America’s Top Online MBA Programs

by John A. Byrne on

online-mbaIt wasn’t all that long ago when the thought of getting an online MBA degree seemed preposterous. Why settle for a third-rate education at a for-profit school whose courses were largely taught by poorly paid adjunct teachers?

But in the past few years, a large number of prestige universities have launched online MBA degrees, making the cyber option a viable alternative, particularly for the vast numbers of people who study in part-time evening programs or weekend executive programs.

The big question then is which schools have the best online MBA programs? U.S. News & World Report tried to answer that question earlier this year with a debut attempt to numerically rank the best Internet offerings. But it was a highly flawed and easily manipulated ranking that raised as many questions as it answered (see our critique of the U.S. News ranking). Surprisingly, the online MBA ranked ahead of any other by U.S. News is at Washington State University’s business school which fails to make our top 100 list of the best full-time MBA programs.

DON’T MISTAKE ‘LINK FARMS’ FOR REAL RANKINGS OF ONLINE MBA PROGRAMS

The Economist also has ranked online programs in the past, though its last special report on distance learning is somewhat dated, having come out in 2010. Instead of providing numerical rankings for each of the 16 programs evaluated, the British magazine instead chose to rate the programs excellent, good, average or poor. Only two schools’ programs were deemed “excellent” at the time: the University of Florida and IE Business School in Spain. Another three schools were rated “good.” They are the programs at Thunderbird Global School of Management, Indiana University’s Kelley School, and Euro MBA, a consortium of European business schools. The distance learning options at two schools–Imperial College Business School and the Royal Holloway School of Management in London–both were judged “poor.”<em>

Potential students will also find a large number of websites that purport to rank the best online options, but almost all of them are little more than “link farms” that collect a royalty or click payment when someone seeks more information on one of the listed programs. Any website that ranks online programs but fails to provide detailed explanations of the methodology with specific back-up data for each school is pretty much worthless. Be extremely wary of these fake rankings which often attempt to mix for-profit schools with legitimate academic institutions.

Because so many brand name universities are in the online space today, and their acceptance rates are significantly higher than for their full-time MBA programs, there is no reason to settle for a degree from the University of Phoenix, Kaplan, Capella or any other organization that lacks academic and professional credibility. Prestige may not come cheap, however. The most expensive online MBAs cost about $75,000 and up, with a top price tag of $118,000 for the new Carnegie Mellon program–far more than the no frills University of Phoenix program which goes for something like $28,000.

AT LEAST 21 OF THE TOP 100 BUSINESS SCHOOLS NOW OFFER ONLINE MBA PROGRAMS

We believe the best online MBA programs are simply at the best business schools. The ultimate test for any degree is the reputation of the school that grants it. To that end, we’ve taken our ranking of the flagship full-time MBA programs and filtered out the schools that don’t yet have online versions of their MBA degrees. That exercise led us to a ranking of the best business schools with online MBA programs. All told, there are seven business schools in the Top 50 in the U.S. that now offer online MBA programs: Carnegie Mellon, the University of North Carolina, Indiana University, Penn State, Babson College, Arizona State University, and Northeastern University. There are another 14 business schools in the second half of the Top 100 schools, including George Washington University, the University of Florida, and the University of Arizona, which begins its first class in September of 2013.

The higher up the list you go, the more likely it is that the online option is as close a replica as you might get if you were on campus. It is far more likely to be taught by the same full-time faculty and to include all the business basics in the on-campus MBA curriculum. In almost all the cases, the MBA degree you get is exactly the same diploma that full-time, on-campus graduates receive.

While new online MBA programs are being launched on a nearly weekly basis of late, the highest ranked schools with online programs now form a significant group offering would-be students a lot of worthwhile choices. Most of them are blended programs that combine online learning with on-campus retreats and immersions. Many of these programs also allow students to specialize or concentrate on specific fields, ranging from corporate finance and entrepreneurship to global supply chain management and sustainable enterprise.

It’s also worth noting that there are several very good non-U.S. options available, including the global online MBA program from Spain’s IE Business School (see Inside IE’s Global Online MBA) and Warwick Business School’s MBA by distance learning.

