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17: Saby Mitra on Applications for Online Education.

A peer-to-peer discussion with the Dean of Warrington College of Business.









In Episode 17 of the Deans Counsel podcast Saby Mitra, dean of the Warrington College of Business at the University of Florida, discusses the future of online education. According to Mitra, online education is here to stay as an essential and integral part of business education. He also highlights the challenges and opportunities of online education, and shares lessons learned from his experience.

“My personal feeling is we have to embrace technology [and] provide value beyond what the software does,” Mitra said.

Here are some of the key takeaways:

  • The growing need for online education is creating opportunities.

  • High-quality, online learning experiences require access to high-quality content, engaging activities and a sense of community.

  • Technology is key - it can facilitate communication and mitigate the lack of face-to-face interaction, and AI and analytics can be infused into curriculum.

  • Online education can help business schools enhance residential programs, reach a wider audience and provide students with a more flexible and affordable learning experience.

  • Online education can be used to deliver innovative new programs that would not be possible in a traditional classroom setting.

Listen to the full podcast to hear more from Saby Mitra. https://www.deanscounsel.com/post/17-saby-mitra-on-applications-for-online-education


Sabyasachi “Saby” Mitra Bio:

Sabyasachi “Saby” Mitra is the sixth dean in Warrington College of Business history.


Previously, Dr. Mitra served as senior associate dean of faculty and research and Thomas R. Williams – Wells Fargo professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology Scheller College of Business. In this role, Mitra managed all faculty, doctoral program, IT services and administrative support staff in the college. He led a collaborative and consensus-driven effort to redesign the promotion and tenure process, co-directed an effort to rationalize faculty teaching and course offerings to advance the Scheller College’s teaching and research missions, and started an effort to increase diversity in Scheller’s doctoral program.


But when the dean opportunity became available at Warrington, Mitra knew he was interested after admiring the college from afar throughout his career in business education.


“The Warrington College of Business has amazing faculty, staff, students, programs and alumni,” Mitra said. “With support from the university, the state of Florida and committed alumni, Warrington is on its way to becoming one of the top business schools in the country. I am excited and honored to be part of that journey.”


Prior to his role as senior associate dean of faculty and research, Mitra served as senior associate dean of programs from 2015 to 2019, during which he was responsible for overseeing all degree and non-degree programs in the Scheller College. Mitra’s other notable achievements in this role include establishing a dual degree program (MBA-MS/Ph.D.) with the Colleges of Engineering, Computing and Design at Georgia Tech, as well as an MD-MBA dual degree program with the Morehouse School of Medicine. In a time when many full-time MBA programs faced declining enrollments, Mitra led a team that facilitated the growth of Georgia Tech’s full-time MBA program since fall 2015, in addition to significantly increasing diversity of incoming classes. Mitra’s leadership also helped grow Scheller’s Executive MBA program to one of the largest in the Southeast, with approximately 120 students per year from 2016-18. Mitra also served as academic director for several corporate programs with Fortune 500 companies.


Show Transcript

Dave 0:13

Welcome to Dean's Council, a podcast aimed at supporting university leaders holding one of the more critical jobs on a university campus. Your panelists can Kring gemellus and Dave Ikenberry engage in conversation with highly accomplished Dean's and other academic leaders regarding the ever complex array of challenges that Dean's face and one of the loneliest and most unique jobs in the academy. In 2020, Saby Mitra moved to Gainesville, Florida to join the Werrington College of Business as only at 16. Prior to this move, Saby spent 27 years at Georgia Tech, where he started as an assistant professor researching all aspects of and understanding and harnessing the power of information technology. This background has suited him well for his role as dean at Werrington. A Business School known for its intense use of various information technologies to support its wide offering of degree programs, even including its residential undergraduate program. As such Saby is extremely well positioned to shed light on today's topic of providing his insight into this new era we find ourselves in regarding the emergence of AI, and leveraging online technologies to the strategic advantage of the business school.


Jim 1:29

So good morning, Saby, with Saby Mitra, the dean of the Warrington school at the University of Florida today. We appreciate the time that you're spending with us. And thank you. It's great to be with you.


