Zack Crowell is likely the first voice a prospective MBA student will hear at the University of North Alabama.
Crowell, UNA's MBA specialist, is on the phone within minutes of getting a lead on a student who might be interested in the program. It's his job to make the first impression, to answer questions, and help reel in students searching for a MBA program.
Crowell's MBA diploma from UNA hangs over his shoulder each day as he talks to others about what the program he came from has to offer.
That prompt, personal touch is one reason College of Business administrators give as to why UNA's MBA program is the largest in the state for the second year in a row, according to a list released by Birmingham Business Journal.
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UNA had 687 students enrolled in either the online or on-campus MBA program. The majority of students are in the online degree program.
Wes Davenport, an associate marketing and management professor who teaches in the MBA program, said there is a certain cachet that comes with being the largest program. Still, he stressed the program is not large "for the sake of being large" but is a product of targeted marketing and a quality product.
Enrollment has grown from 399 in the 2013 fall semester to 687 in same semester in 2017, a 72.2 percent jump.
Auburn, UAB, Alabama and UAH round out the top five MBA programs in Alabama by enrollment.
"There are a number of quality programs in this state, and for us to be ranked No. 1 out of all of them shows there are many people that believe the program is of high quality," said Jana Beaver, associate dean of the College of Business at UNA.
The College of Business partnered with Collegis to increase and target its online marketing for the program. The success of that partnership led the university in December to expand its affiliation with Collegis. The firm will now market all of UNA's online program offerings.
Once students are ready to apply for the program, they are moved from Crowell to Shinika Byrd, MBA orientation specialist, who helps students apply and register for the program. It is another personal touch that helps ease apprehension students might have about starting a graduate degree program, Beaver said.
Davenport said the majority of the university's MBA students are in their early to mid-thirties, juggling full-time employment and family responsibilities. The flexibility of an online program appeals to that demographic, he said.
UNA now offers eight-week courses for all core MBA courses, which means courses are offered more frequently.
UNA earned Association of Advance Collegiate Schools of Business accreditation for its MBA program in 2016, an international accreditation awarded to about 5 percent of business schools.
Davenport said the accreditation puts "UNA on equal footing" with other programs in the state and region.
He said UNA uses price and a variety of concentrations to differentiate the program from competitors. The university offers 10 concentrations, some very specialized and others that have a broader scope.
Davenport said a MBA degree can set someone apart to an employer. He said someone wanting a higher position, or those about to enter a new field, can gain leadership and management skills in the MBA program that sets them on that path.