(See following page for our ranking of the top 20 business schools in the U.S. with online MBA programs)

1 2
  • SV

    How come UCLA Anderson’s FEMBA Flex program is not ranked?

  • guest 123

    I’d really feel diminished if I were at UNC or CM FT right now. Doesn’t seem right to grant same piece of paper as the full time students. Admissions will never get the same selectivity and the MBA experience is 2/3 about building relationships with fellow qualified students….online realm can’t replicate the full time experience.

  • Diane Ursu

    Many people benefiting from online programs are already out there working. My current position is all about networking. You don’t need a degree to figure out how to do it. I also don’t need to attend a college campus to learn an educational institution’s perspective of what I’m already doing. People like me *do* need to learn the theories and principles behind the actual topic of the degree.

    Not everyone is a 20-year-old going out into the world for the first time. Online programs benefit older students who also have to support themselves and the typical financial responsibilities of someone in their 30s, 40s, or 50s. Then there are those who are seeking to obtain the education to match the experience. Not every job required a degree before the recession. Now, a degree is often nothing more than another criterium to weed out resumes. Yes, I saw a well-known corporation turn away someone with 20 years direct experience because he didn’t have a degree.

    Chemistry was one of the most recent lecture classes I attended. I didn’t get *anything* out of the lecture, but I managed to pass and even raise my grade the second semester through self-study. I’ve discovered that self-study is the best way for me to learn something.

  • guest 123

    People have many different reasons for further education. I think part time, online, emba are all good options if your particular circumstance warrants that alternative. However, a top 25 FT MBA (more so the better ranked you go) opens doors to a world of jobs/people (not just top companies but the most selective roles within) not accessible to 99% of the population. I know this sounds arrogant but those “in the club” understand what a top FT MBA gets you.

  • JohnAByrne

    The UCLA program is not an online program. We also left off Duke’s Global MBA program because it’s 40% online but 60% in person.

  • Thomas Wertheimer MD

    As an attending physician with prior administrative duties and four years of investment banking experience, my participation in the fully online MD-MBA program at East Carolina University could not be any more rewarding or challenging. I would recommend being less hung up about “the piece of paper” and more engaged with finding the best possible program for your needs and goals.

  • Patrick Nolan

    I disagree with the statement that an MBA is 2/3 building relationships. If
    it is, my immediate thought is to question the quality of the education. I’d
    also question a person’s current networking abilities, but you’ll also learn
    about that in a good program.

    I’m entering my last quarter in the UNC online program. Without taking away
    from the value of in-person relationship building, I would suggest not
    underestimating how much relationship building you can do when you’re seeing
    your classmates on webcam with the same tired faces as yours every week, being
    up until 2:00 am working on the final corporate finance paper together, seeing
    a classmate’s newborn on camera at one week old, holding up one of your
    classmates for a group assignment when their father passed away knowing that
    they’d do the same for you and they’ll make up for it on the next assignment or
    in the next class. Sound familiar? It should sound exactly the same as a full
    time experience.

    An MBA opens your mind and opens doors. It isn’t meant to roll out the red
    carpet and hand you champagne. It isn’t a chaperone to do your networking leg
    work for you. The time you spend in school could be spent building an
    incredible network. But, if you lack the acumen to effectively see and act upon
    opportunities, what good is it?

    You’re right, admissions will not get the same selectivity. They’ll get a much
    larger pool of candidates who don’t live in an area of a top 20 school and/or
    can’t justify having no income for two years. Some of us earn far more than the
    total tuition and have families to support. We can’t afford to what amounts to
    over $400k in opportunity cost.

    If the courses are the same, why wouldn’t the piece of paper be the same? If
    online students are already in higher level positions and can contribute to the
    alumni network, why wouldn’t the piece of paper be the same? If we’re actively
    participating to promote our alumni community, why wouldn’t the piece of paper
    be the same? Why would full time students feel diminished with equally
    qualified, already employed alumni added to their community all over the
    country and the world?

  • Rosy

    What % of UNC Online MBA’s would be accepted by the full time program? That’s not something that can be answered but it would certainly help the quality debate.

