HOW’S THIS FOR A WILD YEAR-OVER-YEAR SWING: WASHINGTON’S FOSTER SCHOOL WENT FROM A RANK OF 126TH TO THE TOP 10
As is often the case, there are some wild year-over-year swings in the ranking. In fact, 63, or a shockingly high 67% of the online MBA programs ranked among the top 100 experienced double-digit changes year over year. That kind of radical volatility should give pause to applicants who are seeking real guidance on the best programs. Truth is, online MBA options in one year are pretty much the same the following year. Yet, the roller-coaster ups and downs in this ranking hardly reflect that stability. What it does inevitably suggest is that the differences among these programs are so slim and statistically insignificant that it renders numerical ranks meaningless, particularly as you go further down the list.
The University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, whose $75,000 online MBA was ranked 126th only last year, improbably shot up by 116 places into the top ten. The online MBA program at the College of William & Mary leaped 54 positions to rank 28th from 82nd in 2019, while the online MBA at the University of Alabama at Birmingham soared 50 places to finish in 40th place, up from 90. Kansas State University’s online MBA zoomed up 33 places ro rank 25th from 58th last year. The University of Massachusetts at Lowell, which had always ranked below the online MBA at the university’s main campus in Amherst, jumped 29 spots to rank 22nd, up from 51st.
U.S. NEWS RANKS A RECORD 321 ONLINE MBA PROGRAMS IN THE U.S., UP FROM 285 LAST YEAR
Some of these changes may have been caused by a change in the methodology used by U.S. News to rank the programs. Some 30% of the ranking’s weight (down from 28% in 2018) is based on “engagement,” even though U.S. News does not survey students or graduates for their opinions, unlike Poets&Quants‘ annual ranking of online MBA programs. The opinions of deans and online MBA directors account for 25% of the ranking. Faculty credentials and training accounts for 15% of the weight, up from 11% last year. Student excellence was given a 15% weight (down from 25%), while student services and technologies represented another 15%, up from 11%). All told, 16 different metrics are measured by the ranking, from graduation rates within three years to tenured faculty.
The magazine’s data is collected from the schools by a survey. For the second consecutive year, U.S. News also surveyed the deans of business schools with online MBAs and the top officials of those programs. Some 769 peer assessment surveys were returned in the past two years, nearly half from the 2019 sampling.
This year’s U.S. News online MBA list puts numerical ranks on a record 321 programs, up 12.6% from 285 programs last year and 267 two years ago. What’s more, an unprecedented 335 schools with online MBAs handed over data to U.S. News, a sign of the increasingly crowded and commoditized market that the online MBA market has become. Discounting at many programs is rampant. With a 92% acceptance rate, the University of Denver is currently advertising a guaranteed $15,000 “scholarship” to anyone admitted to its March 2020 cohort of its MBA@Denver program which has a sticker price of $81,000. That’s despite the school’s jump in the ranking to 109 this year from 150 in 2019. Acceptance rates for these programs are relatively high, with even a few schools in the top 25 accepting every candidate who applies (see Acceptance Rates (& Yield) At Top Online MBA Programs).
Enrollment in the top ten programs alone (actually 13 due to ties) is now 5,015, up from 4,822 last year, with the largest enrollment of 1,014 at IU’s Kelley School and the smallest of just 85 students at Ole Miss’ online MBA. This year, even more schools are expected to debut online MBA offerings, with Boston University’s Questrom School of Management launching a much-anticipated $24,000 MBA this fall.
DROP OUT RATES IN THE FIRST YEAR SURPRISING HIGH AT SEVERAL PROGRAMS RANKED IN THE TOP 100
More helpful than the actual rankings is the wealth of data that U.S. News collects to do its list. Among the top 100 ranked programs, for example, a surprising number of schools fail to graduate more than 25% of their students within three years. The worst performers on this metric include No. 6 UT-Dallas, where just 64% of the students graduate within three years, No. 15 North Carolina State (67%), George Washington University (65%), the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (48%), No. 35 Quinnipiac University (59%), No. 62 Xavier University (48%), No. 69 Rutgers University in Camden (46%), No. 80 University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (39%). At 10 of the top 100 programs, in fact, half or less than half of the students are graduating within three years.
Even more revealing are the stats on one-year retention rates for students. Afterall, students who have been in a program and then fail to sign up for the second year are either admission mistakes or more likely indicating their dissatisfaction with the program. If a would-be applicant to an online MBA option needs a red flag, this is clearly it. At the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, ranked 95th, and Temple University, ranked 88th, roughly three of every ten online MBA students drop out after the first year. The University of Tennessee at Martin, ranked 35th, reported that it lost one of every four students in the first year of its online MBA. The University of Texas at Dallas, ranked sixth, loses 28% of its online MBAs after a year.
While KelleyDirect and MBA@UNC may again be tied for first place but the total cost of attending the Kelley program is more than $50,000 cheaper: $74,520 in tuition for the Indiana University option versus $125,589 for the Kenan-Flagler online MBA. That may be one reason why enrollment in UNC’s program has fallen by 11.7% to 799 students from 905 a year earlier, while enrollment at Indiana has grown by 8.6% to 1,014 from 934, according to data the schools supplied to U.S. News. IU has been more aggressive in raising the price of its MBA by nearly 10% from $67,830 just a year ago, while UNC has put through a more modest 1% increase from $124,435. In a sign of how competitive the market has become, however, both first-place winners are offering significant scholarships to attend their online offerings.
(See following pages for the actual ranks of the top 100 online MBA programs according to U.S. News & World Report)