VALUABLE DATA COLLECTED FOR FUTURE MBA APPLICANTS
More important than the actual ranking is the trove of data collected to compile the ranking. Both school and alumni data are valuable to current and future applicants considering an online MBA degree. For instance, two-thirds of recent graduates at Louisiana State University say they received a promotion directly because of their online MBA — more than any other school. At Carnegie Mellon, nearly nine out of ten (88%) say they received a salary increase after completing the program, again, topping every other school in the ranking (see Best Career Outcomes For Online MBAs).
When alumni were asked to “appraise the overall quality of their professors,” no other school scored better than the Jack Welch Management Institute, which notched a score of 9.78 out of a possible 10 points (see Online MBA Programs With The Best Student Satisfaction Scores). That outcome will come as a surprise to many academics but the former CEO of General Electric has made student evaluations of faculty a key driver of who gets to teach in the Institute’s program. Alumni from RIT Saunders scored their school best on the amount and quality of teamwork available in the program, with an average of 9.63. Asked about their satisfaction in immediately applying classroom learning to their jobs, both RIT Saunders and the Jack Welch Management Institute scored a highly impressive 9.75 on the ten-point scale. As for a program’s flexibility to allow students to manage their professional and personal lives while earning an MBA, alumni from the University of Cincinnati rated their school best with a score of 9.88.
When it came to admissions acceptance rates, the toughest school for the 2018-2019 academic year was RIT Saunders, which accepted just 30.77% of its applicants (see Acceptance Rates At The Best Online MBA Programs). Next was the Jack Welch Management Institute, which accepted 1,253 applicants from a pool of 3,103 for an acceptance rate of 40.38%. With an average of 700 students, professionals enrolling at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School reported the highest GMAT score, even though a mere 6% of UNC’s students submitted a GMAT, down from 11% a year earlier. Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School had the next highest class GMAT average at 660, with more than 80% of the students submitting a test score.
Alumni from USC’s Marshall School were most satisfied with their school’s coaching and career support, averaging 9.53 points on the pair pf questions meant to assess the effectiveness of the career services office and career coaches or mentors provided by a school. Hofstra’s Zarb School followed with a 9.26 and the Jack Welch Management Institute rounded out the top three with a score of 9.25. Alumni networks are a large part of the MBA’s appeal, and alumni at Carnegie Mellon Tepper rated the value of their network highest at 9.44. Following Tepper were USC Marshall (9.26) and Hofstra Zarb (9.09).
DIVERSITY IN PROGRAM STRUCTURE — AND COST OF ONLINE MBAS
It doesn’t take looking past the top 10 schools on this year’s list to see the diversity in online MBA programs on the market. On one end you have Carnegie Mellon’s program, which is modeled off its residential program — cost and structure. At $137,200, it’s the most expensive program on this year’s ranking. The part-time online hybrid degree enrolls just about 50 students in each intake and takes about three years to complete. Over half of the program is delivered in a synchronous style, this year’s age-range in enrolled students was 22 to 53 and the average work experience was around six years, which hits the profile more akin to a full-time residential program than a typical online MBA program. The range in average years worked is zero to 17.5.
At the other end, you have a program lie the MBA@Nebraska offered by the University of Nebraska. The top-10 program also takes about three years to complete but costs more than $100,000 less than Carnegie Mellon’s program, enrolls about 150 students per intake, and is just 10% synchronous and is fully online. The average years of work experience are nine and the range is zero years of work experience up to 31.
No doubt, there is a program for pretty much any learning style and budget on this year’s list. But the three schools that have been jostling at the top the past three years — Carnegie Mellon, Indiana, and USC — all tilt towards be more expensive and require some in-person meeting time, though Indiana’s program is priced at just under $75,000, about $30K less than USC and $63K less than Carnegie Mellon. Tepper’s program combines two live classes a week, pre-recorded classes, as well as six “Access Weekends” a year in which students travel to Pittsburgh, Silicon Valley, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. to connect with their fellow classmates, alumni, and faculty.
While USC Marshall accepts around 100 students into its program per year, students are broken up into smaller learning cohorts. At the beginning of the programs, students spend a week at the Marshall School of Business in Los Angeles where they meet their fellow classmates and faculty and begin working with their cohorts. USC’s program is one of the faster ones and students finish in less than two years. It also is about two-thirds asynchronous, meaning, the majority of the work is done at the students’ own pace and time.
Indiana Kelley’s Kelley Direct MBA program is one of the largest ones and accepts about 500 students per year. The program, which can take up to four years to complete, is fully online and 60% synchronous. While there is no required residential component, many students take advantage of a consulting project and global immersion that involve traveling and working in-person with classmates and faculty.
COMMUNITY BUILDING AN INCREASING COMPONENT OF THE ONLINE DEGREE
Set up on a “mini-semester” schedule, Tepper starts each “mini” with its Access Weekend. “Every online class starts with an in-person three sessions,” says Cindy McCauley, the executive director of Online Masters Programs at Tepper. McCauley says the Access Weekends are both what sets the Tepper program apart from other programs and has grown into a very popular aspect of the degree. Students spend Fridays in extra-curricular activities and Saturdays and Sundays are for classes. Attendance is not mandatory, but McCauley says virtually all students show up for all 16 Access Weekends during the 30 months it takes to complete the program. “They love them,” she says. “It’s almost like a mini-conference. And it’s with 50 of your closest friends.”
