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.”
‘THERE IS NO ASTERISK ANYWHERE ON THE DEGREE’
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.