Saby Mitra 1:40

Very happy to be here, Jim. Thanks for talking to me, I appreciate the opportunity.


Jim 1:46

So tell us a little bit about the experiences that you've had in with online education in the business school and how you guys have viewed putting together online programs and curriculum and what glitches you've hit and what successes you might have had?


Saby Mitra 2:03

Sure, it's, you know, it's in a sense, it's a pretty loaded question, right, because there's so many parts to it. So let me start by giving you a little bit of background about the Warrington college, you know, we're fairly large we are about we graduate about 3000 students, if you leave aside the minors, we graduate about 2600 students every year, equally split between undergrad and graduate. And at the undergraduate level, you know, we have two programs. One of them is irregular BSBA, which is kind of a standard program with majors in accounting, finance, marketing, etc. And then we have another program, which I thought was pretty innovative where you know, they do, it's called the ba ba, Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration, where they do the business core, but they do their specialization somewhere else at the university. So for example, if you're really passionate about media, you might go to the College of Journalism and do their media specialization. Or if you're really interested in theater, you know, you might go to the College of the Arts, or any other area. And so that's a pretty innovative program where they get the business score, but they get to follow that passion as well. And then at the graduate level, we have several Master of Science programs, which are in a specialized masters often their combined degree. So they students come in with a lot of AP credits, they finished their undergrad in three years, they stay on for the extra year to get a master's in a specialized area, like finance or accounting or business analytics, etc. And then of course, we have the whole plethora of MBA programs from executive to professional full time, as well as a very large online program. So I say all this because it sort of gives you a context to understand where we are coming from in our online programs, every program that we offer, except really for the undergrad. And we do have a small online program in the undergrad. But the undergrad is basically a residential experience where they come to Gainesville. And if you're familiar with Gainesville, it's in northern Florida. It's not a big town. It's a small college town, land grant university. It's a very typical land grant university situation where it's kind of in the middle of nowhere. And to the nearest city is Jacksonville, which is two hours away, tampers two hours away, or landlords two hours away. So every place every big city is kind of two hours away. So the rest of the undergraduate is mainly residential. We do have a small online program, but the graduate programs everything we offer we offer in the online format. So all the specialized masters almost all of them are offered online as well. And then our biggest MBA program today is our online MBA it accounts for about half of our MBA students every year, it's the one which has seen the largest growth. It's also the one which for us is very highly ranked US News and World Report typically ranks our online MBA in the top five, the last one which came out, we're number four in those rankings. And when I say this, because it shows you the importance of online for us, because that's our growth opportunity. That's the area of importance. For us, it's where we see most of our students coming in. And being the being in Gainesville, which is, you know, not a major metropolitan area. It's also our format that attracts most number of working professional students like in our MBA programs. So that's why it's important for us, and we have a long history of online, you know, I when I came here first, I was told that our initial online program was in 1999. And we used to mail VHS tapes of classes to students. So that that's the long history, if you will, we have four different models of online delivery. And I think it's, it's actually quite interesting to understand this lay of the land. So the first model is what we call electronic platform. This is actually primarily for our undergraduate students who are actually in here, who are resident in Gainesville. But we offer our core business classes, the core finance, the core accounting, the core marketing, in this electronic platform format, where they can come to class if they want to, but they can also watch it later on through the recordings, or watch it online, if they don't want to come to class. And actually, most people prefer not to come to class, although there's enough people in the class so that you can have that interaction, but a lot of people are watching it online. Because you know, they can slow it down, they can watch, fast forward if they understand the concept. And it's especially good for things like accounting and finance, where you might want to watch something, you know, twice or thrice before you understand the concept. So it really works very well. And one of the things it does for us at the undergraduate level, is you may be surprised to hear that, you know, our tuition, especially for the in state students is $6,000 a year, which is, which is unbelievable, right? I mean, if you think about, you know what college tuition is, it's our way of keeping costs down. So they have these large electronic platform classes where they get the core concepts, but then when they go to their upper division classes, they are smaller. And that electronic platform makes it possible for us to use our resources, expensive faculty resources very effectively. And you know, oftentimes they get really good, great faculty teaching the large online classes, and it doesn't really take away from their learning. Because you know, the core accounting finance, you can really teach it online quite effectively, actually. And especially now with all the advanced LMS learning management system features, it works well. So that's one format we have. We've also experimented in the in the MBA classes, as well as in our graduate specialized Master's classes, with two different online formats. One is asynchronous, where it's just recorded in a studio in some sort of an engaging way using technology. And the students watch it asynchronously. And that works really well, because of timezone differences in our online MBA gets people from all over the US sometimes from outside as well outside the US as well. And because of timezone differences, it's very hard for us to have synchronous classes. So it works really well there. And then we couple that with residencies, where they come in here and they sort of get to know each other and have some face to face time. But a lot of the content they get asynchronously. And then of course we have the synchronous classes, which are you know, just it's a start online. It's one faculty member, instead of being in a classroom just teaching it online. And then the new format that we are experimenting with and that we are investing a lot of money to set up hybrid classroom. And the reason for that is if you take an area of like analytics, for example, the same course may be of value to MBA students. Maybe value to specialized master's students in different programs. And some of those may be online, some of those may be face to face. So if you can create an environment where you teach that class, but some people may be in a face to face programming class, and others are joining in remotely, and they all have the same great experience, it works really well. And it also allows us to give some flexibility to our working professional MBA students who may be in a face to face program. But you know, sometimes they don't want to come in, because they're traveling or because of some other reason they want to attend remotely. So those are kind of the four formats, if you will, or four models, if you will, that we have used pretty effectively, you know, over time, I can get into later and I'm sure you'll have questions about, you know, what some of the challenges have been, or what some of our key learnings have been. And I can get into that. But I just wanted to take a break and see if you had any thoughts or questions.


