Indiana & UNC Share First Place In U.S. News’ 2019 Online MBA Ranking

A student in Kenan-Flagler’s MBA@UNC online MBA program

Two major business school players in the online MBA space have taken first place in U.S. News‘ newest 2019 ranking of the best online MBA programs. Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business and the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flager Business School share top honors on the 2019 list after the disappearance of Temple University’s online offering which had placed first for four consecutive years.

After gaining first last year, Temple’s Fox School of Business was removed from the ranking by U.S. News after the school acknowledged that it had fraudulently reported data to U.S. News over a number of years to secure its top position. Only last month, the school disclosed that it had agreed to pay students of its MBA and other business programs nearly $5.5 million in a settlement of a class action suit (see Temple Fox Reaches $5.5 Million Settlement In Rankings Scandal).

For Indiana’s Kelley Direct program and Kenan-Flagler’s MBA@UNC, it is the second time that the two schools shared a number one online ranking in U.S. News. The same result occurred in 2015 when three schools, including Temple, were locked in a three-way tie for top honors. Over the seven years that U.S. News has been ranking online MBA programs, Kelley has racked up the most first place wins with three, while UNC is right behind with two.

CARNEGIE MELLON FINISHES THIRD, FLORIDA FOURTH & USC FIFTH

Besides Temple’s No. 1 online rankings, which now are all suspect, only one other online MBA offering has won U.S. News‘ top spot, Washington State University captured first in the inaugural 2013 ranking. The school’s online MBA is ranked 13th this year, unchanged from a year ago.

Rounding out this year’s top five are No. 3 Carnegie Mellon University, No. 4 the University of Florida, and No. 5 the University of Southern California‘s Marshall School. They are followed by Arizona State University and the University of Texas-Dallas, both tied for sixth place, the University of Maryland in eighth, and then four online MBAs are tied for ninth place: Auburn University, Penn State University, the University of Mississippi, and the University of Wisconsin‘s MBA Consortium.

This year’s U.S. News online MBA list puts numerical ranks on a record 285 programs, up from 267 last year. What’s more, the magazine profiles 302 different online MBAs. This year will see at least three new prominent players–the University of Michigan, Southern Methodist University, and UC-Davis’ Graduate School of Management–enter the increasingly crowded and commoditized market. Some 4,822 online MBA students are enrolled in just the top 12 programs on U.S. News‘ list, with Indiana boasting an enrollment of 934 students and UNC at 905.

BABSON’S ONLINE MBA PROGRAM GOES FROM 100TH TO 34TH, JUMPING 66 PLACES!

As is often the case with all rankings, there are some eyebrow-raising ups and downs on the 2019 list. The University of Mississippi’s program zoomed into the top ten from a rank of 25 a year ago. Villanova University achieved a rank of 13th, up from 61st last year. Creighton University in Nebraska managed a 17th place finish, after being ranked 54th in 2018. And perhaps the biggest consequential gain–66 places–was posted by Babson College’s online MBA. U.S. News put Babson’s offering in 34th place, up from 100 only a year ago.

Obviously, those big swings and the scandal at Temple don’t help the credibility of this or any other business school rankings. Year-over-year changes in programs are slight and could never really justify substantive changes in a school’s rank. Roller coaster results are more likely reflective of the fact that U.S. News is putting numerical ranks on schools that are so closely bunched together that there is no real statistical difference between and among many of the programs.

In an acknowledgment of this problem, U.S. News‘ list contains numerous ties that in some cases also diminish the credibility of the ranking. There are 70 online MBA programs, for example, that are tied for 215th place. There also are a dozen locked in a tie for 175th, while 11 schools share 90th place. Even at the upper reaches of the ranking, the ties are maddening. Five different schools are tied for both 21th and 26th place, four different programs share ninth, 13th, and 17th place.

ONLY SIX OF THIS YEAR’S TOP TEN WERE ON U.S. NEWS’ INAUGURAL ONLINE RANKING IN 2013

Looking at U.S. News‘ rankings in the past five years, as opposed to any single year, is far more revealing of program quality. Only six of this year’s top ten online MBAs were on U.S. News‘ inaugural list in 2013: Indiana Kelley, Florida, Arizona State, UT-Dallas, and Auburn University.

The most notable top ten newcomers are Carnegie Mellon, which has gone from a debut rank of seven in 2015, to third place in 2018 and 2019. USC’s Marshall School, which entered the list in 2017 at a rank of 12, and has now moved up to fifth, from eighth last year. And the University of Maryland, which first landed in the ranking in 2017 at ninth and is now ranked eighth. These programs have clearly stood the test of time and are in a top-tier of online offerings.

In U.S. News‘ separate ranking of non-MBA online programs in business, Indiana Kelley also captured first place, with its six other master’s degree programs that range from an MS in business analytics to an MS in global supply chain management. USC was in a tie with Villanova for second place, while Kenan-Flager was fourth and Georgetown University was fifth.

HOW THE TWO TOP ONLINE MBA PROGRAMS IN U.S. NEWS’ 2019 RANKING COMPARE

The two schools at the top of this year’s ranking have been among the best online offerings for some time. Indiana University has been a pioneer in the field, launching its KelleyDirect online MBA in 1999. Kenan-Flagler’s MBA@UNC was launched in partnership with 2U, an online digital platform company, in 2011. While both schools compete head-to-head in an increasingly competitive market, the price difference between the two is large. UNC now charges $124,345, while the price tag on the Kelley online program is just $67,830. That is a whopping $61,337 difference (see how the two programs compare on the following page).

For applicants who want to evade either the GMAT or GRE test to apply, UNC appears far more willing to grant candidates waivers. In the latest entering class, only 16% of the students submitted a test score versus 70% at Indiana. But only a year ago, 86% of Kelley’s entering students had taken either the GMAT or GRE so even Kelley is granting more waivers than it had in the past.

And when it comes to student satisfaction, Kelley and Kenan-Flagler are also neck-and-neck, according to Poets&Quants’ alumni surveys. This year, for example, Kelley ranked sixth on overall student satisfaction, while UNC ranked eighth. Asked to judge the level of satisfaction with in-person classes, alums awarded Kelley a 9.7 on a ten point scale, while UNC grads gave their school a 9.6. On career advising, Kelley edged out UNC, 8.8 to 8.7.

When it comes to student satisfaction with the opportunities to create good connections with fellow classmates, UNC alums awarded their school a 9.2 versus Kelley’s 9.1. And when grads were asked about their ability to immediately apply what they learned in the virtual classroom at work, UNC earned a 9.5 vs. 9.3. In other words, there was little to no meaningful difference between the two programs in student satisfaction (see Student Satisfaction In The Best Online MBA Programs).

DON’T MISS: THE 25 LARGEST ONLINE MBA PROGRAMS IN THE U.S. AND WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT THE ONLINE MARKET

About the Author...

John A. Byrne

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.