For the third consecutive year, the online MBA program at Temple University’s Fox School of Business today (Jan. 10) won the No. 1 spot in U.S. News & World Report‘s ranking of the best MBAs delivered via the Internet. To claim the title, Fox’s $59,760 program again beat out several prestige business schools, with programs that cost much more, including Carnegie Mellon, Indiana University, the University of North Carolina and the University of Southern California.
Most of those schools were not far behind Fox in the new ranking. Carnegie Mellon’s $122,880 online program came in second, rising four places from sixth a year ago, while Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business was third, UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School was fourth, and the University of Florida’s Hough School of Business took the No. 5 spot.
Among the top 24 ranked schools, there are some notable changes. The University of Maryland’s online MBA program, which had been removed from the 2016 rankings based on “communications between the school and U.S. News,” made a return at a rank of ninth place. USC’s online program, unranked last year, came in 12th in a tie with three other schools. Otherwise, the biggest gainer near the top was the online program at the University of Wisconsin’s Whitewater campus, rising 11 places to finish 16th from 29th a year earlier.
AT MOST TOP SCHOOLS, ENROLLMENT IS GROWING
Among the biggest slumps? Cleveland State University saw its online MBA drop 27 places year-over-year to a rank of 47th from 20th in 2016. Lehigh University’s online offering which dropped 16 places to end up with a rank of 21st, down from eighth in 2016. As is typical of all rankings, the further down the list one goes, the more dramatic are the gains and losses. Samford University’s Brock School of Business in Birmingham, Alabama, jumped 85 places to rank 72nd from 157th, while Louisiana State’s Ourso School of Business jumped 58 places to finish 47th from 105th.
Online MBA degrees, at least at most of the top schools, are gaining more traction. At UNC’s Kenan-Flager Business School enrollment jumped to 1,047 this year from 782 a year earlier. At the University of Texas at Dallas, enrollment increased to 325 students from 272, while the acceptance rate for its online MBA program narrowed to 39% from 50% over the past year. The top 11-ranked schools now have a combined enrollment of 4,354 students, while the top 26-ranked schools boast 8,633 students working toward their online MBAs.
A COUP FOR TEMPLE AT A TIME WHEN THE ONLINE MBA SPACE HAS BECOME CROWDED
This is the fifth time U.S. News has ranked online MBAs, having debuted its ranking in 2013. When Temple initially came in first in 2015, the school was in a dead tie with Kelley and UNC. Fox has now claimed first on its own for two straight years in the most-watched ranking when the field of online options has become increasingly crowded. “To be recognized as No. 1 for three years in a row is really an honor given the competition,” says Darin Kapanjie, managing director of online and digital learning at Fox.
Despite the inevitable arguments over its ranking methodology, U.S. News boasts one of only two credible rankings of online MBA options. The other tenable list by the Financial Times is far more limited with only 15 ranked schools. In all, U.S. News now ranks 180 online MBA programs, though the magazine lists without numerical rank another 75 business schools with online options in the U.S. alone.
At a time when competition for online students has heated up, with several schools now offering discounted tuition to applicants through scholarships, the new ranking is bound to get more attention. Like the emergence of “fake news” in the recent political campaign, a number of “fake rankings” in the online arena have surfaced in recent years. Many of them are efforts by creators of hastily assembled websites to gain a referral fee for students they steer to certain school programs. They mix highly credible programs with third-tier offerings in the hopes of convincing applicants to go to schools with programs of lesser quality (see Why A Goat Farmer Ranks Business Schools).
WHAT U.S. NEWS ATTEMPTS TO MEASURE IN ITS RANKING
The U.S. News ranking boasts an overly complicated formula that centers on nearly 50 different metrics in five measured categories: Student engagement (28% of the weight), admissions selectivity (25%), peer reputation (25%), faculty credentials and training (11%), and student services and technology (11%). In each category, several metrics are taken into account. In admissions selectivity, for example, assigns a 40% weight to average GMAT and GRE scores of incoming students, 20% on the class’ average undergraduate grade point average, 20% on the acceptance rate, and finally 20% on what U.S. News calls “experience.”
That latter metric is based on three equally weighted parts: The extent to which work experience and undergraduate business coursework is required; whether applicants are required to submit three letters of recommendation, including one from a professional contact; and the percentage of new entrants sponsored by an employer. In effect, U.S. News arbitrarily penalizes schools that require only two recommendation letters or schools whose students are not sponsored.
Despite what may appear to be a large number of rigorous metrics, the ups and downs of schools in the ranking are considerable. Nearly half (45) of the top 104 schools experienced double-digit increases or decreases, many of them moving by 20 or more places in a single year–a sign that the differences among the programs are so small as to be insignificant. And many of the ranked schools are tied for their positions, with a half dozen schools in a tie for 21st place and eight schools locked at 47th.