Michigan Ross Makes A Big Online MBA Bet

Wally Hopp, associate dean for part-time MBA programs at Ross, in a live online MBA class

The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business is making its big splash into the fast-growing online MBA market. The school has picked a tech vendor, put a price tag on the degree, launched a marketing blitz with a pair of slick videos and is now recruiting students for its first cohort to start this fall.

The program’s application deadline for its first intake is May 20, though Ross is promising decisions within six to eight weeks from the date a candidate submits an application. To start, the school aims to enroll a class of 60 online students, with the majority of them from outside Ross’ home state. The online courses will be taught by Ross faculty who teach in its residential MBA programs.

For Ross Dean Scott DeRue, the launch of the program is one of the bigger bets he has made since becoming dean in 2016. DeRue expects the online option to extend the school’s reach and network to a broader array of students throughout the country. “A primary reason for doing it is to reach an audience of talented professionals who are looking for a top-ranked MBA program but need the flexibility to do it on their time,” says DeRue in an interview with Poets&Quants. “We think there is a robust market of professionals looking for that option across the country.” 


Ross Dean Scott DeRue

At the onset, the school has set admission standards for its online offering that are similar to its full-time, evening and weekend MBA programs. Ross is requiring a GMAT or GRE exam, an undergraduate transcript, written essays, a letter of recommendation, and an invited admissions interview before admitting an applicant. “Our philosophy is to hold the standards on rigor and excellence that define our existing MBA programs,” says DeRue, who does not expect to waive standardized test scores for admission. “We think the market is looking for that same level of excellence and quality.

Most online students will be expected to complete the 57-credit hour program in three years. Ross, however, said it’s possible that a student can either accelerate the timetable to two and one-half years or slow it down or extend it over a five- to six-year period.

Ross announced last August that it would enter what has quickly become a crowded online MBA market (see Ross Makes Big Move Into Online MBA Market) with more than 300 U.S. business schools already offering an online MBA. But Michigan is the highest ranked business school to get into the game and now only one of six Top 25 business schools with online MBA programs, with Carnegie Mellon, UNC at Chapel Hill, Indiana’s Kelley School of Business, the University of Southern California and Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business.


All of those programs are among the highest ranked options in the online MBA arena (see The Best Online MBA Programs of 2019). But Michigan’s entry into the market makes it the highest ranked U.S. school with an online MBA, lending greater prestige and credibility to the notion of getting a long-distance credential.

Ross is pricing its online MBA experience at the high end of the market, with a total tuition of $112,731 for Michigan residents and $123,088 for non-residents. That’s just a tad under UNC’s current price tag of $124,345 and USC Marshall’s $106,197 but a hefty premium over Indiana’s KelleyDirect program at $67,830. Carnegie Mellon’s online hybrid MBA, which includes nearly 50 days of face-to-face sessions, remains the most expensive offering at $133,680. Rice, meantime, has priced its online option at $106,900.

As expected, Ross is including an action-based learning project in the online offering, a long-time distinctive feature of its full-time MBA program that will allow students to do a consulting assignment with a startup, an established company or a nonprofit. The Multidisciplinary Action Projects (MAP) projects will vary greatly, ranging from creating a business strategy or solving a market entry challenge to crafting a product launch plan or proposing operational improvements.


“We have a deep commitment to action-based learning and MAP is one example of that in the online program,” adds DeRue. “Students will work in small teams with faculty in organizations from around the globe just like professionals have to do today virtually. That is the world of work today.”

DeRue says that more experiential work will be put into the required trio of in-person residencies, each of which will start on Thursday and end mid-day Sunday on the Ross campus in Ann Arbor. The residencies will be focused on one of three themes: leadership, innovation, and transformation. “These are really action-based learning experiences with exposure to different assessments and immersive experiences where students will be put into situations where they have to lead organizations through a leadership crisis or challenge,” explains DeRue.

The school said that a typical 2.25-credit course will feature four live online events with faculty and students in case discussions, group work, and presentations. Most of the learning will be delivered in what the school describes as “self-guided learning modules”—short instructional videos on key business concepts.  “Students can work at their own pace on these modules, as long as they have completed certain designated modules in time for the synchronous learning event,” according to the school.


The core curriculum will account for 27 credits, while electives will take up 18 credits. The school currently lists nine elective courses on its website, although it expects to add more in the future. Each in-person residency is worth three credits, while the learning project also will take up three credits. One unusual feature of the online program at Ross is that online students will be eligible to take elective courses on campus with other Ross MBA students.

Unlike many rival online options, Ross has decided to allow its online MBA students who have done prep work with its career development office to “engage in the formal on-campus recruiting process.” “Companies that recruit at Ross want exceptionally talented students and because we are setting our aims and aspirations high, we are confident that the companies that recruit here will want to attract these students,” believes DeRue.


The school will also provide online students personal coaching, career self-assessments, LinkedIn and resume reviews, virtual mock interviews and a suite of career webinars as part of its online offering.

As part of its marketing blitz, Ross is using videos with Wally Hopp, associate dean for part-time MBA programs, and Anne Schoen, associate admissions director of part-time MBA programs, to promote the online option.

In one video (see video on following page), Hopp emphasizes the school’s status in the online market. “You don’t have to choose between excellence and convenience,” says Hopp. “You can have it all. You can have a convenient program that can be adjusted to your life and work situation and have one of the best business schools in the world providing all of the strengths of its elite MBA program.”

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