Ken 10:59

That's great. And yes, there are obviously challenges, I guess, one sort of angle in on the challenges are, you know, Warrington and University of Florida is well known for being or being early. The flip side of being early is, you know, what are some of the impediments that you face? Having been early, whether it's technology, debt, or infrastructure? Or I mean, are there? Are there challenges you've met because of that? And are there ways that you're dealing with those challenges?


Saby Mitra 11:29

Yeah, we have been very early, as you know, in this whole online space, that probably explains why there's a difference between our online MBA Rankings and our full time MBA, which is typically, you know, in the 20s, if you will, and online MBAs in the top five, it's because we have been at it for several years, the key thing that we have learned in that process is that it's very important to have resources in house that you can control. As an example, you know, I was at Georgia Tech for many years. As Ken you know, most of our online resources were with our centralized unit. Because, you know, Georgia Tech, as a whole offers many online degrees today in computer science, analytics, etc. And so most of the resources were there. And when we had to create a online version of MBA course, for example, we would use those resources, but we really didn't have a whole lot of control over deploying those resources. At Warrington, because of our long history, you know, we have learned to have these resources in house. So we have a full scale, team teaching and learning team here, we also have a technology team that's basically dedicated to Warrington. And then we have a student services team that works with our online students all within the college. And that, that is really important, you know, as you make these online programs, because, you know, business school programs are inherently very different from, let's say, engineering or in other areas. And so that was one of the key things that we have learned over the process. I think the other thing that we struggle with, is the lifespan of the technology in this space. So you, you really equip a classroom, and you spend a million dollars to equip a classroom and make it really viable. But you know, maybe in five years, you have to replace that equipment, because it's, it gets old, and so others can sort of leapfrog you into creating something great. And that's one of the other challenges that we've faced as well.


Jim 13:43

A question about Career Services, and how do you, what do you offer to the online, particularly the MBAs in terms of career services, because so much of the jobs that they take, obviously, are outside Gainesville? But also how do you how do you handle that with the online student population?


