ONLINE MBA PROGRAMS ARE GAINING ACCEPTANCE AND RESPECTABILITY
In the current digital culture era, online MBA programs are finding growing acceptance and respectability. The decision by the likes of such world-class universities as Harvard, Stanford, and MIT to offer MOOC (massive open online courses) has helped to lend much credibility to online education. “The fact that those schools put their names on online courses meant you didn’t have to consider deserting motherhood and apple pie to get an online MBA degree from a top-tier school,” says Shackelford. “The market is huge and so few people are still aware that this is an option.”
Online MBA programs can still rouse controversy, of course. Many educators continue to pooh-pooh the quality of an Internet degree. They bemoan the lack of community and the limited networking of online education. Jonathan Cole, a sociology professor at Columbia University and the school’s former provost, says there is no evidence that online education is better than the old bricks-and-mortar model. “People learn from each other when they eat together, read together, converse together, sleeptogether. If nothing else, sex will reinforce bricks over clicks on the campus,” he maintains.
Duke University’s Fuqua School, which offers a global executive MBA where 40% of the work is done via Internet, refuses to even acknowledge that it is selling an “online MBA degree.” Insists John Gallagher, director of Executive MBA programs at Fuqua, “The last thing we want to do is dilute the brand, and so we would never use the word online or call it a distance learning program.”
Yet, as schools with global brands and reputations continue to move into the online market, the quality of the students who are opting to earn degrees on the Net is increasing as well. ‘It’s finally come of age,” believes Phil Powell, the faculty chair of Indiana University’s Kelley Direct online MBA program. “Students who wouldn’t have done it ten years ago are willing to do it now. Students who are most sensitive to pedigree and quality have finally embraced the idea. Initially, the early adopters might have been students who were more interested in the convenience. But there is a critical mass of non-profit providers that have really good brands in the larger business school space. The market has moved from early adopters to more mainstream students.”
Indeed, students who once would have settled for the evening MBA program or weekend Executive MBA at the local university are instead opting to take advantage of the distance learning options from more selective, big brand universities with the resources to attract the best faculty and staff. “We are seeing some extraordinary students that any business school would be thrilled to have and we are seeing more and more of them every term,” says Susan Cates, executive director of Kenan-Flagler’s MBA@UNC. “We are getting more of these type-A overachievers who are trying to get as much out of life as they possibly can.”
Cates says she just admitted into the online MBA program an applicant who had been fourth in her undergraduate class at an Ivy League university, first in her medical school class from one of the top schools in the world. “She just finished up her residency and thinks an MBA will help her go where she wants to go faster,” adds Cates. “With her background, she is not going to do an MBA degree anywhere except a top-tier school.”
ONLINE MBA PROGRAMS ARE NOW COMMON AND ENROLLING MORE STUDENTS THAN EVER
Unlike traditional full-time MBA programs, which have been shrinking at many schools in recent years, the online MBA market is booming. Every week, a new school seems to enter the market, while the newly established leaders, are reporting increasingly higher numbers of applicants and admits. Last year, for the first time since 1999 when Indiana launched its online version of the MBA, the school enrolled a larger number of online MBA students than it did full-time, on-campus students. Indiana enrolled 245 students in the past 12 months, 135 in its fall cohort and 110 in this spring’s newest cohort, up 20% from a year ago. That exceeds the 180 students who entered the school’s traditional MBA program in the fall. “We could be looking at 170 to 180 in the fall, keeping admission standards the same,” adds Powell. “We are growing faster than we expected.”
Babson College, which opened its Fast Track MBA program to the public in 2007 with 26 students, recently graduated a class of close to 140 online students. At any given time, the school has an online enrollment of up to 350 MBA candidates. This July, when the Kenan-Flagler Business School graduates its first online MBA class of 18 students, the school also expects to enroll its largest MBA@UNC online class ever with more than 80 people. In just about every quarter since UNC launched the program, the incoming classes have grown in size. “In October, it looks like we could be 120 to 140 range,” says Shackelford of UNC.
For students who intend to stay in their organizations and use the MBA to enhance a career, the online MBA is especially proving a valuable option. Not only is it more convenient than an evening or weekend program, it’s vastly less expensive than the full-time MBA because students can forego the opportunity costs of being unemployed for nearly two years. If a student is either a road warrior or transferred to a new location, there’s also no problem in continuing their studies–another reason favoring the Internet option. And most online programs enroll students at least twice if not more times every year. Kenan-Flagler, for example, has four start dates in January, April, July and October.