Half Of Residential MBAs Question The Value Of Online Learning

MBA students aren’t all that enthused about the shift to remote instruction, particularly in the absence of tuition discounts

While business schools have been singing the praises of their shift to hybrid learning during the pandemic, MBA students generally aren’t buying it. A new extensive survey of current students shows that roughly half believe that what they are now getting in MBA programs is not worth the cost.

That belief is especially true at the highest-ranked, most expensive MBA programs. At schools where tuition and fees exceed $70,000 a year, 54.4% of the MBA candidates expressed buyer’s remorse, according to the survey by Bloomberg Businessweek published today (Sept. 16). Students were asked whether they agreed the cost of their education was worth it even after the changes required by the pandemic. In MBA programs where the costs were above $70,000, 28.5% “completely disagree” that their education is worth the cost, while another 25.9% “somewhat disagree.”

Generally, students turned thumbs down on the impact of COVID on their MBA experience, with 74% of the MBA students responded either “very negatively” or “somewhat negatively” when asked how the pandemic affected their education. The magazine anonymously quoted a disenchanted MBA at an unidentified top five school who spoke about the irony of his school’s administrators defending their decision not to offer tuition discounts because the school’s costs remained the same: “For a school that teaches us to set prices based on value and not on cost, it was an ineffective argument.”


The survey of 3,532 first- and second-year students from 95 schools was done after Businessweek bowed to pressure from the Graduate Management Admission Council to cancel its annual MBA ranking. “We decided not to rank MBA programs this year because we felt the results would measure the impact of the pandemic, rather than the quality of a school’s education,” according to the publication. Businessweek chose not to share how one school’s results would compare with another so the survey does not allow one to determine which MBA programs have most effectively handled the transition to online learning. That condition was agreed to in order to gain the cooperation of schools in surveying their students on behalf of Businessweek.

The survey, moreover, was in the field from May to early August so it captures the opinions of full-time, resdiential MBA students who are not experiencing the current shift to hybrid or online learning but rather the abrupt adoption of online teaching held last spring. It does not reflect the views of the increasing numbers of MBA candidates who have made the choice to study in a online MBA program. Residential students were likely more tolerant of the change then and less likely to experience “Zoom fatigue.”

The magazine quoted NYU Stern MBA student Lee Axelrod who said she has noticed a stark difference between her current hybrid classes and the fully online sessions in the spring. “What I’ve found since coming back in the fall is that I’m a lot more focused for my in-person classes, and the time goes by a lot faster,” she said. “It’s just a very engaging setting.” Absorbing long classes on Zoom is another story. “I think people are really prone to multitasking, and even if you have really great willpower, three hours is a long time.”


Lynn Wu, who graduated with her MBA from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, said that she realized after a few weeks of online classes in the spring, more and more students began to turn off their video connections. “If you’re not showing your video, I think there’s less reason for you to engage or to participate when the professor asks a question,” she told Businessweek.

There are few surprises in the data. Ever since schools shifted to remote instruction in the spring, many MBA students have signed petitions demanding tuition refunds (see The Student Revolt Over MBA Tuition For Online Classes). A survey of second-year MBAs at Wharton found that 78%​ of the responding students said they not excited about the upcoming semester, and ​94% ​of students felt the value of their overall MBA experience has diminished by ​at least 40%​ (At Wharton, 8 Devastating PowerPoint Slides That Capture MBA Anger & Frustration). And back in March, a Poets&Quants survey of nearly 800 registered users found that a third of prospective students already admitted to top business schools said they may want to defer their admission this year if classes fail to return to campus in the fall. Some 43% believe tuition fees should be cutback by an average of 37.5% if the first part of their MBA program is shifted online due to the pandemic.-

In the new Businessweek survey, half of all the MBA students said they would be willing to see at least 20% of their coursework go online in exchange for some level of tuition discount. Students at more expensive schools were less likely to say that their online education was worth the tuition, though the differences across programs at different price points were small and often inconsistent. At business schools charging less than $40,000 a year in tuition and fees, 49.5% of the students disagreed that their education was worth the cost.

Overall, 90% of the responding students said they would not want to see more than a 40% shift to online, with nearly an equivalent number of students–42%–insisting they wanted only traditional, in-person teaching. “Charging full tuition for Zoom-only classes is complete highway robbery,” complained one student at an Ivy League B-school to Businessweek.


The magazine asked students what portion of their coursework—in increments of 20%—should go permanently online and what tuition reduction would be fair as a result of this shift. Students from top-ranked schools objected most to any permanent shift to virtual learning, according to an analysis that broke the 95 schools in the survey into three groups based on their rank. At schools ranked globally Nos. 1-25, 33% wouldn’t accept any change. That drops to 24% at schools ranked 26-75 and 17% at schools ranked 76 and below.

Nonetheless, the survey found, students saw many benefits of online learning. One in eight said they’d like to see some form of asynchronous learning—recorded lectures or other class content available for viewing either before or after in-person instruction—persist after the pandemic. “According to one student, this feature helped with the more difficult classes in the curriculum, on ‘topics that may be more complex to understand in a live environment.’ Another noted its potential as a study aid. ‘I found it very helpful to return to old lectures when studying for exams,'” according to Businessweek.

Nearly one in 10 would accept at least a 20% shift online with no tuition discount, and about 7% of students even said at least 80% of their classwork should shift permanently online, as long as there were tuition cuts.

DON’T MISS: P&Q Survey: A Third Of Admits May Defer, While 43% Want Tuition Lowered If Classes Are Online or At Wharton, 8 Devastating PowerPoint Slides That Capture MBA Anger & Frustration

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