Saby Mitra 14:01

That's a great question, Jim. You know, one of the things that I think it's important to understand about online programs, especially in the business school, is that it's so much more than just the classroom. And if you think about all our effort, till date, you know, across business schools, we've sort of focused on perfecting the online experience in the classroom, better technology, better recording, you know, better LMS it's really all about the classroom. But a business school education is so much more than just the classroom. It's about experiential projects. It's about networking. It's about Career Services. It's about alumni engagement. And those are the things that are harder to deliver online for various reasons. You know, full time student full time MBA student when they come to Gainesville, they're automatically a part of the University environment, right, they're automatically a part of that. And, you know, they go to football games, etc, it's hard to do that. For online students the same with career services, it's very hard for, for them to participate in career services if they're not right here. So our effort going forward is in all the out of classrooms, side stuff, including Career Services. Currently, we do have dedicated career service resource for our online MBA students, I would say, there is about 50% Take, in other words, 50% of our students, you know, utilize the Business Career Services in some way or format, and others don't participate. We that's something that we want to change going forward. You know, they're already in jobs, so they probably don't see an immediate need. And to be quite honest, historically, Career Services in all business schools have traditionally focused on full time students, they know how to place those students, they know how to get internships, they know how to engage with companies to bring them on campus to interview these full time students. And it's only recently that we have sort of gone into providing career services to non full time students, executive, professional and online students. So it's a learning process for us, I think we have some ways to go. But that's exactly where our focus is going to be going forward and improving the online program, all the out of classroom stuff, including Career Services.


Ken 16:37

What are some of those shifts in the future mean in terms of FTE is opera operating costs, or how you sort of manage the finances of building and growing?


Saby Mitra 16:48

You know, the model we have always followed here from my predecessor, and I follow the same model is that faculty costs for tenure track faculty are very high, we generally benchmark and we try to, you know, have really great resources to support a tenure track faculty, but we can only do it, if we keep the tenure track faculty really small and very high quality. So we have very high standards for tenure, promotion, etc. But, and we support them very well. And I think we are very competitive and in pay packages, etc. And Gainesville is not an expensive place to live. So all of those reasons put together in our tenure track faculty don't tend to leave Gainesville, once a year at UF, you know, we tend to keep them unless they don't get make tenure, they usually stay on. So we do that by keeping that size small. And one of the ways in which we control cost is to have more non tenure track faculty, we have a group of faculty who are just amazing. We call them clinical faculty, they come in with a lot of work experience, they go through our typically they go through our DBA program, which is different from our Ph. D program. And, you know, they are some of the stars that we have, in terms of student engagement in terms of being more innovative in the classroom, you know, that fully dedicated teachers. And then we also have non tenure track faculty, instructors, and master lecturers and so on, who do very well in the classroom. And we've tended to keep the tenure track faculty small and grow on those other faculty to manage costs. So that's one way. I think the other thing that that we do is, you know, we have a large number of staff resources, compared to faculty. And the reason is, it sometimes goes against conventional logic, if you will. Because you know, especially from the Board of Trustees, for example, the mandate is to keep staff numbers small and to grow the faculty. But there's a lot of things that, that a business school education is about, which is not just about the classroom, I mentioned that before, you know, and that's where staff come in. And so one, they're able to provide those higher value services. They're also not as expensive as having a tenure track faculty member. And if we can use the expensive resources more strategically, and take away anything that can be done by a staff member, away from their, you know, from their responsibilities and, and remember, because we have fewer faculty compared to the large number of students, they tend to teach pretty large classes. So there's a lot of work that they have to do. So if we can sort of have staff members who support them who reduced that work. You know, that's a very effective model. And if you look at our cost per student, I think we are amazingly low I've done some benchmarking. And it's mainly because we keep fact the tenure track faculty group, small high quality, we supplement through other teaching resources. We do a lot of online courses at the core course level so that they can, we can deploy faculty in face to face classes in the upper division level, you know, those are some of the strategies that we have sort of employed to keep our costs low. And I think it's a really important topic. And I'm glad you brought it up. Because, you know, the cost of education is on the minds of a lot of people. And we have expensive faculty compared to other parts of campus, compared to the engineering school or the liberal arts school, Business, School, faculty are expensive. And so we got to sort of figure out a way in delivering education, while keeping our costs under control.


Jim 20:56

Is your tuition for the online MBA the same as for an on campus MBA? Or is it their other different models? from a revenue standpoint,


Saby Mitra 21:06

it's about the same, it's approximately the same and the full the, in fact, I would say, it's much more expensive because, you know, the full time MBA, we typically tend to discount a lot, right, because we provide scholarships and assistantships, so that we are able to attract the high GMAT scores to you know, so that it affects the rankings and, and on, but the actual tuition rate is approximately the same.


