The Best MBA Programs For “Value”

Arkansas State Online MBA Faculty

Arkansas State Online MBA Faculty


When you think of the top online MBA programs, what schools come to mind? Indiana? That’s U.S. News’ top-ranked program (tied with Temple, technically). Florida? Students love it there! Kenan-Flagler? It’s a solid program all the way around. Arkansas State? Wait, what?

That’s right! Using the same methodology as its full-time ranking, Value Colleges ranked Arkansas State as the top online MBA program in the land (for value, that is). Ranked 12th by U.S. News – and unranked by The Financial Times – what does this diamond-in-the-rough from Jonesboro offer?

For starters, Arkansas State plows heavy resources into “faculty credentials and training.” In U.S. News, the school’s online program earned a perfect 100 score in this area, which factors in tenure, degree attainment, technical support, and ongoing faculty training. In fact, all 20 instructors in the online program are tenured faculty.  It also earned a 95 score in “student engagement,” which encompasses accreditation standards, graduation rate, class size, and retention. In fact, the program’s U.S. News ranking was only dragged down by “student services and technology” and “admissions selectivity,” neither of which were measured in Value Colleges’ rubric.

The school charges $480 per credit (regardless of state residence), with the class of 2014, carrying an average debt of $16,870 (with 52 percent in debt). Graduates also averaged $80,000 salaries within three months of graduation with a 100 percent placement rate. In addition, students can earn their MBA entirely online, with the school boasting an 87 percent graduation rate within three years.


How do these numbers stack up to Kelley, the seeming pacesetter for online MBA programs? Actually, the comparison is quite favorable to Arkansas State in some ways. For starters, Kelley’s faculty credentialing and training and student engagement scores are both 10 points or more lower than Arkansas State. Among the 38 full-time and 2 part-time faculty who teach in Kelley’s online MBA program, just 28 (70 percent) are tenured. Kelley’s three-year graduation rate is 72 percent, 15 points lower than Arkansas State. And its cost per credit is $1200, $720 more per credit more than Arkansas State.

However, debt load and salaries are where Kelley truly differentiates itself. While U.S. News doesn’t post debt figures for Kelley online MBAs, 95 percent of students receive employer sponsorship (three times higher than Arkansas State). What’s more, Kelley students enter the online MBA program earning salaries of $99,874. When they graduate, they’re making $118,187 – over $48,000 more than Arkansas State online MBAs. And that only accrues as time passes, making Kelley the better long-term investment.

Make no mistake: Arkansas State offers real value. Despite being fully online, it offers the same services as campus students receive, including tutoring, writing workshops, mentoring, and career services. It is taught by the same professors, who average four years of online teaching experience and apply the same curriculum as brick-and-mortar students use.


Here’s a shocker: You won’t find Kelley ranked anywhere in Value Colleges’ top 50. At the same time, stalwarts like Florida and North Carolina come in at 12th and 15th respectively. So which schools will you find in their spots? Ranking second is the University of Wisconsin’s MBA Consortium. Headed by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, it also includes state programs from LaCrosse, Oshkosh, and Parkside (but not the state’s flagship MBA program in Madison). Like Arkansas State, the consortium leans heavily on tenured faculty and personalized attention (as evidenced by its 73 percent graduation rate within three years). The program also charges $675 per credit, a rate that’s available to both in-state and out-of-state residents.

Isenberg School of Management

Isenberg School of Management

The University of Massachusetts-Amherst, whose online MBA program ranks 11th and 12th with The Financial Times and U.S. News respectively, rounds out the top three for value. At 1,257 students, Isenberg is among the largest online MBA programs, charging $825 per credit hour. However, just 20 percent of graduates leave with any debt, which averages $31,314 (53 percent of online MBAs receive employee sponsorship). However, the program carries some baggage. Just 53 percent of students graduate within three years (despite new student retention rates that average between 93 to 98 percent over the past four years). At the same time, of the 34 full-time and part-time faculty who teach online programs, just eight are tenured or working on a tenure track. In other words, this is a program where it is very easy for students to get lost.


Does these ranking mean that you should chuck your application to Temple and head to Shippensburg instead? Not exactly. Like the luxury market, name brands matter. And an MBA from a Kelley will open doors faster than Wayne State will. And that doesn’t factor in the caliber of classmates, faculty, and alums, which are harder to quantify but equally important. Still, Value Colleges does a great service, giving props to programs that many of us hadn’t considered. While its outcome-based methodology may fail to account for the nuances of brand prestige and cohort quality, it does remind us that there are different ways to evaluate schools. And many of those schools we sometimes overlook are doing plenty of things right.

Here is how Value Colleges ranked the top ten online MBA programs for value:

  1. Arkansas State University, College of Business
  2. University of Wisconsin, MBA Corsortium
  3. University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Isenberg School of Management
  4. West Texas A&M University
  5. Wayne State University , School of Business Administration
  6. University of Nebraska (Lincoln) College of Business Administration
  7. Marist College School of Management
  8. West New England University, College of Business
  9. Jacksonville State University, College of Commerce and Business Administration
  10. Shippensburg University, John L. Grove College of Business


Sources: Business Insider (GraduatePrograms), Value Colleges (FT MBA), Value Colleges (Online MBA)

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