Let’s cut to the chase. There is no perfect way of measuring a business school’s quality. But at Poets&Quants, we believe the best way is to equally measure three key aspects of the higher education experience: the quality of incoming students, the actual academic and extracurricular experience judged by recent graduates, and the professional and career outcomes of students. With those factors as a guide, we surveyed schools and alumni that have graduated in the past two years to create our 2019 ranking of top online MBA programs.
For our second annual ranking of online MBA programs, we first reached out to schools for feedback on our debut ranking, asking for suggestions on how we might improve both the process and the ranking itself. Based on those suggestions, we made some tweaks (see below for full details) and sent the survey to the schools, asking them to allow us to survey graduates of their online programs from 2016 to last spring. We used data gathered from the schools for the admissions portion of the methodology, and data from the alumni survey for the MBA experience and career outcomes portions. This year, 35 schools completed the school survey and all but one, Louisiana State University, allowed us to survey their alumni. Among the 34 schools surveyed, 1,297 out of 7,095 alums responded, for a response rate of a little more than 18%.
Not surprisingly, there are fewer credible rankings of online MBA programs than rankings of the more traditional residential MBA offerings. While a Google search shows prospective students a variety of online rankings, the only other credible lists are put out by U.S. News & World Report and the Financial Times. Other rankings are largely clickbait schemes, with suspiciously vague methodologies, designed not to help and inform applicants but to generate paid leads for second- and third-tier programs.
Keep in mind that no ranking is perfect. Even though this ranking was created in collaboration with several online MBA deans, there are some things that simply cannot be accurately measured in a ranking. Some alumni, for example, may be less than candid in completing surveys, knowing that they are being used to rank their alma maters. Response rates can vary from one school to the next, having an unknown impact on results. And one drawback to our ranking is that it is entirely U.S. centric when there are some excellent online options in Europe, particularly at Warwick Business School in Britain and IE Business School in Spain.
On our list are programs that are 100% online where students and faculty never meet in person but also hybrid programs with weekly live online classes and residencies on campus and elsewhere. So while the prices for these programs vary greatly, so does the kind of education you would receive in an online option. Carefully explore these differences in our profiles to make the right choice for yourself.
As stated, a third of our new ranking came from admissions standards based on school-reported data. The greatest weight (50%) was placed on the average class score on a standardized test, whether the GMAT or the GRE, along with the percentage of students who took a standardized test to gain entry into a program. But we also gave credit to programs that enrolled students with at least 10 years of work experience, even if their standardized test score was waived. This latter adjustment was made after several schools convincingly argued that students who bring valuable work experience to an online program should not be expected to take a GMAT or GRE exam. USC topped this category, because the school had an average GMAT of 648, with 25% of the class reporting GMAT scores. However, the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business also reported that 77% of the class — for which the GMAT and GRE was waived — boasted at least 10 years of work experience.
The next heavily weighted categories are average undergraduate GPA and average work experience, which each had a 20% weight. The University of Cincinnati’s Lindner School of Business had the highest average undergraduate GPA for its most recent class at 3.55. Lowest was the Rochester Institute of Technology with an average of 2.93. For average work experience, the business school at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale reported the highest at 15.6 years. The lowest was Ohio University, with an average five years of work experience. The final 10% came from from the acceptance rate for the most recent class. Topping that category, with the lowest acceptance rate, was the University of Texas-Dallas Jindal School of Management at 43%. At the other end was the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, each with an acceptance rate of 92%.
We measured students’ satisfaction with their online MBA program by averaging their answers on 11 different questions about their academic and extracurricular experience. Graduates were asked to answer these questions on a 1-to-10 point scale. Besides the more obvious questions on the quality of their professors, class projects, and fellow students, we also asked students to rate such things as consulting projects, international immersions (if any), even student clubs and organizations. (For all questions see: How Alumni Rated Their Online MBA Experience). This represents another change from our debut ranking, for which only six survey questions were used.
Overall, alumni rated their programs very well. Some 14 schools scored an average of at least 9 on the 1-to-10 scale. Only seven schools averaged less than 8, and the last-place school, the University of Wisconsin’s MBA Consortium, scored a 7.1. At the top was Hofstra University’s Zarb School of Business with an average of about 9.6.
The career outcomes section was based on alumni responses to seven other questions. Weighted at 20% was the percentage of alums who said they reached their primary goal for entering the online MBA program. For that question, 100% of alums from nine schools said they reached their primary career goal in their respective online MBA programs. Another 17 schools had at least 90% of alums reporting reaching their primary career goal. Alumni giving their alma mater the lowest scores in this category came from the Rochester Institute of Technology, where 81.25% believed the program helped them reach their primary goal.
Also weighted 20% was the average of two questions regarding a school-provided career coach or mentor, along with their assessment of the career services function at their school. Hofstra University scored the highest with a 9.6 average on a 1-to-10 scale. The University of Wisconsin had the lowest average at 6.0. We also placed a 20% weight on graduates’ assessment of the value of the alumni network to their careers. At the top of that category was the University of Southern California with a score of 9.44 on the 1-to-10 scale. At the bottom was Wisconsin with a 5.5.
Next, we put a 15% weight on the percentage of students who said they received a salary raise or a promotion as a result of the program. Scoring the highest in the promotion category was USC, where 64% of alums reported getting a promotion directly because of the online MBA program. The lowest percentage was a little less than 17% of alums from Southern Illinois University. Some 90% of the alums of the University of Texas-Dallas said they had received an increase in pay directly as a result of the online MBA program, highest of all the schools for which alumni were surveyed. The University of Cincinnati had the lowest rate at 20%. The final 10% weight in this category came from asking alums if their secondary career goal was reached because of the program. All alumni at six schools reported that their secondary career goal was achieved. The lowest school was the University of North Dakota, where about 63% of alums said their secondary goal was reached.
POETS&QUANTS’ 2019 ONLINE RANKING PACKAGE