The Low-Cost Online MBA Disrupters


The two most affordable Online MBA programs from top 50 business schools are at the University of Illinois and Boston University

If you want evidence for the continued popularity of the MBA degree, look no further than the two leading low-cost online MBA options in the market: the University of Illinois’ iMBA program at its Gies College of Business and the forthcoming online MBA from Boston University’s Questrom School of Business.

At Gies’ iMBA program, the growth has been nothing short of explosive. This fall more than 2,500 MBA degree-seeking students have enrolled in the online option from a debut cohort of just 114 students three and one-half years ago (see Gies’ iMBA: The Fastest Growing MBA On The Planet).

And in the two months since Boston University announced a new online MBA program, nearly 600 applications are now in progress for the offering which will debut next fall. Even though the school only opened its application form three weeks ago, 43 candidates have completed their apps a full year in advance of the debut class. And that is without Questrom spending a penny marketing the program.


The secret at Illinois and BU? It’s the price. The price tag on the Gies’ MBA is just $22,000, while the cost of the forthcoming online MBA at BU will be a mere $24,000. There are other online MBA programs that cost less but none of them are at schools that have historically had their on-campus MBAs consistently rank among the top 50 in the U.S. That is why the Illinois and BU options are truly disruptive. They are booming because they are highly affordable and allow young professionals–many of them already carrying undergraduate student debt–to get an MBA without having to quit their jobs.

After all, at the top of the MBA market, there are now a dozen business schools that estimate the total cost of their MBAs to be $200,000 or more (a sum that includes accommodations and meals, though not the opportunity costs of leaving a job and the income from that job behind).

The costs of the Illinois and BU degrees are not only a mere fraction of what it costs to attend a more traditional two-year, full-time MBA program on campus, however, they are also dramatically below the prices of many other online MBA programs. These programs are less than one fifth the cost of the $125,589 online MBA at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. The same is true at the new online MBA programs at either UC-Davis, where the price tag is $104,400, or Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business, where the cost is $107,730, without an additional $1,000 to $2,500 just for textbooks.


Gies College of Business Dean Jeffrey Brown

Both the iMBA and the BU program have actually delivered on the promise that technology can democratize higher education, making it more accessible and affordable. There are other online MBAs at low prices, too, but what makes these two less expensive options even more attractive than price is that Illinois and BU are offering completely revamped and modern MBA curriculums that are more integrated and theme-based than traditional MBA courses. And you don’t have to labor through a standardized test like the GMAT or GRE to get into the programs, a hurdle that only drives up the cost of application by money and time. To apply for these programs, you need not spend money on prep books or software, classes, tutors or tests.

Yet, despite the bare-bones price, Gies has put its most senior faculty into the online courses, having them hold weekly live Internet classes and office hours, with occasional city meetups between students and faculty, and added a portfolio of elective courses with eight different specializations, including a new data analytics track this spring. All for a price at which rival programs are generally stripped down digital textbooks with no live classes, trips or electives.

“We’re selling a Tesla for the price of a Hyundai,” says Jeffrey Brown, dean of the Gies College of Business.

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