The University of Maryland University College will launch an online M.B.A. program next month that allows students to get their degrees without ever setting foot on campus.
UMUC, which will have about 120 students enrolled for the fall semester, joins the University of Baltimore, which earlier this year began offering an online masters of business administration program.
Both programs are part time and let students earn their degrees in about two years.
While still relatively uncommon, online M.B.A. programs have been sprouting up nationwide -- at Duke University, the University of Phoenix and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, for example.
When the University of Baltimore started its program in January, it had just nine students.
That number grew to 19 during the next enrollment period in July, and January's enrollment could reach its capacity of 25, said Ronald Legon, the university's provost.
"We think this is a major trend in higher education and business education in particular," Legon said. "More and more adults are time- and place-bound and can't attend a university on a regular schedule.
"Many students in the program travel for work and they log in from different places every week. Some work on schedules that shift."
That's the case for Will Bryant, senior associate director of finance and administration at the Johns Hopkins University's Welch Medical Library. He frequently attends early morning and late- afternoon meetings that would make attending classes in person virtually impossible. But in order to advance his career, an M.B.A. was a necessity, Bryant felt.
He's been enrolled in the University of Baltimore's online program since January and has high praise for it.
"For me, the convenience of attending classes when I can at any time day or night far outweighs any disadvantage of not having classroom discussions," said Bryant, 39.
"The online forum allows for some very extensive interaction with other classmates and instructors. Sometimes the responses are delayed, but you get a lot more time to ponder the contents of the response."
Bryant, who lives in Chase, said he didn't contact prospective employers about how they might regard an online M.B.A., but he felt confident choosing UB because it is accredited by the International Association for Management Education -- which still goes by its former initials AACSB.
The St. Louis-based association specializes in accrediting business schools in the United States and around the world.
Milton Blood, director of accreditation at the association, said UB's online program was not evaluated separately from its traditional program, but said the accreditation applies to both.
A college must have at least one class of graduates before it can be considered for accreditation by the AACSB, making UMUC ineligible for accreditation now.
The university is, however, accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, which reviews institutions as a whole instead of specific academic programs.
UMUC does not have a traditional M.B.A. program; it can be attended only online.
Officials at both schools said their online M.B.A. students are generally in their 30s or 40s and already have jobs in the business field.
Mike Evanchik, program director for UMUC's program, said the students are divided into groups of about 30 who will take the same courses together throughout the two years -- even though they may never meet face to face, especially since students are located as far away as Spain and China.
The group format serves as "an automatic support system," Evanchik said. "Life happens, kids get sick or they could have a job that takes up a lot of hours."
Legon said online instruction "appeals to a large segment of the market. Since more and more business itself is done over the Web, this type of study is a way that students are becoming familiar with how to do business transactions and communicate and make effective use of the Internet, and that will serve them in their careers," he said.
"I think this is just the beginning of the trend."