on digital delivery, with 50% of instruction taking place online.

Auburn has long been an advocate of educational media and developments in technology. The school says it has optimized the convenience and educational value of the “distance portion” of its EMBA program. According to their website, “Students are not locked to a computer at specific hours of the day or night; they can study, communicate, and interact virtually anytime.”

Creative Thinking

The #1-rated Rutgers Executive MBA Program offers a Powerhouse Advantage elective, which is taken throughout the program’s four semesters and comprises a series of stand-alone modules and lectures covering a variety of topics and given by experts across industries. Some past topics have included: Crisis Leadership and Change Management; Digital Transformation, Disruption, & Design Thinking: D3; Effective Business Writing; Presentation Skills; and Strategic Media Relations.

In 2016, Kennesaw State Executive MBA converted some of its classroom-based courses into a digital badge program. Available online, the courses can be completed in a matter of weeks, and students receive a badge certifying they completed the program.

The school took the unusual step because it believed the change would increase enrollment and make executive education more accessible. “We aren’t competing with the MBA program, says Dan Stotz, Executive Director of executive education programs. “We are competing with non-consumption of learning.”

Your Personal Brand

Kennesaw State also believes developing and nurturing your personal brand is a key component of your go-forward planning.  Self-reflection and continuous personal planning are featured as important leadership skills. Additionally, students develop a “Personal Plan of Action” and are introduced to journaling as a method of critical reflection around career-related topics.

Family Involvement

Your employer and your family are both important partners in your EMBA adventure. These top schools go out of their way to help you balance your professional and academic obligations while also maintaining a rewarding work-life balance.

Rutgers includes complimentary lectures for spouses, family, and even friends. And study groups are configured based on location and commute, so you can get together with other classmates who live or work near you.

Thunderbird, meanwhile, offers all types of students — from new entrants to established multinationals — customized programs such as multi-day engagements for a targeted population and multi-modular formats, spread over time or regions, across an entire organization.

Summing It All Up

Work-life balance is a key feature of each of these top 10 programs. But the benefit they deliver to EMBA students doesn’t end there. Each of these schools offers a distinctive approach to executive education — comprising unique learning modules and differentiated teaching approaches — that ensures you will get the best possible experience.

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