  • Thomas Wertheimer MD

    These are the rantings of an insecure individual. So have it your way, “the world is flat”.

  • TJ

    It’s like online dating!

  • guest 123

    Your career/educational path has worked for you. However, you’re circumstances are not reflective of the majority of top MBA aspirants. The same could be said for the others upset by my comments. I would argue that most TOP MBAr’s are 26-32 years of age in pursuit of either a. Fortune 500 CPG roles b. IB/IM at top tier banks or private equity/vc c. consulting gigs from MBB or d. entrepreneurial initiatives utilizing resources from the program and/or classmates. These 4 things are incredibly hard to attain without that paper from a top 25 FT program. Maybe you’re (not you specifically Dr.) already in the club from undergrad, family/friend connections or as the trailblazer who climbed the peak on his own merit.

    I agree there is value in all your respective paths. We (a b c d above) are just not striving for the same things. If one day recruiters (and alumni to some extent) decide to treat Online and part-timer’s the same as FT, then I back down from everything I’ve stated. It looks like Tepper will give online MBA’s access to career services. Remains to be seen if the a b c d recruiters hold the degree in the same light.

  • Cmoney

    From what I am reading the average GMAT is 700 for @unc and the few people I know in the program have undergraduates at top 10 universities. This of course is a sample of my friends, who all pretty much have this profile, but based on what I have heard the admissions standards for the online mba is on par if not higher than the FT program. Here is a couple reasons why this makes sense: 1) demand – the cohorts are small 2) IMO this is the best distance option for people with full time jobs, such as the ones mentioned above, offering tuition reimbursement.

    You cannot just assume someone who is attending a part time MBA program could not make the FT admissions cut. For example, a good friend of mine just turned down HBS to attend Kellogg PT to keep her job and stay local.

    It is no secret the ROI, even at top 10 MBAs , is declining due to the rising opportunity cost. @UNC program fits the crowd that wants a top MBA but doesn’t want to leave their jobs or risk the 100k+ debt.

    Now to the point about dilution of the UNC MBA, I humbly disagree. I think online cohort is giving FT students the opportunity to network with colleagues working at companies that are highly desirable recruiting options. Further, the online cohort adds to the schools diversity. So long as UNC holds a high admissions standard and does not turn this program into a cash cow, I give the program a thumbs up.

  • FULLTIMEISTHEONLYREALDEAL

    Let’s face it, McKinsey doesn’t recruit online MBAs because you guys aren’t the same caliber as your fulltime counterparts.

  • MBAisfunbutoverrated

    As a graduate of a top 3 program who worked at a top tier strategy shop pre-business school. All the MBA education is learning how ph.d research supports common sense. Like do you really need to eat a piece of poop to know it tastes bad? That’s why the only real value of an MBA is gaining access to jobs you didn’t have access to before.

  • CHILLOUT

    I don’t think people pursuing an MBA online or part-time are expecting a job at McKinsey. The different formats apply for a different audience and for different reasons.

  • YouArentGoodEnough

    Yes — Online MBAs want to be McDonald managers! You can serve me my fries, loser!

  • ThisDescribesMichiganRoss

    What online MBAs lack for men is the potential sex from drunk and slutty undergrad females when at bars and from past their prime chubby MBA females who are looking for a husband and think terrible sex will get them that. At least if you are fat, you make up for it with strong oral skills.

  • UNCsucks

    UNC Online MBA is a joke just like the University of Michigan – Ross School of shitty middle management

  • JackOfAll

    @youArentGoodEnough looks like you didn’t get admission at any colleges, try phoenix , Lol

  • JackOfAll

    UFL is in top 50, what makes the author to think its in 50 to 100 ? Definitely biased and not accurate.

  • M7isnotforyou

    Is that your JackofAll? Keep jerking off to Mck since that’s the closest you will ever get to them,

  • Mike Surace

    I got my MBA at Univ of Phoenix (online).