Jim 21:32

So let me switch gears on your for a minute. Talk a little bit about artificial intelligence analytics, how you've incorporated that into your curriculum, where does AI fit, and then maybe a sidebar relative to all this controversy about chat, and what's going on with that, that whole thing?


Saby Mitra 21:55

That's been a lot in the news. Lately, you know, you know, my, my personal feeling on that is we got to embrace technology, and it's chat today, it's going to be something else tomorrow. But we just got to embrace it and, you know, provide value beyond beyond what the software does. But coming back to AI and analytics, just to give you a little bit of history, when I first came on board around that time, little before that, actually just a few months before that, and this has been about two and a half years now. UF University of Florida announced a major AI and analytics initiative. It was funded by large personal gift, as well as a supercomputer, which is supposed to be the fastest in higher ed in the world. And some, you know, in the top 10 supercomputers in the, in the country, I believe. It was a gift from Chris Amala kowski, who was one of the cofounders of Nvidia, and also UEFA lamb. And his mandate was that he didn't want this to be the domain of computer science only that it has to be across the university. So you have embarked on this AI across the curriculum initiative. The Warrington College of Business is a really major part of that initiative. And as part of that the state, which I think has been very generous, actually, to us, funded about $20 million in annual revenue, to hire 100 new faculty dedicated to AI and analytics. And so we have gone on a hiring spree over the last two years, to 100 across the university 11 in the business school focused on AI and analytics. So one of the first things I did was I, when I came in, I did an inventory of faculty that we currently have who focus on that, and as you know, you know, there's a lot of faculty who do empirical research with large datasets. So they're already, you know, pretty familiar with with empirical work, and if you take an area like finance, you know, that's been doing work with large datasets for a long time. And then we have also other groups like in our Information Systems Group, who are marketing who work with fairly large datasets, empirical research, or well, already. So we had about in I think, when I came in around, I did our inventory around 43 faculty who did that kind of work, and then we were adding 11 more. What this allowed us to do is to really change our curriculum. completely. And it also allowed us to embark on a new initiative in South Florida. That is going to add about 15 to 20. More faculty in the business school focused on AI, and analytics in the next few years, with a new campus in, in South Florida. It's in West Palm Beach. And it's in the process of being negotiated and built, we expect it to be live with programs in fall 2025, with the physical campus being built a few years down the road. So this is a major initiative. It's transformative for the business school as well as for us. And I believe for South Florida as well. You know, South Florida's attracting a lot of FinTech companies, the tech companies moving in from your state, Jim, California, and then the financial service companies moving in from New York, partly attracted by the lower taxes, but for various other reasons as well, there is not a university of the stature of UF in South Florida. And that's one of the reasons we are going there with a focus on AI and analytics. I believe this gives us in the business school, an amazing opportunity. And, and the reason is that if you think about where the gap is today, for most companies, it's not on the technology side, it's really on what do I do with this, in auditing in finance, in reaching customers and servicing them better in marketing? And how do I govern and manage all of this, that's where the real gap is. And that's where our students come in, I would say we do four things in the curriculum. The first is skills based classes, which are, you know, the basics, teaching them, Python and R and things like that, which just they need to know as going forward. Then focusing in the upper division classes on applications so that they learn to use those skills in the context of marketing in the context of finance in the context of accounting, or auditing. We also have a set of classes, which focus on governance and ethics and privacy, which are really critical parts of AI and analytics. And then we also have a set of classes, which are more experiential in nature, where they interact with companies solving real problems that the companies provide in a in a practicum sort of class. So that's, that's been our focus, we also have a major emphasis on fintech. And we are starting an MS program in FinTech in South Florida, to cater to the the companies that are moving in there. And then, you know, one other thing that we are also embarking on are research partnerships. There has been a whole lot of debate if you attend any of the AACSB, or other Dean's conferences, about the value of value and relevance of Business School Research. And I think AI and Analytics gives us a really unique opportunity to make our research more relevant, because you know, we have the expertise to analyze data. But we don't have the data, our faculty don't have the data and the companies have the data, but and they can benefit from our expertise. So we are working with small, medium sized companies, because that's where the biggest need is, and it's easier to interact and build partnerships with them in South Florida, where they provide us with the data we loaded in our supercomputer, and then the faculty can get to work with the data. And you know, they can publish their research. So this as companies understand that, but they also get value out of the analysis that they get insights from as well. So that's another area that we're, you know, really very excited about as well. And I'll say one other thing. I know we're short on time. And so one other thing about AI and analytics in the business school curriculum, because we have a specialized master's program in Business Analytics, you know, there's a whole bunch of classes that students can take. And my goal is to make those classes available to all our MBA students as well. So that if they come in with the background, they can go into those classes. And if we offer it in our hybrid classroom, they can sort of, you know, no matter what program they're in, they can be made to those classes from anywhere. But also some people don't have that background. If we can provide some introductory workshops, where we give them enough skills so that they can then participate in those classes. I think that's a that's a really good way to build bridges between programs as well. Make that AI analytics knowledge much more widely available and applicable to all our students. So that's something that we're working on as well.