Another differentiator for the Tepper program is students can — and sometimes do — switch into the full-time residential program. “We are very committed to the fact this is the same program in the online space as it is on campus,” McCauley says, adding that the commitment is one reason the cost of the online degree is more akin to the cost of a full-time residential MBA. “And that’s not just lip-service,” McCauley continues. “If you want to transfer into the full-time program, you can. Because it’s the same program.” That’s not the case at all schools, McCauley points out. Curriculums and structures are often different when looking at the online degree compared to a traditional residential degree. “While we are the most expensive, it’s not something I hear from students,” McCauley says. “They don’t fuss about that.”
At Indiana Kelley, Ramesh Venkataraman, the chair of the Kelley Direct program, says they’ve recently launched a new curriculum. The two biggest changes to the program are more electives and the implementation of Kelley’s Integrated Core. Kelley dropped the number of required courses from 39 to 27 out of the 54 credits it takes to earn the degree. “Essentially, we opened up 12 more credit hours of electives,” Venkataraman says. Now students can home in on an area or pick from the seven different majors the program offers. “Compared to other programs that I’m aware of, we have more electives than anyone,” Venkataraman boasts, adding the decision to create specific study areas is in response to industry feedback that companies are increasingly looking for specialists more so than generalists.
Another differentiator for Kelley Direct is the global immersion students can take. Venkataraman explains how online MBA students can travel together with faculty to various spots around the globe for consulting projects while he is on a global immersion trip to South Africa.
THE BOOM OF THE ONLINE MBA DEGREE
Many players keep flooding into the online learning space, leaving a wake of disruption and innovation in their wake. In less than four years, the iMBA program offered by the University of Illinois Gies School of Business has exploded from 114 students to more than 2,500. With a price tag of $22,000 and just 18 courses with no required standardized test score, officials at the school believe they have the capacity to take it up to 5,000 students. The innovative “stackable” MBA allows students to enter the program at any time and build towards an MBA. “We’re selling a Tesla for the price of a Hyundai,” Jeffrey Brown, dean of the Gies College of Business told Poets&Quants last month.
Boston University’s Questrom School of Business is one of the newest entrants into the market and will offer an online MBA for just $24,000. “The time has come again to expand our portfolio, using new technologies to reach the global online segment,” Questrom Dean Susan Fournier said this past summer. “We are excited to deliver on our social mission by making our high-quality online MBA accessible at a disruptive price point.”
At the other end of the spectrum, schools like the University of California-Davis and Rice University are coming into the market with six-figure degree costs. At UC-Davis, the price tag is $104,400 and the cost is $107,730 at Rice Jones. The other massive move in the online space happened this fall when the University of Michigan Ross School of Business enrolled its first online MBA class with 72 students.
CONTINUED GROWTH AND INTEREST IN THE SPACE
Of course, with the additional schools, established players like Indiana Kelley and Carnegie Mellon Tepper could see their applicant pools dwindle. “How big is the market and does a school entering the market create more demand,” McCauley wonders, noting Michigan Ross’s entry into the market had a particularly large “ripple.” Venkataraman calls it a “double-edged sword.”
“For a long time, we were the only top-20 player in this space,” Venkataraman says of the Kelley program, which was first launched in the ’90s. “Having more enter only adds legitimacy to the online MBA degree.”
But on the other hand, it pushes established schools to continually look for ways in which it can differentiate itself. In the short-term, however, both Venkataraman and McCauley believe the popularity of the degree will create a large enough market to sustain the new entrants into the market. Indiana Kelley has seen its program grow from about 300 students in 2016 to more than 450 last academic year. “We’ve had to add more resources to meet the interest,” Venkataraman says, adding inquiries into the program from potential applicants have also increased.
Access and the continual increase in the legitimacy of the degree are factors in the increased popularity. “The online MBA is about access,” McCauley says. “I have students that live in Washington or California that can suddenly get a Carnegie Mellon degree without leaving their jobs. And I think we’re going to see more of that.”
The online degree could also be dipping into the full-time MBA applicant pool. “We find a lot of our competition is with full-time residential programs,” McCauley says, adding the profile of the online MBA student is very similar to the profile of the full-time MBA student. Venkataraman also says he’s seen the demographics of the online MBA student shift from professionals with eight to 12 years of experience to those with five to eight years of experience.
Either way, continued tough admissions standards is something McCauley says will help create a valuable classroom and potential network experience.
“We attract people that are looking for rigor and looking for something meaningful and deep,” McCauley says. “It creates a class that has a lot of the same values and drive. Our admissions standards make a difference with who’s in the room.”
The 2020 Poets&Quants Online MBA Rankings Package
(See the next two pages for the full rankings, total costs, and admissions standards at all programs.)