Tepper, Kelley Top 2018 Online MBA Ranking


The online MBA market has not only become highly crowded and largely commoditized, but student demands have shifted as well. Ten years ago, many online students simply wanted the degree and the skills that came with it. They were more willing to sit in front of a laptop and view a series of video lectures, do the assigned readings, and participate in online forums. Employers also were more likely to subsidize the bill, and students wanted to put the degree on their resumes.

As students began reaching into their own pockets to fund their online education, however, they started demanding more from these programs, including occasional residential gatherings on campus, live sessions with accessible and responsive faculty, global immersion trips, real consulting projects that require live presentations, one-on-one executive coaches, and full access to career development centers.

“We found that students started to ask for things that typically happen in the full-time programs, from international experiences to more engagement on career paths and professional development,” says Ash Soni, executive associate dean of academic programs at Indiana Kelley. “What we have done is formalize these processes. The international experience is the AGILE (Accelerating Global Immersion Leadership Education) trips that go into social impact and consulting overseas. On the professional development side, we found out that half the people want to switch careers in the online space, and now we provide that support in the same way we do it in the full-time program.”


As a general rule, the more expensive programs attempt to mimic as best they can on-campus programs — and the pricier programs also typically boast better academic brand. The least-expensive offerings are less likely to include on-campus residencies, accessible tenure-track faculty, more live classes, immersion trips, projects, and live presentations. A good example is the inexpensive online offering from Georgia Southern University. Launched in 2001, the 21-month program is one of the longest-running AACSB-accredited online programs. The school takes a team-based approach to learning and boasts high completion and satisfaction rates and experienced online faculty.

But at a total cost of $23,620 — among the lowest of the Top 25 options — students are not going to see a lot of extras. Other than a two-day orientation at Atlanta’s airport, 100% of the coursework is online. There’s no consulting project, no opportunity for an international experience in the program, and no student-run clubs or organizations. You’re not going to get an executive coach or mentor, either. The least-expensive program, at the University of North Dakota’s College of Business & Public Administration, is similar, with a price tag of just $19,152. But North Dakota does offer an optional international experience. The program’s international business concentration allows students to get global coursework abroad at the BI Norwegian Business School.

Contrast that with Indiana’s Kelly Direct program. Launched in 1999, the $67,830 online offering has nearly 4,000 alumni. It has evolved into an MBA program that has almost all of the frills of Kelley’s on-campus offering. Each student meets with an academic mentor at regular intervals throughout the program and gets full access to the school’s well-known professional development offering. Only 40% of the coursework is asynchronous, with the remaining 60% delivered in live weekly classes, a pair of one-week residencies on the university’s Bloomington campus, immersion courses with consulting projects, and international trips to study business in countries all over the world.


You just don’t pack your bags and go. The Kelley Direct trips are a culmination of several weeks of country-specific online content that explores the cultural, political, and economic forces on the country’s businesses. While in-country, students either make a number visits to a wide range of companies or they complete a week-long consulting project with a local small business. Kelley, moreover, offers an AGILE course every single term.

Students can opt to take one of seven concentrations, ranging from business analytics to technology management. Not a single class in the program is taught by faculty who don’t teach in other programs at the school. Kelley Direct boasts nine student clubs and organizations exclusively for online students. The online student leadership association hosts global connect nights in some 25 cities worldwide at least twice a year, so students can connect in person with each other.

The program starts with a required on-campus program called Kelley Connect Week, where students tackle s a live business case focusing on a small business, with students teams presenting their analysis and recomendations to the business owners at the end of the week. Then students jump into their regular coursework. There are live sessions weekly that are also recorded, so students can re-watch a class or watch one they were unable to attend live. Midway through the program, students return to Bloomington to complete a second required week-long residency. This time, students do another live business case on a large company facing a global challenge that ends with yet another presentation before company executives.

For all the extras, Kelley’s program seems fairly priced at under $70,000, though the school is offering scholarships to some students, unlike many online rivals. On our list of the Top 25, there are several more expensive programs at Carnegie Mellon and UNC, while the online offering at the University of Texas’ Jindal School is nearly $84,000. But as we said, when it comes to online MBAs, you get what you pay for.

(See following page for our ranking of the Top 25 online programs and how they rate on three dimensions.)

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