Carnegie Mellon Brings Its MBA Online


This fall Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business will launch its FlexMBA program, which blends online and in-residence learning

Once a mainstay of for-profit schools with little prestige and questionable merit, online MBA programs are getting increasing respect.

The latest not-for-profit entry and the highest ranked business school to enter the market is Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business.  In August, Tepper expects to welcome some 20 to 60 students in the inaugural class of its FlexMBA  program, which blends online and self-guided learning with in-residence weekends.

Tepper isn’t the first and assuredly won’t be the last top school to expand into cyber space. In June 2011 the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School launched MBA@UNC, and Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business also offers an online degree through its Kelley Direct program. But Tepper will immediately establish itself as the most expensive program, costing $118,080 in tuition, and one of the longest, taking 32 months to complete.

The online options at these top-ranked programs will certainly go a long way toward legitimizing Internet-based degrees.  Once the purview of for-profit schools like the University of Phoenix and Strayer University, MBA heavyweights will undoubtedly help push online education into the mainstream and take marketshare away from the for-profit players.

“The the wave of the future is the use of technology to deliver education more broadly to people,” says Robert Dammon, dean of the Tepper School. “It’s intended for people who want to keep their jobs and don’t want to uproot their families to attend a top business school. Much like every program in Pittsburgh, it will have the same requirements as the on-campus MBA. We’ll do the same courses with the same faculty.”

For some, questioning the quality of an online versus a bricks-and-mortar degree obscures the importance of the program, itself.  Robert Monroe, Tepper’s FlexMBA program director, says MBA-lite online programs could just as easily be done in residence.  “I would suggest that there are certainly schools out thee,” he says. “But, in fact, if those schools had tried to do the same thing with an in-person degree, they would have been perfectly able to.”


FlexMBA director Robert Monroe says the program is just as rigorous as Tepper's other MBA programs

FlexMBA director Robert Monroe says the program is just as rigorous as Tepper’s full-time MBA

Monroe contends that Tepper’s FlexMA holds students to the same exacting rigor, curriculum and admissions requirements as the school’s other two MBA options.  If you don’t doubt the value of the Carnegie Mellon MBA, then you shouldn’t question the value of the FlexMBA, Monroe says. “The standards are high to get in, the standards are very high to get out,” he adds. “There is no asterisk anywhere on the degree.” The diploma is identical across all three programs. The same faculty that teach in Temper’s part-time and full-time programs also teach the FlexMBA students, and this helps to ensure they get the same experience, Monroe says.

The school is so confident its programs are comparable that FlexMBA students even have the option to switch into the full-time or part-time programs after the first year. The students also have full access to Tepper’s career resources and can schedule interviews with on-campus recruiters, similar to full-time MBAs.  The school is also experimenting with ways to make it easier for FlexMBA students to take part in on-campus interviews remotely, including new technology for long distance interview support.

For Tepper, the online space isn’t unknown territory. More than 20 years ago the school made its first foray into distance learning when it began providing MBA programs over the Internet to corporate sponsors, such as Goldman Sachs and Lockheed Martin.   This year, for the first time, the online option will be open to the public.

  • Socrates

    Glad to hear it works for you. I think the low perceived value of an online MBA is more common among full time MBA students, and that may be unfair to you and others currently enrolled in those programs. I’d like to see an article highlighting how online-mba students envision using the MBA professionally: is it to change jobs or to advance at the current company? Then I want to see how employers perceive the online mba and specifically how well positioned alums are 5 years after graduating.

    A P&Q ‘expected vs actual’ study would go a long way in supporting the argument for online MBAs….


    The tuition is extortionate for an online degree and the Tepper MBA brand value is questionable as online does not offer the full learning experience. Easy money for Tepper to rip off students.

    My respect for Tuck and its core two year full time MBA increases.

  • John A. Byrne

    Thanks for a very thoughtful set of comments!

  • elvasco1

    I am currently an Indiana Kelley Direct student and I think the online format works fantastic. Of course, being a student, my bias is going to be in the direction that it is just as good, but I will tell you why I think that; First, we started off our cohort with two intense weeks in Bloomington where we all got to know each other very well (there are about 28 of us and when I say two intense weeks, I mean two weeks including Saturdays and Sundays). After that, we all worked together pretty strongly – since everyone knows one another, we’re all reliable to each other. With “Angel” (Kelley’s format for program delivery), Google Hangout, Email, Smart phones etc, I don’t see why there is a presumption it is difficult to learn with technology. Most classes require us to be “online” at a specific time each week where we have class – we see and hear the professor and “chat” to ask questions. Meanwhile, I didn’t have to quit my job (nor did my colleagues obviously) and we use our ever growing work experience to emphasize and discuss how the principles we learn are applicable to real life situations. As far as being easy; it’s anything but. I work quite hard and put in many hours each week – to be honest, if this is an “MBA-lite,” I don’t think I could handle the real thing, at least not while working. What I do know is that I have awesome colleagues from all walks of reputable professional life (investors, Rolls Royce engineers, Intel financial advisers etc) and the same faculty and degree from a top 15/top 25 school (depending on the rankings you like).

    I think it’s extremely shortsighted to assume no top 10 programs will ever do online blends like Kelley, UNC and now CM. I understand that the University of Phoenix did severe harm to the name of online degrees, but the bottom line is, except for an elite few, most professionals do not have the time or luxury to drop things and go back to school full-time. Furthermore, I think most business professionals will tell you that the future is going to quite heavily on an online presence – in a world of cutting costs and low price technology, face to face interactions are going to become more limited. I’d advise you to learn to conduct business using technological intermediaries, which these programs teach you to do.

  • PapuaGuneia

    This is just a clear sign that the value of the full time MBA is fading!

  • Socrates

    A couple thoughts:

    1) $118K is absolutely crazy for an individual to spend on an online degree. $5K more than the in person degree? Come on CM, that’s nuts! The class of 20 to 60 may have a large percentage of employer sponsors.

    2) Glad to see an effort from the school to set up students with career guidance

    3) Do the intense weekends really have lasting value? You’ve all been to conferences and weekend work-shops; that much information condensed in a short period is not the same as seeing the problems over the course of a semester.

    4) How can this program have the same requirements as a full time program if you are not in person to work in a team? Are there online teams?

    The way top 10 programs will enter the online space will be different from this. Everybody is making a move into “online-MBA” because it is a source of revenue and the direction education is going. Online MBA is okay for the State University of BozoLand, but the perception of value is so low do you really think top 10 programs will offer an online MBA – – let alone one that is comparable to a full time degree? No way. I think there will be a cut-off line that top schools won’t cross over. Instead top schools will integrate online content into class to strengthen and reinforce concepts. They may even use online content to introduce material ahead of attending class.

  • AIG Quant

    Nice way to dilute the value of a two year Tepper degree.