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Michigan Ross Makes Big Move Into Online MBA Space

The first intake for the new Michigan Ross part-time online MBA will be in fall 2019; tuition is expected to be $113,000 for in-state students and $123,000 for those from out-of-state. Michigan Ross photo

Feel that shaking? That’s the MBA landscape shifting once again. The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business announced today (August 21) that it will launch a Part-time Online MBA program in the fall of 2019, becoming one of the top schools in the United States to offer online MBA courses.

If Michigan maintains its current spot at No. 7 in the latest U.S. News & World Report full-time ranking, as well as its place at No. 6 in the U.S. News part-time ranking, it will be the highest-ranked U.S. school to commit so much to online MBA instruction. (The same is true of our ranking.) It’s a power move by Michigan, with the ambitious goal of “leading and defining the future of business education.” Will it spark a rush among other elite schools to do more online? Or will it dilute the Ross brand?

“We are dedicated to providing a broader base of working professionals with a high-quality Michigan Ross education, plus the flexibility, academic rigor, and support they need to succeed in business today and in the future,” says Wally Hopp, Michigan’s associate dean for the part-time MBA and director of the new Part-time Online MBA. “But ‘diluting the brand’ is something we think about. A lot of people go to the notion that somehow online will degrade your brand, and the justification for that is generally that online programs are perceived as low-quality right now. On the other hand, if you look at many of the schools that offer online programs, their residential programs aren’t high-quality either, so I’m not sure that it follows that a top-tier school should put out a low-quality program.

“Ross isn’t the only school innovating on the online frontier — everybody’s doing it to some degree, the question is, What’s going to shake out to be the right way? What are the best practices? And here at Ross, we’re committed to finding the best practices to serve our students, to train future business leaders, and we think that it would be criminal on our part to ignore the huge developments that have taken place in the online space.”

COST SET BELOW OTHER ROSS MBA OPTIONS

Wally Hopp. Michigan Ross photo

Costing $113,000 for in-state tuition and $123,000 for out-of-state — figures that Hopp says were “benchmarked against other universities’ programs”  — Michigan’s new Part-time Online MBA joins the Ross School’s wide range of MBA formats: Full-time, Evening, Weekend (where online classes have been a limited part of the program for a few years now), Executive, and Global. The new offering will be a hybrid program, with three in-person residencies on the Ross campus focused on leadership, business transformation, and innovation; the distance element will include courses that are both self-guided study and live, online sessions led by a Ross professor. The cost was intentionally set below the estimated total cost for a degree through either the Evening or Weekend programs, Hopp says, which comes out to about $128,000 for in-state and $138,000 for out-of-state students. The Michigan Ross Full-time MBA costs an estimated $127,292 and $137,292, respectively.

“We’re positioning this below the price of a full-time or even a part-time residential program, because the students don’t make as heavy use of our extensive resources on campus,” Hopp tells Poets&Quants. “So we’re passing along some of the savings to them.”

Even so, Ross’ pricing will be at the top end of the online MBA market. Carnegie Mellon’s online-hybird program currently costs $133,680, while MBA@UNC at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School comes in at a total cost of $124,345, including two required immersions. The cost of the Ross online option also would be considerably above KelleyDirect, Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business online MBA, which is priced at $67,830, or the online MBA at USC’s Marshall School which now costs $105,542.

There will be two intakes per year, Hopp says, in the fall and winter. A third intake is a possibility down the road. As with other Ross programs, students will have a maximum 10 years to finish their degree — an almost absurd amount of time that would certainly prompt “a conversation on moving it along,” says Patti Russo, managing director of Ross’s part-time programs. But they also can finish in as few as two years, effectively making the part-time program a full-time one.

NOT (YET) TIME FOR A FULL-TIME ONLINE ROSS MBA

Michigan’s commitment to doing more in the online space will certainly raise eyebrows, and may even impact plans, at peer schools. After all, most schools ranked higher overall than Michigan by either Poets&Quants or U.S. News don’t even offer part-time MBA programs, though UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, tied with Michigan at No. 7 in the overall U.S. News ranking, has had the top-ranked part-time program for many years. The only other top school with a full- or part-time program that offers online MBA courses is UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, which offers a hybrid format for its Fully Employed MBA, a part-time program that was ranked No. 5 on the 2019 U.S. News list. Other very high-quality MBA courses have been online for years: The programs at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School Business and Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business were named Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in P&Q‘s inaugural online MBA ranking in February, and despite its disappointing placement in the same ranking the MBA@UNC at Kenan-Flagler Business School has long been considered by many to be the gold standard of online MBA degrees.

But those are top-20 business schools, not top-10 schools. For the upper echelon of B-schools — most of which don’t even offer options for part-time MBA study, let alone online courses — Michigan Ross dipping a toe (and possibly more) into the online space is sure to cause reverberations.

An obvious question then becomes: Can we expect greater reverberations? With the door now open, will Ross soon launch a full-time online MBA?

“In the near future, no, because we don’t know how to achieve all of our goals for business education online,” Hopp says. “So we’re still thinking of various mixes of a hybrid program. We have from the fully residential to the only-a-little-bit residential. To go full-time online, we’re going to have to be convinced that we can do some of the network-building and community-building online — and we’re going to try hard to do that. We have been working hard to replicate some of the co-curricular experiences that MBA students have, through the online medium.

“Right now business education is set up so that we say, ‘You must come to a campus, take two years off work, spend all this time face-to-face — and then when you graduate you’re going to manage people over videoconferencing and telecommunications channels because that’s the way that global organizations work.’ But this gives us an opportunity to take those students and educate them in some of those same media that they’re going to actually work in as managers. I’m not convinced that it’s impossible to build the social networks through a fully online channel. I just don’t know how to do it yet.”

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