Independent study.


Education has become a personal experience. To meet the unique needs of current students and those returning to the classroom, colleges and universities are diversifying content, schedules and delivery.

Choosing a career track isn't easy. Jan Pagoria sees that almost every day as Elon University's director of internships, helping students create career goals and collaborating with other staff members at Elon's Student Professional Development Center. More than 500 students visited her office last year. "Students have many more dimensions to them than the title of their major. Sometimes we're good at things we're not interested in, and sometimes we're interested in things we're not good at. We have a conversation that looks at a balance in how we include our values, like a Venn diagram: what interests me, what I'm good at and what I value."

Pagoria encourages freshmen and sophomores to attend local employers' information sessions and job fairs and consider what they read about and what catches their eye. "Your major is a collection of classes. You're going to become skilled and competent at many more things beyond that. In your compilation of experiences, what have you become? And what do you want to continue to be?"

People want work to be more than only work, says Albert Segars, distinguished professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at UNC Chapel Hill and faculty director of Kenan-Flagler Business School's Center for Sustainable Enterprise. "It's like trying to find a purpose for yourself in the marketplace. Schools are having a tough time figuring out how to shape that. There's a lot of chaos in the marketplace, so a typical university strategy would be to try to be all things to all people. Fields like analytics, technology management, these skill sets are just now forming. So it's people seeking an identity, and universities trying to provide a pathway. Even companies can't identify what these skill sets are, but that's OK. It will all untangle."

While most students are searching, that's where their similarities stop. "There is no longer a typical MBA student," says Bill Brown, associate dean and MBA program director at UNC Greensboro's Bryan School of Business and Economics. "So there is increasing need for flexibility to meet students where they are at in terms of career and personal life. We are making admissions more flexible with [Graduate Management Admission Test] waivers for professionals with significant work experience and course waivers for those with certain undergraduate credits."

UNC Greensboro's tack is one that colleges and universities across North Carolina are following. But students, including those already in the workplace adding or updating their skills, need more than content. They want to choose where and when they study.

More working professionals in their late 20s or early 30s are knocking on UNC Greensboro's door, wanting to earn an MBA while continuing to work full time. Brown expects that to increase evening enrollment. They want the degree personalized in other ways. "More students are looking to use their electives to personalize their MBA program. For example, they may take courses in business analytics without pursuing the whole concentration. They may also choose to take electives that fit their interests and needs outside the business school."

Mark Bryant, assistant dean of graduate business programs at Wingate University's Porter Byrum School of Business and head of the MBA program at its Ballantyne campus in Charlotte, says students also respect the big picture. "There are a lot of reasons for students to come into our program. The most common is they want to go to the next level in their careers, and an MBA is a very good mechanism to do that. Our big-picture goal in an MBA program is to develop an...

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