MBA, or no MBA? There are vocal proponents on both sides of the aisle: Those who think business school is a rip-off, and those who believe that a masters-level education is the best way for entrepreneurs to succeed.

In late 2011, Victor Saad found himself squarely between the two camps. On the one hand, the then Chicago-based middle school teacher had a desire to learn more about business and social enterprise before starting a company. On the other hand, after graduating with an education and communications degree four years prior, he was also strapped for cash.

Saad saw value in the community and professional network provided by formal degree programs, but also struggled to justify hefty student loans for a curriculum that didn't quite meet his needs.

So he decided to create his own program--a DIY MBA, so to speak.

A World of Experience

Saad tapped into existing social and professional networks to write an 18-month plan for what he dubbed the Leap Year Project--a series of 12 business apprenticeships in the course of 12 months, he told Inc.

His "leaps" consisted of month-long partnerships with designers, architects, non-profit administrators and entrepreneurs--professionals with experience in his desired areas of focus, design, and social enterprise. Saad approached them each with this proposal: I will come into your company for one month, identify any gaps in operation, and apply my skills to help you close those gaps.

Saad says it took some time for his proposal to catch on. After all, it required his partners to take a leap of faith on him, as well--but after he had successfully completed a few apprenticeships the rest just "clicked into place." By the end of his year, Saad had partnered with a non-profit in Cairo, Egypt; the t-shirt company Threadless in Chicago; architecture group NBBJ in Seattle; and Alex Bogusky, founding partner of the Boulder-based marketing firm Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

Now, for His Own Start-Up

Nearly a year later, Saad has taken his experiences and curriculum to draft a book--part memoir, part how-to manual--and found an alternative education program called The Experience Institute, which he hopes will provide an alternative MBA program for other students like himself.

Saad, for his part, doesn't see The Experience Institute as a complete replacement for traditional degrees. The program, which will launch its inaugural class of 10 students in September of this year, is intended to be an alternative for cost-conscious and self-motivated learners like himself, he says.

The institute staff currently consists of three program administrators and a network of "connectors" who help to, well, connect students with professionals in their areas of interest. The year-long program will comprise three three-month long apprenticeships, interspersed with research periods and networking events that bring industry professionals--some invited by Saad's team, others approached by institute students--together with potential apprenticees. 

Though Saad didn't reveal details on how he funded the business, he did say he wants to keep costs low for students, and has developed a payment plan that will allow many to pay the $10,000 tuition fee as they go. Students can opt to pay $3,500 to get themselves started on the program, then pay monthly deposits using their apprenticeship stipends once they are placed. Students will also be responsible for some of their own food, lodging, and travel expenses.

Of course, The Experience Institute is not the first program of its kind; The "MBA, or no MBA" debate has spawned several experiential education programs hoping to by-pass the expense--and book-learning--of traditional business programs.

New York-based Enstitute, for example, pairs would-be business students within entrepreneurs for a two-year learning apprenticeship in the Big Apple. And curriculum for everything from a DIY fine art degree, to Cousera's near-Ivy League lectures, have become easily accessible to students online.