A trio of online MBA programs emerged in a dead tie for being the best place to get a degree on the Internet, according to the latest ranking of online MBAs by U.S. News & World Report published today (Jan. 7).
Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, which was the undisputed No. 1 player a year ago, shares top honors with the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flager Business School and Temple University’s Fox School for first place this year. Not far behind are Arizona State University’s Carey School and the University of Florida’s Hough School of Business, both tied for fourth.
This is the third year in a row that U.S. News has put numerical ranks on online MBA programs. More importantly, though, it’s the most credible online list put out by the magazine because two of the best three programs–Carnegie Mellon and UNC–which previously refused to cooperate with the ranking are now playing ball. It’s also the first time U.S. News is publishing a ranking of only online MBA programs. Previously, its ranking combined other online business programs with MBAs. The change will put a greater spotlight on these degree programs as they become increasingly popular due to their convenience and lower costs.
EDITORS SAY THE NEW RANKING IS NOT COMPARABLE TO LAST YEAR’S LIST
As a result, U.S. News said that its previous online rankings are not exactly comparable to the new list. That’s because this year the magazine separated out MBA programs from other master’s programs in business. “Because this MBA-only ranking is new, its results and data are not analytically comparable to those from previous U.S. News online business rankings,” the magazine said. “Underscoring this is that only 195 schools are ranked in this year’s new MBA ranking, compared with 225 in the 2014 online business ranking, when business schools without MBA programs were included in the mix.”
Among non-MBA online graduate business programs, Indiana was also ranked No. 1 for its offerings, which included marketing and finance. The University of Texas—Dallas followed at No. 2. Arizona State tied with the University of Connecticut for the third spot.
Another reason why results are less comparable is due to a change in the methodology. “The scoring for the new ranking places greater weight on reputation and admissions selectivity because online MBA programs are collectively more likely than non-MBA business degree programs to emphasize the importance of those two factors,” explained U.S. News. The magazine ranks the programs on five general categories, from student engagement (28%), admissions selectivity (25%), a survey of academic officials at MBA programs (25%), faculty credentials and training (11%), and student services and technology (11%).
Nonetheless, year-over-year comparisons are inevitable and they show some wild swings and surprises. In moving to its first-place tie with Indiana and UNC, two elite pioneers of online MBA education, Temple University jumped eight place from ninth last year and, more amazingly, 30th a year earlier. Washington State’s online MBA program went from seventh place last year to a tie for 21st with the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, which had been No. 6 a year ago.
CARNEGIE MELLON IS RANKED BEHIND UT-DALLAS
Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School, the business school with highest ranked full-time MBA offering an online version, placed seventh in the survey, behind the University of Texas at Dallas. According to U.S. News, the faculty credentials and training at UT-Dallas were rated higher than Carnegie Mellon. So was admissions selectivity. U.S. News cited a 43% acceptance rate and an average 595 GMAT for entering online students at UT-Dallas, vs. Tepper’s much higher 60% acceptance rate with an average GMAT of 648. Surprisingly, the school with the lowest acceptance rate for its applicant pool was the University of Mississippi’s online MBA program which invited only 39% of the people who applied.
Frankly, more important than the ranking itself, which can be considered somewhat questionable, is the data that U.S. News has gathered from the business schools on their online degree programs. UT-Dallas, for example, which last year told U.S. News it had 1,117 students enrolled online, this year reported only 318. The top 25 school reporting the largest enrollment for an online MBA program was the University of Massachusetts’ Isenberg School with 1,257 students, followed by Indiana’s 812 and UNC’s 708. A year earlier, Indiana reported 747 students and UNC declined to cooperate with the U.S. News ranking.
Although several highly ranked schools make a point of saying that the admission standards for their online MBAs are the same or similar to their full-time MBA programs, the data they provided to U.S. News shows that’s not entirely true. The average GMAT score for Carnegie Mellon’s online program is 45 points lower than the 693 average for its two-year residential MBA program with an acceptance rate of 31%, compared to 60% for online applicants. At Kenan-Flagler, the acceptance rate for online candidates is 51% and at Indiana’s KelleyDirect program it is 76%, versus 39% and 33%, respectively. Average GMATs at Kenan-Flagler’s traditional MBA program are 700, 71 points higher than the 629 average for its online program. Indiana’s 620 online average is 49 points lower than the GMAT average for the full-time residential program.