Kellogg | Mr. Big Beer
GMAT Waived, GPA 4.0
Harvard | Ms. Indian Quant
GMAT 750, GPA 7.54/10
Darden | Mr. Corporate Dev
GMAT Waived, GPA 3.8
Duke Fuqua | Mr. CPA To Finance
GMAT 700, GPA 3.5
Wharton | Mr. Big 4
GMAT 770, GPA 8/10
Wharton | Ms. General Motors
GRE 330, GPA 3.2
Stanford GSB | Mr. Venture Lawyer
GRE 330, GPA 3.4
Wharton | Ms. Project Mananger
GMAT 770, GPA 3.86
Stanford GSB | Ms. Digital Health
GMAT 720, GPA 3.48
Yale | Mr. Philanthropy Chair
GMAT Awaiting Scores (expect 700-720), GPA 3.3
Stanford GSB | Mr. MBA Class of 2023
GMAT 725, GPA 3.5
Foster School of Business | Mr. Construction Engineer
GMAT 710, GPA 2.77
Ross | Mr. Stockbroker
GMAT 700, GPA 3.1
Harvard | Mr. Harvard Hopeful
GMAT 740, GPA 3.8
Stanford GSB | Mr. LGBTQ
GMAT 740, GPA 3.58
Kellogg | Mr. Risky Business
GMAT 780, GPA 3.5
Kellogg | Mr. CPA To MBA
GMAT Waived, GPA 3.2
UCLA Anderson | Mr. Southern California
GMAT 710, GPA 3.58
Harvard | Ms. World Explorer
GMAT 710 (aiming for 750), GPA 4.33/5
Ross | Mr. Brazilian Sales Guy
GRE 326, GPA 77/100 (USA Avg. 3.0)
Kellogg | Ms. MBA For Social Impact
GMAT 720, GPA 3.9
London Business School | Mr. Consulting To IB
GMAT 700, GPA 2.4
Berkeley Haas | Mx. CPG Marketer
GMAT 750, GPA 3.95
NYU Stern | Mr. Washed-Up Athlete
GRE 325, GPA 3.4
Kellogg | Mr. White Finance
GMAT Not Taken, GPA 3.97
MIT Sloan | Mr. NFL Team Analyst
GMAT 720, GPA 3.8
Stanford GSB | Ms. Russland Native
GMAT 700, GPA 3.5

The World’s Most Expensive MBA Program: $172,200

Sticker shock. The term doesn’t only apply to luxury cars and yachts. For most newcomers to the Executive MBA game, one of the early and big surprises is exactly how much the top programs cost.

For all the hand-wringing over the cost of a full-time MBA, it turns out that the most expensive graduate business degrees in the world are not the highly publicized two-year, full-time experiences at places like Harvard and Stanford. Instead, the bulging pricetags are on elite part-time programs designed for mid-career executives. (Find out more about Executive MBA programs at our new site: PoetsandQuantsforExecs.com)

The most costly Executive MBA in the world? It’s Wharton’s 24-month MBA for executives at its West Coast campus in downtown San Francisco. At a cost of $172,200, students are effectively paying nearly $250 an hour for the pleasure of sitting in a class with 50 other people. That’s nearly $100 more per contact hour with faculty than the regular full-time MBAs at Wharton pay. For every one of the roughly 700 hours a Wharton professor teaches Executive MBAs, the school is collecting a tidy $12,300.

The second most expensive program? It’s also Wharton’s Executive MBA program, this time on the East Coast, where the tuition and fees now come to $162,300. Those considerable sums compare with the $108,000 in total tuition and fees forked over by the full-time students back on the main Philadelphia campus. Wharton’s Executive MBA business alone now brings in more than $35 million in annual revenues, with little more than 400 total students.

Why is there such a big difference in the cost of these top-ranked EMBA programs over those at other schools? “It’s like anything else, whether you’re talking about buying Pepsi or Sam’s brand of cola,” says Michael Desiderio, executive director of the Executive MBA Council, the trade group representing EMBA programs. “There is a value inherently tied to a brand.” In fact, the average cost of an EMBA program, says Desiderio, is only $65,655. “So it’s a huge continuum, ranging from a low of $30,000 to a high of $170,000.”

Anjani Jain, Wharton’s vice dean, MBA Program for Executives, obviously thinks Wharton programs are worth the premium. “The cost of the program, when normalized with respect to the number of contact hours and the inclusion of room and board during program weekends, is actually comparable to that of peer institutions,” Jain insists. “Many other EMBA programs have substantially fewer contact hours, or don’t include room and board in the base tuition.”

Of course, at the high end, as Jain points out, Wharton’s program is a premium experience that includes meals, accommodations, and professors who are among the best business faculty in the world. In Philadelphia, execs stay on alternating Friday nights in Wharton’s fairly plush executive education residence facility, while in San Francisco, they’re put up in at the upscale Hotel Le Meridian in the financial district within walking distance of Wharton’s West Coast campus. For another, many business schools believe there is less price sensitivity in a market catering to already successful executives in their mid-to-late 30s who don’t have to quit their jobs to get the executive version of the MBA degree.