    I have worked in Instrument service for 28 years with 3 of those
    years in sales. I pride myself on strong moral values and a very solid
    work ethic that I pass on to others. I have skills in organizational
    management, and change management. I have been very successful at
    developing and leading teams especially in times of integration. I hate
    to lose and all the service organizations that I had the privilege of
    leading became number 1 in customer satisfaction and held that position.
    My motivation is driving a healthy work life balance as well as
    driving top customer experience through our service organization. I
    have a strong knowledge of budgets and revenue generation through service. I have organized a service organization from the bottom up and
    also have stepped into an organization that needed cleaning up. Cost
    control without sacrificing my customer satisfaction is near and dear to
    my heart. My goal is to continue to drive award winning customer loyalty while driving cost out of the organization and maximizing productivity. My goals include employee
    development and creating a work environment that people want to be part
    of.

    I’m a proud Phoenix Online MBA grad and my name is Michael Surace. I work for a major healthcare firm in a senior management and leadership position (Feel free to look me up on linkedln).

    People who are dissing the online MBA have no idea how successful the grads are and the senior leadership positions they hold. My total compensation easily exceeds that of an engagement manager or project leader at firms such as Mck, Bain or BCG.

  • JohnAByrne

    Mike,

    Thanks very much for weighing in and contributing a very thoughtful response. Can you tell us when you graduated with your MBA and why you choose Phoenix? That would be helpful to others who are considering going for an online MBA.

    Best,
    John

  • No offense

    No offense JB but what % of your readership even want to hear about anything related to Phoenix online? let alone consider going there? It’s your platform but that doesn’t seem like the content for this site.

  • no offense

    ..maybe i’m too narrow

  • The PQcommunity

    Bro you are a loser cuz that 28 year MBB engagement manager is half your age and in a year will surpass you. You bragging about your Online MBA is like bragging about having sex with a fat chick. People here are the 700+ GMAT rising stars not never was like you.

  • HR_Lady_MBA

    As a Vice President of Human Resources (With an accredited online MBA – but not from a top tier program) my MBA is only a small piece of the package. It has opened up doors for me, but my experience, drive, reputation and continuous learning outside the classroom has propelled my career. I am well respected and very well compensated for my field (I know because I see the salary surveys). I was in my first director role before I was 25 and have had great career progression.
    As seen in the dialogue below, there are those that believe they are “better” because of a particular degree. While important to demonstrate that you have a broad range of business knowledge, learning far exceeds that of just a classroom. There are PHDs and Harvard MBA’s, that after interview, there was no way I was going to hire. Arrogance, immaturity, and lack of self-awareness damage a healthy team and when I see this in an interview, I will pass every time. I have also hired some talented individuals from the top tier schools. It is interesting that I find their performance on par with some of the lesser ranked school graduates. In fact, comparing their performance reviews, there is not a significant distinguishable difference.
    I would much rather hire Mike with his UOP degree than those with the rude, obnoxious, and demeaning posts below. While a top tier degree might get you past the screening, your behavior and ability to work with a diverse team in a positive fashion is so much more important in a long term career.

  • JohnAByrne

    Thanks for your thoughtful remarks. They are much appreciated and important to the discussion.

  • #exploringmyoptions

    im just curious…does the degree u receive at the end of an online program actually say “online masters of business admin”?? if it looks like any other degree conferred from the in-class mba program what does it matter? i am thinking of an online program after years of sitting in a traditional undergrad/grad school setting.

  • cking6178

    I know the degree conferred at IU, UNC, UF, ASU, NCSU, and Pepperdine is identical regardless of format. I assume the others listed above do the same.

  • cking6178

    While JB’s response to Mike was focused on UoP, the article barely referenced it. I agree that the majority of readers here are not interested in going to UoP, but I would be willing to bet that there are quite a few that care about the online programs at some of these well respected schools, myself included. As other commenters have noted, those of us who are choosing the online route are doing so bc we are at a point in our lives/careers where we have identified that to achieve our career goals we need an advanced education, but that everyday responsibilities prevent us from quitting our jobs. The ranking only goes by the traditional FT rankings, which is flawed and ignores things like format, technology utilized, percentage of FT faculty teaching the courses, and career resources.

  • cking6178

    P&Q publishes it’s own FT rankings, which takes into account the rankings by other publications. That’s why they listed UF at 53. I assume you are talking about the most recent US News rankings that puts UF at 36th. UF is definitely a school on the rise and I’d love to see them crack the top 30.