Jim 30:09

First of all, congratulations on what you're doing both in terms of your, your South Florida initiative is spectacular, because you're right, you really wouldn't be that the gym down there. And that would be a great place to attract employers to your students and students to those employers because they are coming in droves. No question. And you've got to state is wide open for you guys to take over like that. So congratulations on that. And, and having done the online programs for almost 25 years, you're way out ahead of so many people that are trying to figure it out. And I think that's probably what got you through COVID a whole lot better than many people that had to do online and weren't prepared for it as opposed to those that were prepared for it. It just, it was just a blip in the screen. So congratulations on that. I really appreciate the time you've taken with us. Thank you very much for for sharing what you're doing, because it's very exciting. And, and as Ken said, you have cited Warrington has always had a great reputation for being a first mover. And sometimes you can trip and fall. But you guys haven't done that. So can you got any thoughts on that?


Ken 31:17

Thanks, Saby really, really terrific conversation. Great to hear about how you've taken the baton there and really continue to run well with it.


Saby Mitra 31:27

Thank you, Ken. Thanks, Jim. Appreciate the conversation.


Jim 31:31

Great to be with you. Thanks so much.


Ken, what did you What did you pick up from Saby? What pearls of wisdom did you get from that?


Ken 31:49

You know, it's fascinating. Saby really picked up on an on a series of initiatives that were that predated him and has infused a place with not just energy but adapted strategy that really gives a lot of confidence that that institution is going the right, going in the right direction, really, I mean, very interesting, multi constituent kind of engagement as well, from the business community, to the alumni to the legislature to, you know, adapting to student needs, and doing it in a way that is both strategic and sort of has something in return for everyone.


Jim 32:31

It sure is great that the state of Florida stepped in and to help them out financially and some of those initiatives and in fact, they've, they've worked these partnerships well, and they've identified a geographic area where they really they're lacking from the higher ed standpoint, and Warrington steps in there with their programs to do something in South Florida. So is picking up on those initiatives is terrific, just terrific.


Ken 32:56

Dealing with the unknown. I mean, you know, moving from analytics to artificial intelligence, and and thinking about it, as you know, essentially, you know, an asset, a set of assets that we need to adapt to, you know, shows a kind of futuristic perspective.


Jim 33:14

I also just as a sidebar, and the question was about chat GPT. And everything is coming out on that. I asked it to just test tested it out and asked him to write a speech for me, took about two minutes and I wrote a great speech that could adapt. But his answer was we need to embrace technology as opposed to fight it. And he's so right about that. And it's such a great leadership thought to embrace that and provide value and I thought that was just a great answer. I was really pleased to hear him say that.


Dave 33:52

Thank you for listening to this episode of Dean's Council. This show is supported in part by Korn Ferry leaders in executive search. Dean's Council was produced in Boulder, Colorado by Joel Davis of analog digital arts. For a catalogue of previous shows, please visit our website at Dean's council.com If you have any feedback for us, please let us know by sending an email to feedback at Dean's council.com. And finally, please hit follow or subscribe on your favorite podcast player so you can automatically receive our latest show







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