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Three Schools Top U.S. News’ 2015 Online MBA Ranking

Students and Kenan Flagler build bikes for local youth during orientation. Photo courtesy of Kenan Flagler.

Students and Kenan Flagler build bikes for local youth during orientation. Photo courtesy of Kenan Flagler.

AVERAGE GMAT SCORES CONSIDERABLY LOWER FOR ALL ONLINE MBA PROGRAMS

No business school in the top 25 had an average GMAT score at or above 700 for its online MBA program. The highest score is Tepper’s 648, while the lowest reported GMAT for a Top 25 program is Central Michigan University’s 490. It’s possible that the bottom score is even lower for the Rochester Institute of Technology’s online MBA at Saunders because that was the only school in the top 25 that failed to report an average GMAT score to U.S. News. The average grade point average of 2.9 at Rochester was the lowest of any top 25 program.

Interestingly, the schools gaining the highest peer assessment scores clearly benefitted from their overall MBA rankings. Carnegie Mellon, UNC, and Indiana all had 4.1 scores from peers on the five-point scale with five being the highest. They were the highest peer scores in the ranking. Temple University’s Fox School of Business in Philadelphia, despite its tie for first with Indiana and UNC, scored considerably lower at 3.2.

HOW ONLINE MBA PROGRAMS ARE CHANGING

Online MBA programs have been around for a long time, but only in recent years have several highly prominent business school brands entered the market. While the most attractive aspects of an online program typically are convenience and cost, those attributes are now taken for granted. To gain differentiation in an increasingly crowded marketplace, business schools are adding more face-to-face sessions, experiential learning opportunities, and the kind of career coaching that leads to better networking and job offers.

“Our students are demanding more face-to-face interaction,” says Phil Powell, faculty chair of Indiana University’s KellyDirect MBA program. “So we are picking locations in North America where the class can meet so we have five weeks online and then two or three days on the ground.” The first of these immersion sessions will be in Silicon Valley on April 10-11 when Kelley’s online MBA students will pitch venture capitalists on their business plans. Another—focused around an immersion course in consulting—will occur in Chicago.

Ultimately, says Powell, the school hopes to have a menu of eight to 12 immersion courses a year for its online MBAs. More importantly, they will not merely be standalone classes but tied to a potential career development opportunity. The students who will present to VCs in Silicon Valley this year, for example, all have jobs but would really like to become entrepreneurs. The students who will go to Chicago for the consulting immersion want to transition out of the jobs they currently hold and into the consulting field. So each of these immersions is meant to help online students transition to a new discipline or industry without the summer internship opportunity used by full-time MBAs to make those career leaps.

MORE ONLINE MBA STUDENTS ARE INTERESTED IN USING THE DEGREE TO SWITCH CAREERS

“In about four years, we’ve gone from 10% career switchers in our online program to 40% career switchers, and they want the same services and benefits you would expect in a full-time MBA program,” adds Powell. “So we are racing to put into place professional career management services and course offerings to make that possible. We want to get these people ready to talk to MBA recruiters if they want to. That is one big change.”

The Silicon Valley trip is one example. “This immersion course in California was actually motivated by students knocking on our door,” says Powell. “They asked us to give them an academic experience that would allow us to pitch our business plans to venture capitalists. It’s all about designing an online program that caters to career switchers. The full-time MBA does that well due to the internship. we have stumbled upon different innovative face-to-face experiences that will give students two, three or four action-based learning experiences so they will be able to walk into an interview and differentiate themselves. Combine that with really good career coaching and these guys can be competitive with any students. I’ve got top consulting companies specifically asking for our online talent now.”

At Arizona Sate, the 21-month online MBA program allows students to meet at a face-to-face orientation just once at the ASU campus, then complete the rest of the courses online. Students work in small, personalized teams with peers from other industries, typically focusing on one course at a time. The school says the program is one of a few in which students can earn their degrees with an area of emphasis, such as finance, international business, marketing or supply chain management.

(See the following page for a table of the top 25 online MBA programs according to U.S. News)