P&Q’s 2018 Online MBA Ranking: How We Crunched The Numbers

U.S. News 2015 Online MBA Ranking

Rankings of online MBA programs are relatively new and few. The only two lists currently worth consulting are the annual rankings published by U.S. News & World Report and the Financial Times in Britain. The U.S. News list, which debuted in 2013, focuses entirely on U.S. programs. In the 2018 version of the list,

U.S. News placed numerical ranks on an overwhelming 267 online MBA programs in the U.S., initially ranking Temple University’s Fox School of Business No. 1 for the fourth consecutive year. Temple has since been kicked off the list for incorrectly reporting data that allowed the school’s online offering to come in first. Fox’s removal effectively placed Carnegie Mellon and Indiana University’s online MBA programs in a tie for first place.

The Financial Times, which began ranking online MBA programs in 2014, has a more global outlook but is highly limited, ranking only 20 programs. Spain’s IE Business School and the United Kingdom’s Warwick Business School top the 2017 list from the FT.


While there is no perfect approach to rank business school programs, Poets&Quants firmly believes that there are three core dimensions to measure the quality of any educational undertaking: 1) the quality of the incoming students, 2) an assessment by graduates of the MBA experience, both the academic and the extracurricular activities, and 3) the career outcomes of a program’s graduates.

In this, our first ranking of online MBA programs, we place equal weight on these three elements and gathered the data from both school and alumni surveys. The school survey asked for a wide variety of statistics from admission standards to global immersion trips. The alumni survey, sent to MBA graduates who were two years removed from the program, sought their impressions on a wide range of topics, from whether the program fulfilled their expectations to whether they would recommend the program to others.

As can be expected in any debut ranking, several schools declined to participate. Temple University’s Fox School of Business, which was recently tossed aside from U.S. News’ 2018 ranking for misreporting critical data, declined to allow us to survey their alumni. Because the school’s data reporting processes are now under a review by a law firm, we excluded the school from this ranking. At the University of Southern California, the online offering was so new that the school had no alumni to survey. At Penn State University, a major update to the online MBA meant that we would be surveying alumni who graduated from a different program. So Penn State opted out as well.


Still, many other schools enthusiastically participated in the rankings by completing our program surveys. It was, however, more difficult for many schools to comply with our requirement to survey alumni. That often was true because online MBA programs, typically at schools that are not highly ranked for their full-time programs, lack the resources to fully track their graduates and keep them engaged in the school in a strong and useful alumni network. Indeed, this is a major weakness of many online MBA programs. In all, 27 schools allowed P&Q to survey alumni for our ranking of the top 25 programs, with completed surveys from 223 graduates. Some 38 schools completed program surveys.

The following schools participated in the alumni survey portion of the ranking: Carnegie Mellon, Drexel University, Florida International, Georgia Southern University, Indiana University, Lehigh University, Lousiana State University, Ohio University, Northeastern University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Southern Illinois University, Syracuse University, University of Delaware, University of Florida, University of Maryland, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, University of Michigan at Dearborn, University of Nebraska at Lincon, University of North Dakota, University of Southern Florida. SUNY-Oswego, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, University of Texas at Dallas, and University of Wisconsin.

When we believed that a program warranted a ranking but were unable to survey its graduates or unable to obtain a valid survey of alumni, we substituted the bottom quartile scores of all our survey respondents to fill in that portion of this inaugural ranking. This process allowed several schools, with relatively strong admission standards, to make our top 25 list.


Though some schools claim that the admission standards for their online offerings are as rigorous as their full-time, on-campus MBA programs that is rarely, if ever true. Typically, acceptance rates for online MBA programs are substantially higher and GMAT and GRE scores are significantly lower than they are for the best full-time residential MBA programs. Online programs are far more likely to waive standardized test scores and to admit students with no meaningful work experience.

Yet, the raw quality of the incoming students in any program is a major factor in creating a rewarding learning environment and in a school’s ability to increase its reputational capital. That is why we have placed so much importance on measuring the quality of a program’s latest class of enrolled students.

To do so, we placed a 50% weight in this category on average GMAT and GRE scores as well as the percentage of the incoming class that submitted a standardized test score to gain entry to the program. We placed a 20% weight on average undergraduate GPA, and another 20% weight on work experience. Almost all online MBA students have some work experience but we penalized schools that enrolled students with no work experience whatsoever. We also placed the remaining 10% weight on a school’s acceptance rate.

Each of these metrics were then added together and indexed to create a score representing a school’s admissions selectivity.


To guage the quality of the actual educational experience, we relied on six core questions from our alumni survey. The most weight—50%—was placed on alumni responses to whether they would recommend the program to others on a scale of one to ten, with ten representing the most enthusiastic endorsement. By and large, most graduates were highly positive about their online experience, with Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School earning a perfect score of ten from its graduates, highest of any school, and the Rochester Insitute of Technology’s graduates giving their program a 7.17 average score, lowest of them all.

Each of the five remaining questions received a 10% weight. They includes responses on the overall quality of the faculty, the accessibility of professors in the program to students, one’s ability to apply at work what they learned in the program, and whether graduates believed they had made good connections with faculty and with fellow classmates during the program.

All six metrics were then combined to create an index score to reflect graduate perceptions of the quality of the program.


Obviously, students who attend online MBA programs do so to enhance their upward mobility. Some simply want to more quickly advance in their current companies and gain greater responsibility. Others want to use the degree to transition out of an industry or company and try something new. Rather than impose our view of what success looks like, we simply asked alumni to tell us whether their program allowed them to accomplish their primary and their secondary goals for getting the MBA on a scale of one to ten. The primary goal was given a 40% weight, while the secondary goal was given a 20% weight.

Two other career-related questions were placed in the mix to account for the remaining 40% weight in this section. One question asked for them to rate the quality of the career advising function at their schools, while the other asked them to rate the value of the program’s alumni network to help them in their careers.

While the best schools, with mentors and coaches and pro-active career management functions, did quite well on career outcomes. Some of the lowest scores in our alumni survey were recorded on these questions. Average responses on some of these questions fell as low as a 5.0 on our ten-point scale at three programs.

The reponses for each of the five questions was then totalled for an average and expressed as an index score in the final ranking.


The overall ranking combines all three equally weighted portions of our approach reflected in an index score. The top score in every category and overall equals 100. By reporting the index scores rather than a numerical rank in each category, we believe users of the ranking can more clearly see the apparent strengths and weaknesses between and among the programs. Schools with the highest scores across all three measures were then given numercial ranks. The underlying index scores for ranking the top 25 programs are also visible so users can judge the validity of each school’s lead over another.


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