  • CFOs don’t consult.

    I’m in the UNC program and most of my classmates don’t have any desire to go to McKinsey because they are already principles, VPs, COOs etc. No need to take the dumbass 26 year-old route of working 90 hour weeks while travelling the country to make it. Most have already made it and don’t want to quit their sweet jobs. I would be shocked if a 24 year old had a tenth the knowledge my classmates do.

    /710 GMAT

    //Top 20 Law Degree

    ///7 years Exec VP and General Counsel experience

    ////Have no doubt I could have gotten in to the majority of top 20 full-time program if I wanted to quit my job and move my 4 children across the country.

    And I have many classmates of a much higher caliber than me.

  • CFOs can’t spell.

    ////Needs to learn the difference between a principal and a principle.

  • CFOs don’t consult.

    Yeah, you got me. My poor typing and editing skills in blog comments have exposed me as a fraud.

  • Littlebitofreality

    I know a number of people who went to Haas part time and got jobs at top three, McKinsey, Bain, BCG.

  • M

    “Life can be a lot broader than that when you realize one simple thing, and that’s that everything around us that we call life was made up by people that are no smarter than you.” -Steve Jobs

  • GD

    Says the guy who can’t form a proper sentence.

    Now, I will agree to some extent with the asshat before me, that touting UOP isn’t that cool of a practice. UOP degrees and similar (maybe even mine) are becoming a joke. I have an MBA and had a chance to converse with some MBA students from the University of Wisconsin and even they are heads and tails above with regard to instruction level. They are learning things are way above what I was learning about. So, again, I wouldn’t go around yammering about my MBA if it wasn’t at least in the top 50 or 100, which its not, which is why I don’t.

    That being said, calling someone a loser because someone will be more successful is like praising Joe Montana and then calling Alex Smith a loser. They both have successful NFL careers… albeit Montana’s was far more successful. However, I’m quite sure that no matter how you feel about either QB, both had to demonstrate team and leadership skills and are far more advanced in the game than a high school QB could ever be. So if “tier 2″ or “B” people are losers, I feel sorry for you and your friends. Maybe its just how I was brought up, but acting like that puts you in my “tier 4.9″ or “D-” range… little better than habitual criminals.

    Also… what does “surpass you” even mean? Money? KIds? Women? Cars? I guess what I’m getting at is the definition of success. If you think that money = success, that is so short sighted, its not even funny. I purposely took a job that is 30k less than another that I was offered due to the stress level, and I never look back. I get to hang out with my kids all the time. I get to take impromptu vacations. I leave work at work. So, if being the CEO of some huge company making millions of dollars and having shareholders breathe down your neck every time you stop to piss = success, you can have it. I’ll stick to my modest boat, in my modest northwoods cottage, with my top tier wife and kids, and live modestly, bro.

    I’ll stop ranting now and leave you with one piece of advice. Until you learn to respect all people, you will never get respect. People might cower in your face, but they will stab you in your back. I would fear for any company that you manage, knowing as certainty, that under your leadership (or lack thereof), it will fail. You need to respect everyone and make serving the people you manage your priority. Drop the GMAT bit and start working on your leadership skills. It will take you further.

  • Nils

    This is really helpful. How do you rate Thunderbird’s program vs. Babson’s. I have admits from both. Which degree is more reputed. Your help is much appreciated!

  • cking6178

    Thanks for your research. I attend UF (Hough) & agree that a more thorough study needs to be done for online program rankings. I do lean towards the rankings of the full time programs, since UF – like IU – uses the same professors to teach their online component as teach the full time students. One of the issues with job placement numbers is that most of us that choose the online format are already working full time. I think the job placement category should be tweaked to account for promotions w/in a year of graduation – as this tends to be a primary motivator for us.

  • Vin

    I gained more from you comment than the article itself, thank you HR lady :-)

  • Jack

    Best comment on this entire thread. Absolute truth.

    Thank you for posting this.

Partner Sites: C-Change Media | Poets & Quants for Execs | Tipping the Scales