When you think about it, all MBAs are online MBAs, now.
But before coronavirus came along in March, some schools had been at it for a long time, establishing major master’s of business administration programs in the virtual space over the last five to 10 years. (Some, like Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, planted their flag much earlier than that.) Which schools’ programs are the most well-established? And which are the hardest to get into? This year, a stand-alone business school — the only one in Poets&Quants‘ annual ranking, out today (November 9) — roared into the top spot for selectivity, while half of the other programs became easier to get into and half became harder.
The Jack Welch Management Institute, the legacy of the former General Electric chairman and CEO who died this year at 84, shed nearly 40% of its acceptance rate in one year — and more than 60% since 2018 — to become the hardest online MBA program to get into in 2020. JWMI had an acceptance rate of 24.8% this year, lower than 46 other ranked schools; it was followed by Imperial College Business School, the first international school to join Poets&Quants‘ annual ranking, at 28.8%, and Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business (31.3%), Rochester Institute of Technology’s Saunders College of Business (33.3%), and American University’s Kogod School of Business (49.6%).
In all, at the 33 schools out of 47 total in our 2021 ranking for which we have enough data to make comparisons, 16 saw declines in their acceptance rates in 2020, while 17 saw the number go up. But the average amount of decline was more than double the average increase — and what’s more, going back three cycles, more schools saw rate declines at a much greater percentage, indicating that it is indeed getting tougher to get into the top online MBA programs. Yet it remains clear that online MBAs and residential MBAs that are online are still, and likely will remain for many years, two very different worlds.
THE ONLY STAND-ALONE B-SCHOOL IN P&Q‘S RANKING
Jack Welch died on March 1. Shortly after, Poets&Quants published this piece on Welch’s legacy as the leader of one of the country’s iconic 20th-century corporations as well as the founder of the Jack Welch Management Institute. Eight months after the death of one of corporate America’s greatest leaders, we see that his school has increasingly been a leader in MBA selectivity, making the biggest jumps this year and since 2018 of any ranked school to become the absolute hardest online MBA program to get accepted to.
JWMI has had to become more selective for one simple reason: overwhelming popularity. Since its founding 11 years ago, the school has grown to a current enrollment of about 2,000, with an alumni base of more than 5,000 graduates. The online MBA is not only one of the largest in the world by enrollment, it is also the only highly ranked investor-owned program not administrated by a traditional university. In Poets&Quants’ latest ranking of online MBAs, the JWMI program rose to 20th from 23rd in 2019 — but the school ranked at or near the top in several student satisfaction metrics, just as it did last year. To hear alumni talk about it, getting an online MBA from JWMI was the equivalent of two years at an elite residential program.
“Jack was more than a businessman, more than a teacher, a mentor or an adviser,” one 2018 JWMI graduate wrote after Welch’s passing. “My story is not far from many of the others that have come to JWMI and for a brief time and allowed Jack to touch their lives, careers and advise them. A great mentor has moved from a physical presence to that of eternal life.”
Added an MBA from the JWMI Class of 2014: “You taught me what a leader was and how to be an effective one!”
JWMI HAD THE BIGGEST DROPS IN BOTH THE 2- AND 3-YEAR DATA WINDOWS
Enough data to make a two-year comparison was available from 33 of 47 schools, and to do a three-year comparison, from 29 schools. In the two-year window, 16 of 33 schools, or just under half, saw declines in their acceptance rates — that is, they became more selective. The average decline for the 16 schools was 12.6%; the average increase for the 17 schools whose acceptance rate climbed was 6.2%. Notable decreases occurred at JWMI (-38.6%, from 40.4% to 24.8%), the University of Cincinnati Lindner College of Business (-25%), Lehigh University (-24.8%), the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Isenberg School of Management (-21.1%), No. 1-ranked Indiana Kelley’s Kelley Direct program (-19.5%), Hofstra University Zarb School of Business (-15%), and the University of Arizona Eller College of Management (-14.8%). The biggest two-year jumps occurred at USC’s Marshall School of Business (+14.3%, from 56.8% to 64.9%), ranked No. 3 overall, UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School (+12.3%), ranked No. 5, the University of Texas-Dallas Jindal School of Management (10.2%), and Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business (10%).
In the three-year timeframe, 16 schools out of 29 — 56% — saw drops in selectivity. The average decline from 2018 to 2020 was 16.4%; the average increase for the 13 schools that saw jumps over the three cycles was 4.8%. The declines were led by Jack Welch, which dropped an amazing 60.6% off its acceptance rate in that span, down from 63% two years ago; followed by the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga (-34%, from 92% to 60.7%), Rochester Saunders (-30.6%, down from 48%), Arizona Eller (-24.2%, to 67.5% from 89%), UMass-Amherst (-22%, to 66.3% from 85%), and Florida International (-20%, to 55.2% from 69%). The biggest three-year jumps occurred at USC Marshall (+22.5%), SUNY Oswego (18.7%), and Texas-Dallss Jindal (17.7%).
The highest acceptance rate in the ranking occurred at Santa Clara University Leavey School of Business, which reported 98% of applicants were admitted to their online MBA. Twelve schools saw declines in both the two- and three-year timeframe.
See the next page for a complete table of acceptance rate data at the 47 schools in the 2021 P&Q ranking of online MBA programs.