An Online MBA For the Price of a Jeep

Student watching Danny Butler's online lecture

Student watching Danny Butler’s online lecture

MOOCs are all the rage in academia. These days, you can take online MBA courses from Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton – from the same faculty who teach them on campus. And one student has even figured out how to complete core MBA courses for under $1000. Unfortunately, you don’t build a life-long business network with MOOCs. And just try selling your MOOC degree to a recruiter!

But what if you could complete your MBA for just $28,000? For the price of a jeep, you could earn an online MBA from a prominent institution that boasts Apple’s Tim Cook among its alumni. At the same time, you’d enjoy the same faculty, lectures, projects, and support as your on-campus peers. With many MBA degrees priced at $100,000 (or more), this program would keep your debt low, while providing the basic MBA courses as on-campus students receive.

THE AUBURN DIFFERENCE 

That’s the value proposition at Auburn University, a public university consistently ranked among the top 50 public universities. Known for its iconic oak trees and pro-football and baseball All-Star Bo Jackson, Auburn’s online MBA program has cracked the code when it comes to fusing quality with value. At $775 a credit for 36 credits, Auburn’s $27,900 price tag is the lowest for an online MBA program from a top 100 “name” business school.

In contrast, Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School, the highest ranked business school in the U.S. offering an online MBA, has priced its offering at $116,160. UNC’s online MBA, dubbed MBA@UNC, costs $93,500, while Indiana University’s KelleyDirect online MBA is priced at $59,925.

That old adage that you get what you pay for is somewhat appropriate here, however. Auburn’s program is a no-frills affair, where the cost does not even include textbooks. The Tepper program, for example, includes a four-day orientation on campus along with three-day on-campus sessions every two months during a program that lasts 32 full months. UNC’s online experience includes two global immersion trips as well as three-day sessions quarterly, while Kelley’s program includes two full weeks on campus. Auburn’s online students only meet each other in person once, when they come to campus for a three-day capstone project in the final semester, and they can graduate in as little as 21 months.

Still, it’s hard to beat the value Auburn is delivering for a fraction of the cost of the more highly ranked online MBAs—or for that matter the value against schools ranked even lower than Auburn, such as Howard University, Pepperdine University, and Hofstra University in New York. Auburn currently has 121 enrolled students in the program from 27 states and Canada. About 23% are women, though none are from outside North America.

Since being founded in 1990, the program boasts 1500 graduates, including America’s first female fighter pilot and high level executives from AFLAC and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Within the online program, students can pursue concentrations such as marketing or analytics and dual degrees in areas that range from MIS to finance. With over 75% of students completing the online program within four years, it has become a resounding success.

While Dean Bill Hardgrave refers to the program’s mission as providing “a very high quality program and making it accessible to the masses,” an anonymous graduate offers a more succinct tagline: “Price, flexibility, prestige.”

THE SECRET BEHIND AUBURN’S LOW COSTS

So what’s the secret behind Auburn’s low cost proposition? According to Dr. Stan Harris, associate dean for graduate and international programs at Auburn’s Harbert College of Business, it starts with a commitment to managing costs. “We’ve always been relatively inexpensive – by design,” says Harris. In fact, this mindset stretches across the entire business program. U.S. News and World Report recently ranked Auburn’s business program at #2 for “Best Financial Value,” with students graduating with an average debt of $8,500.

However, don’t associate economical with easy. Auburn maintains a university requirement that students must maintain a B average to stay in the program. “If you make a C, you better get an A elsewhere, says Harris. If you get a D, you’re re-taking the class.”

Low cost is just one way that Auburn’s online MBA program is designed for working professionals. Recently, it removed pre-requisite coursework, replacing it with self-study materials to be more student-friendly. However, most students already come to the program with strong academic credentials.