No wonder there are now nearly two dozen Executive MBA programs around the world that cost six figures (see the list of the most expensive on the next page). Increasingly, the most expensive programs feature international excursions for which meals and accomodations are covered (though airfare is not). Duke University’s Global Executive MBA program, for example, boasts five residential sessions, with 60% of the classroom time in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. It carries a $146,600 pricetag that includes lodging and meals. Or there is Trium, a three-way collaborative program among New York University, the London School of Economics, and HEC Paris. That program costs $140,000.

SIX-FIGURES: THE WORLD’S MOST EXPENSIVE EXECUTIVE MBA PROGRAMS

SchoolTuition & FeesApp Fee
1. Pennsylvania (Wharton) San Francisco, CA$172,200$180
2. Pennsylvania (Wharton) Philadelphia, CA$162,300$180
3. Northwestern (Kelloggg) Evanston, IL$153,900$150
4. Berkeley (Haas)/Columbia Berkeley, CA & New York, NY$150,000$200
5. Columbia Business School New York, NY$148,320$250
6. Duke (Fuqua) Global EMBA  Durham, NC$146,600$200
7. London Business School/Columbia London & New York$144,156$260
8. New York (Stern) New York, NY$144,000$215
9. Chicago (Booth) Chicago, IL$142,000$100
10. Trium: NYU/LSE/HEC  New York, London, Paris$140,000None
11. Cornell (Johnson) Ithaca, NY$138,800$150
12. IMD  Lausanne, Switzerland$132,500$210
13. Michigan (Ross) Ann Arbor, MI$130,000$200
14. London/HKU/Columbia London, Hong Kong, New York$127,920$200
15. Kellogg/HK Univ. of Science & Tech Evanston, IL & Hong Kong$124,500$200
16. INSEAD  Fontainebleau, France$122,400$270
17. Southern California (Marshall) Los Angeles, LA$111,000$150
18. Georgetown (McDonough) Washington, D.C.$110,000$175
19. Rutgers University Newark, NJ$110,000$110
20. UCLA (Anderson) Los Angeles, CA$108,240$200
21. Pepperdine (Graziadio)  Los Angeles, CA$105,650$100
22. Cornell/Queens  Ithaca, NY & Kingston, Ontario$103,680None

SOURCE: School websites

AN INCREASE IN GLOBAL PROGRAMS HAS ALSO DRIVEN UP THE COSTS OF THE BEST EMBAS.

Indeed, one of the biggest trends in Executive MBAs is the spread of global programs, often among schools in different areas of the world. Efforts to give executives a true international experience, sometimes on several continents, have driven up the costs of many of these programs and resulted in novel and unusual partnerships. One example: The Trium program among New York University’s Stern School, the London School of Economics, and HEC Paris that includes modules in China and India for $140,000 a pop. More recently, Spain’s IE Business School launched a new Executive MBA program with Brown University in Providence, RI., a university with a great brand but no business school. At $95,000, that program is comparatively a bargain.

Just as surprising, even some of the super-premium, super-priced programs aren’t all-inclusive. Take INSEAD’s Global Executive program in Singapore, France, and Abu Dhabi. Now in its eighth year, the program requires 12 weeks of residential study. But even at a hefty price of $122,400, accomodations and dinners are not included. The same is true of IMD’s Executive MBA program, whose students are brought to India, China and Silicon Valley. Even though the program costs $132,500, it fails to include either lodging–and IMD estimates that the estimated cost of accomodations during the program is more than $27,000.

Perhaps the biggest surprise about these high prices is that over the past ten years, fewer and fewer executives are now sponsored by their companies. So now the executives who enroll in these programs more often than not have to pay their own pay. “When many of these programs were started, most students were fully sponsored and some schools wouldn’t accept you unless you had a sponsorship letter,” adds Desiderio. “At the 210 schools in our membership today, only 35% of the student population is fully funded. That is a dramatic change from a decade ago. Part of it is just the way companies have changed in how they view reimbursement with so many people moving from company to company. I also think companies have felt the pinch and they may want their employees to have some skin in the game.”

PACKAGING THE PROGRAM AS AN EXPERIENCE WITH ONE (BIG) PRICETAG.

At the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, where the Executive MBA program includes stints in London and Singapore, the $142,000 tuition looks steep but a bargain compared to some others. Patty Keegan, associate dean of Booth’s EMBA program, says the actual tuition for the executive classes is the same as it is for full-time MBA students. “We don’t charge a premium,” Keegan insists. The cost of an Executive MBA is higher because “it’s what is included in the experience. We package the program as an experience with one pricetag.”

No matter how you cut it, these are expensive experiences.

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.