The price of an online MBA degree varies wildly, but it would irresponsible to assume a strict correlation between cost and quality. Great programs can be affordable, and not-so-great programs can be pricey. This is something to keep in mind when you see the many extremely low-cost degrees in Poets&Quants‘ third annual ranking of online MBA programs.
On that list, one program costs less than all the rest. The University of Massachusetts-Lowell Manning College of Business offers a fully remote, all-bells-and-whistles program for just $19,650, the only program among 35 in our ranking that is below $20K. (Some similarly priced programs around the United States were not included in this year’s ranking because their schools opted not to participate.) Does its low cost mean the UMass Lowell program is leagues below other ranked schools in terms of quality? Despite its ranking at No. 32 this year, it would be a mistake to think so, Dean Sandy Richtermeyer says.
“We are very committed to our values as a public university and offering a great value,” Richtermeyer tells P&Q. “We have a very high-quality program at a great value. It’s our roots, being the second-largest public university in Massachusetts and one of the fastest-growing in the country. We want this to be a fantastic option for people to pursue a great program at a great value.”
WHAT STUDENTS GET FOR THE MONEY
With few exceptions, an online MBA is going to cost considerably less than a full-time, residential one. In compiling the data for our third annual ranking of the top online MBA programs, Poets&Quants asked schools to provide total cost figures. Most schools have only one price and do not distinguish between in-state and out-of-state; in case of the rare exceptions, we used in-state numbers. Overall, the price of an online MBA at one of the 35 schools in this year’s ranking ranges from UMass Lowell’s $19,650 at the low end to the Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business’ $137,200 at the high end. Highly ranked schools can be at the low end — the No. 12-ranked University of North Dakota program costs just $21,672, third-lowest among all schools — or the high end, like the Tepper School or UNC (No. 7) or USC (No. 3). Or they can be in the middle, like Kelley Direct Online from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, last year’s No. 3 program and this year’s No. 2 which costs $74,520.
“We focus on and invest in key primary areas — teaching and technology-enabled delivery and the online MBA student experience,” says Ramesh Venkataraman, associate dean for information and instructional technologies and chair of Kelley Direct MBA & MS programs. “We invite the very best of Kelley’s faculty to teach in our online program, and we invest in the best instructional technology professionals and learning technology equipment to ensure that our top faculty can deliver their content in the best way possible for students. We also ceaselessly focus on the quality of the student experience outside of class, which includes everything from global and domestic immersions, to having dedicated academic advisors and career coaches who are trained — and excited about — working with our high-performing students.”
Another mid-range program in terms of price tag is the executive-focused MBA at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Saunders College of Business, which costs $78,000. What do students get for that?
“We’re about the middle of the road compared to other ranked schools,” says the program’s director, Marty Lawlor, “and according to the most recent Executive MBA Council membership survey, we are just below the average tuition for all EMBA programs. Moreover, our tuition includes all textbooks, cases and course materials in addition to all travel and lodging expenses for residencies and international trips. One other difference is that most of our courses have two instructors. When you consider total cost of program, we think we provide value for money. Our students’ average payback is just under three years.” RIT Saunders’ online MBA program is ranked 11th by P&Q this year.
BREAKING DOWN THE NUMBERS ON ONLINE MBA COST
UMass Lowell is one of nine schools in the 2020 ranking to report no cost increase in their online MBA. The others include the fourth-most-expensive program, George Washington University (ranked 24th), which costs $101,887; as well as RIT Saunders, the Baylor University Hankamer School of Business (14th), and Florida International University. See a complete list of schools and their cost on page 2.
The average price for the lowest-ranked five schools is $21,618; there are seven programs that cost less than $30K and 13 under $50K. On the other side of the ledger are four schools that cost more than $100,000 — George Washington University, USC Marshall School of Business, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, and No. 1-ranked Carnegie Mellon Tepper — and 13 that cost more than $60K.
It’s rare for a business school to reduce the cost of a program, any program, for any reason. Such is the case for both full-time and online MBA programs. Between last year’s and this year’s rankings, only four schools lowered their online MBA price tag: SUNY Oswego, the University of Michigan-Dearborn, the University of Cincinnati Lindner College of Business, and Lehigh University. Lehigh made the biggest cut, $2,700 from $42,300 to $39,600, a 6.4% reduction; but Michigan-Dearborn’s $2,454 cut was a greater percentage: 7.5%, from $32,688 to $30,234.
Far greater were the number of schools where the cost went up: 23. Four schools saw double-digit percentage increases: the University of Texas-Dallas Jindal School of Management (18.7% from $46,816 to $55,586); the University of Arizona Eller College of Management (14.5%, from $45,000 to $51,525); the Jack Welch Management Institute (14.2%, from $42,800 to $48,895); and leading all schools, the Washington State University Carson College of Business, which grew in cost 23.9% in one year, from $35,000 to $43,368.
NO COST HIKE PLANNED AT UMASS LOWELL
The online MBA program at the Manning College has 729 students, including a 25% increase in new students from last fall. Many, Dean Sandy Richtermeyer says, are first-generation college students. The low-cost program stayed that way this year, with no price hike, despite the gain in popularity, due in part to new program partnerships with other colleges at the university and a strong undergrad-to-grad-school pipeline.
“We know that we want to stay competitive, but we overall we want this to be a fantastic option for people to pursue a great program at a great value,” Richtermeyer says. “The leadership of our university has been very committed to that. We have their support and it’s so exciting for us, especially a university that has a lot of first-generation college students, and a very diverse set of college students as well. We have great diversity metrics when we can offer them undergraduate education. And then many of our students continue on, and many of them come from other institutions, too. But when you think about being able to offer someone who’s first-generation a bachelor’s and then a master’s, that’s really generational transformation. It really takes them to that next level. And it’s very exciting for us.”
Will the price go up if the online MBA program continues to gain in popularity?
“We have no discussions on that at all,” Richtermeyer says. “In fact, one of the things that we’re doing is looking at program pricing versus pricing per graduate credit hour, because we have some really exciting initiatives where we’re working with our medical school, where students who are going to the UMass medical school can complete their MBA right along with their medical degrees. And so we’re putting together bundled pricing so that it’s very affordable for those students also to get their MBA. Our pressure is to keep this a good value, not to say, ‘Wow, we’re doing so well, we can charge more, we can raise the tuition.’
“The competition is out there and we absolutely see it. And we’re very fortunate that because we’ve had a culture here of delivering online education for so long, and our leader, our chancellor of the university, is one of the pioneers in online education. We don’t have the problem that a lot of universities have where it’s online or not. It’s just ingrained and embedded in what we do. We’re very integrated with our processes.”
See the next page for a list of the total cost at the 35 schools in this year’s P&Q online MBA ranking.