Sometimes in life you don’t get what you pay for. The pricey things break and the economical options last forever. Likewise, when it comes to online MBA degrees, an extraordinary cost doesn’t guarantee prestige; nor does a bargain price tag necessarily indicate a subpar program. To help navigate the most and least expensive online MBA programs, we compiled a list: the top 25 programs in the Poets&Quants Online MBA Ranking, the top 25 in U.S. News & World Report ranking of online MBA programs, and a few of the international schools ranked in the top five in the Financial Times ranking of online MBA.
Of the 41 programs included, the average cost of an online MBA is $52,264, if we include only tuition. The gap between the high and low price tags is more than $100,000. Tuition for an online MBA from Mississippi State University is only $13,680 — lower than any other school on the list — while a degree from Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business will cost you $128,000 — more than any other school on the list. Make of this what you will: Mississippi State placed 22nd in the 2018 U.S. News online MBA rankings, but was unranked in the Poets&Quants inaugural online MBA ranking. Carnegie Mellon, however, topped the Poets&Quants ranking and placed second in U.S. News — but essentially finished first after Temple’s Fox School of Business was removed for allegedly fudging GMAT data.
One program is an elite, appeal-to-all online MBA. The other has a very specific mission. “We are a land grant university, and our mission is to educate the people of Mississippi and the region,” says Cindy Smith, the director of distance learning at Mississippi State’s College of Business. “We could probably fill our seats if we raised our prices, but that would put our degree out of the reach of the people we are trying to serve.”
TOP THREE MOST AFFORDABLE SCHOOLS HAVE TUITION PRICE TAGS AT LESS THAN $20K
The next most affordable option is Ball State University’s online MBA offered through the Miller College of Business, with a total tuition cost of $18,090. The University of North Dakota was next at $19,152. Arkansas State University-Jonesboro, which ranked 12th in the U.S. News ranking, is next with a tuition price tag of $20,130. Rounding out the top five most affordable schools is the University of Wisconsin’s MBA Consortium, which costs $20,250. Wisconsin’s program placed 11th in the P&Q ranking and 14th in the U.S. News.
“We are affordable, accessible, and flexible,” Smith says of Mississippi State’s program, which does not charge any out-of-state tuition. “You can start in summer, fall or spring, and take up to eight years to complete the degree. The most frequent time to completion is two years. Our program requires no campus visits, although students are welcome to come on campus to visit, and many choose to walk in the graduation ceremony.”
Like many other top online MBA programs, the curriculum is taught by the school’s full-time MBA faculty. “Our courses are taught by tenure track faculty, the same faculty who teach on campus in the College of Business,” Smith continues. We do not rely on adjuncts or part time instructors.”
A MILITARY MBA BECOMES THE ONLINE MBA
One of the oldest and most affordable programs on the list is at the University of Nebraska’s College of Business. At $30,240, Nebraska’s online MBA is the 10th most affordable and ranked 17th in this year’s P&Q ranking. Once a program for military personnel, what is now Nebraska’s online MBA was originally based at the Offutt Air Force Base located less than 15 miles from downtown Omaha and about an hour drive from Nebraska’s Lincoln campus. “Part of the reason we are able to keep our cost low is that we’ve been building on our platform for a long time, so a lot of those startup costs, we have eaten over time,” says Jake Messersmith, the executive director of graduate programs at the Nebraska College of Business.
After the September 11th terrorist attacks, access to the Air Force base was restricted for faculty members, which prompted Nebraska to move the program online in 2002. The original contract the university had with the Air Force is still in place, which keeps the program exempt from normal tuition hikes that take place at public universities, despite it now being opened to the general public as well as military members. “We work hard to keep that cost low,” Messersmith says. “We are in a low cost location compared to some of our competitors.”
The majority of the most affordable schools are also in lower cost areas, mainly scattered around the Midwest and South. Meanwhile, schools closer to the coasts such as the University of North Carolina, University of Southern California, Babson College, Pepperdine University, and the University of Maryland are all among the most expensive schools on the list.
‘THIS IS A SHOWCASE PROGRAM FOR US’
Messersmith says schools like his own and other that offer degrees at a lower price point often have to deal with the “big misperception” of getting what you pay for. “We feel like we are still able to offer a high quality experience and a high quality product to our students without having to charge such a high price,” Messersmith explains, noting the program is still 48 credit hours and is delivered by full-time faculty and is part of a large, Big 10 research university.
“What we try to do differently is engage with students as often as we can and offer them a higher level of service through our engagement professionals and advisors,” Messersmith continues. “We also try to offer additional experiential opportunities — that’s what we’re really trying to build out.”
Additional resources have recently been poured into the program, Messersmith says. The result has been an updated in-house filming studio and videographer as well as hiring two engagement coordinators who are tasked with finding more engagement opportunities for online students in leadership development programs and case competitions.
“We see this as a space that we are really strong in and can be even stronger in,” Messersmith notes. “Just know we’re not resting. We’re continuing to invest, and we see this as not a money-making program. This is a showcase program for us that we want to be meaningful for our students.”