The Most (And Least) Affordable Highly Ranked Online MBA Programs

Online students from Kenan-Flagler’s MBA@UNC appear on screen via video feeds


Following Tepper’s $128,000 was the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School’s online MBA program priced at $114,048 as the second-most expensive on our list. After Kenan-Flagler is the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, which offers an online MBA at $95,618. Babson College’s online program was the next most expensive at $89,560 and rounding out the top five for most expensive was Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business with a cost of $89,180.

“We have one MBA program at Tepper with three delivery formats — full-time on-campus, part-time on-campus, and online,” says Cindy McCauley, the executive director for the online MBA program at Tepper. “All three formats are the exact same curriculum, faculty and access to career and leadership resources as our campus programs. Therefore, tuition is also the same and competitive with other top 20 MBA programs.”

According to McCauley, the entire online MBA program is managed in-house, complete with a video studio, media services department, as well as recruiting, student services, and career management. At North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, third party provider 2U essentially runs the entire program from videography to targeting and recruiting applicants. According to Kenan-Flager Dean Doug Shackelford, using 2U helps to curb additional costs for the Kenan-Flagler online MBA program. “If we had to provide those services, we would not be nearly as good at providing those services as they are,” Shackelford says, noting that it costs a lot to find and recruit the quality of students they are enrolling in the program.


And then comes the argument of getting what you pay for.

“There are no secrets here. Schools like ours and Carnegie Mellon are top 20 business schools,” Shackelford says. “And our tuition is more expensive than most of the other schools you would see on there.” Both McCauley and Shackelford emphasized that their schools are hitting the same quality of education in the online MBA programs as the full-time and part-time offerings. “If you try to hit that standard, you are going to end up having a program that is equally costly,” Shackelford continues. “You are also going to end up having a program that students view as equally valuable.”

McCauley has similar sentiments. “We find that a Tepper online MBA student values a quality curriculum, access to top faculty, opportunities to connect in-person with colleagues and access to campus resources over cost,” McCauley says. “We are focused on delivering a top-tier education online, not enrolling as many students as possible.”


Another commonality among the top two programs is students meeting outside of the virtual world. Like, in real-life. At Tepper, they are called Access Weekends and take place six times a year. McCauley says the Friday through Sunday programs include in-person classes, career and leadership activities, and networking opportunities with classmates. Students front the cost of travel, but the school covers lodging and meals once the students get to Tepper’s Pittsburgh campus.

At Kenan-Flagler, online MBA students meet once a year at a location in the U.S., twice a year outside of the U.S. and once at North Carolina’s Chapel Hill campus. “Those immersions are extremely expensive for us to put on,” Shackelford notes.

The in-person component is one of three parts to the program, Shackelford explains. First, Shackelford says is the “one-way delivery” method. “We have a three-camera, eight-person production crew, which produces something akin to documentary-type quality,” Shackelford explains. The videographers either setup shop in the back of a classroom or in a studio. “I call it a poor man’s — maybe a very poor man’s — 60 Minutes-type documentary,” Shackelford adds. That material doesn’t look like anything you’ve ever seen that you would call a lecture. “It needs to be highly engaging.” A lot of the cost of the program stems from those high-quality video courses.

Next, according to Shackelford, is the interactive class piece. “We call it The Brady Bunch,” Shackelford quips. The courses are limited to 15 students and one professor and are setup in a non-lecture, seminar format. It’s called The Brady Bunch because everyone’s face is on the screen in a grid format for the entirety of the 90-minute class period. “Everybody knows everybody else’s name,”says Shackelford, noting the format of the class is one of the elements that separates Kenan-Flagler’s online version from others. “We’re trying to build the best in-class program of this type that’s ever been done and build a brand and reputation for doing that and attract students who want to be part of such a program. We want to attract great students that meet the same standards we’re used to having in our other programs.”


Once again, both McCauley and Shackelford maintain, the price point comes down to the prestige of the schools.

“Tepper MBA students gain a depth of knowledge in both leadership and analytics,” McCauley says. “They can not only use data to make decisions, but have the leadership skills to mobilize teams for the successful implementation of those decisions. Students who are looking for this kind of rigorous training will find it in any of our delivery formats, including our Online MBA.”

Same goes for Shackelford. “We weren’t ever driven in this program by how much money we can make,” he says. “We see this as a huge emerging market. And we want to be the top provider of education in what we believe will be an increasingly important delivery method for business education going forward.”

See the next page for the list of the most and least affordable highly ranked online MBA programs.


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