It’s still the Wild West, so to speak, in the world of online MBAs. Because not every major school has yet committed to offering a distance Master of Business Administration, smaller schools are filling the vacuum, and admissions and instruction standards run the gamut. Even for the best programs, of which there are 35 in our third annual online MBA ranking released today (October 14), many of the metrics we use to weigh and rank full-time residential MBAs are irrelevant or — worse — difficult to acquire or altogether unpublished. But there is also the fact that some measures — post-degree employment rates, for example — are less important to the world of online MBAs, while others — acceptance rates, for instance — are important but exist on a much different range. All of which is as it should be — after all, the talent pool for the respective degrees is different, so why shouldn’t the way we measure them also be different?
But there are a few data points that have assumed importance to online MBAs in much the same way they do with their full-time counterparts. Among them are Graduate Management Admission Test scores and undergraduate GPAs. In compiling our latest ranking, we asked participating schools to provide these numbers, which are often not available on the schools’ websites, and found many interesting details that might otherwise have escaped prospective students doing their due diligence before applying. Among the most obvious: In GPA, very little separates the No. 1 school from the No. 35, while GMAT scores fluctuate wildly across the ranking.
The Indiana University Kelley School of Business boasts the top GPA at 3.45, tied with ranking newcomer Worcester Polytechnic Institute Foisie Business School, followed by the Washington State University Carson College of Business (3.44) and three schools tied at 3.42: the University of Texas-Dallas Jindal School of Management, the University of Michigan-Dearborn College of Business, and the University of Massachusetts-Lowell Manning School of Business. Eighteen schools in the ranking have at least a 3.30 average GPA in their latest intake, and no school is lower than 3.03, a mark achieved by students in the Syracuse University Whitman School of Management. The average score for all 35 schools is 3.19.
In GMAT scores, some schools don’t require them for admission to the online MBA, and some have such liberal waiver rules that they don’t track the scores they do receive. No schools have average scores that approach those of their full-time MBA programs. Among the schools that do collect and track GMATs, the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School scored highest this year at 670, followed by our top-ranked 2020 school, the Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business, at 669. Rounding out the top five are the Baylor University Hankamer School of Business (660), UMass-Lowell Manning (645), and Indiana Kelley (639). The lowest reported average GMAT score is Ohio University’s 350. It’s important to note that some schools have very high percentages of students submitting scores, while others have a very low volume of GMAT submissions; UMass-Lowell’s 645 is better than Indiana’s 639, for example, but that is a bit deceptive because only 1% of UMass students submitted GMATs while nearly 50% of Kelley students did.
Thirteen schools among the 30 reporting GMAT scores had GMATs of 600 or more. Last year that number was only 10. The overall average GMAT score was 583. See page 2 for complete tables of GMATs and GPAs.
DRAWING TOP TALENT TO BLOOMINGTON
Last year, Indiana Kelley had a 3.43 average undergraduate GPA in its online MBA; likewise, Indiana reported a 638 average last year, which ticked up to 639 this cycle. In other words, there has been little change for Kelley in that metric between the two cycles. Undeniably, though, there has been improvement. Ramesh Venkataraman, associate dean for information and instructional technologies and chair of Kelley Direct MBA & MS programs, says the school’s steady excellence — Kelley ranked third last year and second this year — is what draws top talent.
“We think it’s important to see each student as an individual, who is also valued as a member of our community,” Venkataraman tells Poets&Quants. “As we admit students to the program, we look for students who not only have strong academic and professional profiles, but also an enthusiasm for our program specifically, knowing they will actively participate in weekly live class sessions and team-based projects with their peers.
“Students’ incoming GPAs are one measure of quality, along with high GMAT scores and strong work experiences at top organizations. When you take that all together, it shouldn’t be a surprise that many of the brightest and most accomplished people would want to be part of our program.”
Yet each year more schools get in the online MBA game. How does a school continue to innovate and get better each year as the competition grows for top talent?
“The newest innovation within the Kelley Direct Online MBA has been the launch of the revised curriculum, featuring an innovative set of integrated core modules,” Venkataraman says. “Each integrated core module allows students to gain deep knowledge in three subject areas while at the same time allowing them to see connections across the subject areas. The connections across the subject areas are emphasized in the live sessions each week, for example, by discussing the same case or scenario from different perspectives. We also are exploring ways to scale and improve our experiential learning offerings, adding new cities in the U.S. and abroad to provide rich contexts for student exploration and consulting, while also working with faculty to develop new models of courses.”
MISSION: ‘TO GIVE OPPORTUNITY & CREATE OPPORTUNITY’
Indiana Kelley is the not the school with the top average GMAT score this year; that distinction belongs to UNC Kenan-Flagler. (Interestingly, those two shared first place in the most recent U.S. News online MBA ranking.) Brad Staats, associate dean of MBA programs at UNC, says whether it’s online or full-time residential, Kenan-Flagler doesn’t compromise its standards.
“From design to launch of our online MBA program in 2011, our philosophy has been not to compromise,” Staats tells P&Q. “We put the program together to attract exceptional students and offer them the best possible MBA experience. We hold these students to the same high standards in admissions that we expect from our other working professional programs. That means not only looking at the GMAT, but also their work experience, leadership roles, and future goals.
“Our faculty, who teach across our programs, continue to be impressed by the quality of these students — executives and entrepreneurs, doctors and investment bankers and more — who are dedicated to earning a top-MBA at UNC Kenan-Flagler to advance their career goals.”
It is noteworthy that both Kelley and Kenan-Flagler — as well as Carnegie Mellon Tepper, which is 14th in GPA (3.32) and second in GMAT (669) — are among the more expensive online MBA programs in the ranking. In fact, CMU ($137,200 total cost) and UNC ($125,589) are 1-2 in that regard.
The Kelley School is not in that neighborhood, cost-wise, but at $74,520 it isn’t cheap, either. “We recognize that students are making significant investments in our program when they accept an admission offer for the Kelley Direct Online MBA,” Ramesh Venkataraman says. “This includes an investment of their time and effort throughout the MBA program, a financial investment in the form of tuition, and an investment of their trust in us that our MBA will help them attain their professional and personal goals.”
On quite the opposite side of cost spectrum is another school with an impressive GMAT average: UMass-Lowell, which reported an average of 645, fourth-highest in our ranking. Dean Sandy Richtermeyer says prospects come to the Manning School in three categories: traditional part-time MBA students who are working professionally to advance their career; international professionals working for leading global companies, including a large contingent of Japanese students; and a very large undergrad population from all colleges at the university. The latter group fits very well with UMass-Lowell’s mission to educate first-generation students, she says.
“We’re so focused on the first-generation experience and what we can offer,” Richtermeyer says. “There’s so much capacity for education and we love the mission of our university, to give opportunity and create opportunity. And we’re in a gateway city — we have a lot of people who have immigrated here. We celebrate them all the time and that is reflected in the success of our graduate programs.”
The 2020 Poets&Quants Online MBA Rankings Package
See page 2 for tables on the 35 ranked schools’ average GMAT scores and average undergraduate GPAs.