The Best Online MBAs, According To U.S. News’ New Ranking

A student in an online class

Which business schools offer the best online MBA programs?

U.S. News2021 online MBA ranking puts two schools in a dead tie for the best: Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business and the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. Those two very different online MBA experiences are also the most expensive options on the market, with price tags of $141,320 and $125,589, respectively.

To gain first place, Carnegie Mellon rose two spots from third place last year, leapfrogging Indiana University’s Kelley Direct online MBA which was tied for top honors last year with MBA@UNC, Kenan-Flagler’s online MBA. The Kelley option, recently named the MBA of the Year by Poets&Quants, is priced at $74,520, nearly half the cost of the Carnegie Mellon program and more than $50,000 less than UNC. The least expensive of the top 10 is the online option from the Wisconsin MBA Consortium which carries a $28,800 price tag, though the features of each of these programs differ greatly and account for the different prices as well as the brand value of the degree.

The slight reshuffling at the top of the ranking should not overshadow the big news on this year’s list. Rice University’s online MBA engineered a rocket-like advance, moving up 114 places in the past year to finish in the top ten for the first time, placing ninth best. Last year, U.S. News oddly ranked the relatively new program 123rd. Rice only received its first online MBA cohort of roughly 40 students in July of 2018 and graduated its first class last May. The latest entering cohort numbered a record 106 students and Rice has expanded to seven from four its career focus areas to include corporate strategy, corporate finance, investment management, marketing, entrepreneurship, energy, and healthcare.

2021 Top Ten Online MBA Programs In U.S. News’ Ranking

2021 Rank & School 2020 Rank Cost Three-Year Graduation Rate One-Year Retention Rate Enrollment
1. Carnegie Mellon (Tepper) 3 $141,320 98% 95% 122
1. North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler) 1 $125,589 88% 92% 717
3. Indiana (Kelley) 1 $74,520 81% 99% 1,152
4. Southern California (Marshall) 5 $111,663 96% 96% 219
5. Florida (Hough) 4 $59,808 94% 96% 502
6. Arizona State (Carey) 10 $61,545 95% 91% 450
7. Penn State (World Campus) 6 $59,328 85% 94% 673
7. University of Texas-Dallas (Jindal) 6 $93,179 62% 86% 299
9. Rice (Jones) 123 $109,930 NA 100% 151
10. Lehigh University 18 $41,595 70% 88% 199
10. Arizona (Eller) 10 $51,525 NA 81% 306
10. Maryland-College Park (Smith) 10 $88,776 82% 94% 413
10. Mississippi 6 $32,220 88% 91% 71
10. Washington (Foster) 10 $78,000 100% 98% 137
10. Wisconsin MBA Consortium 10 $28,800 79% 92% 324


Many online MBA programs are experiencing explosive growth and every year there are new entrants into the market which ultimately makes any ranking, an in-the-moment snapshot of the market, less complete. The new ranking, for example, excludes many excellent MBA programs from the two most disruptive players, the $22,000 iMBA option from the University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business, and the $24,000 online MBA at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, to the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, currently the school with the highest ranked full-time residential MBA that now offers an online option, and UC-Davis’ Graduate School of Management, the first University of California online MBA.

This year U.S. News placed numerical ranks on 295 online MBA programs but lists 324 online MBA programs, evidence of how crowded and competitive the market has become. Last year, the magazine listed 335 programs. These are only U.S. options because the U.S. News ranking is entirely U.S.-centric and the list does not include many of the newest entries into the market.

Yet, early rankings of online MBAs generally show that several of the schools continue to rate among the leaders of the pack. Rounding out this year’s top ten, which numbers 15 due to ties, is a familiar group of schools. Of the top 15, 13 of the programs had been ranked in the top ten last year, with the only two exceptions Rice and Lehigh University which improved eight places to rank 10th from 18th in 2020. A half dozen of the schools ranked in the top ten by U.S. News also were ranked in the top ten by Poets&Quants‘ recently published 2021 online ranking.


After Carnegie Mellon, UNC and Indiana Kelley, U.S. News‘ other top 10 ranked options were No. 4 University of Southern California, No. 5 University of Florida, Arizona State University, Penn State’s World Campus, the University of Texas at Dallas, and Rice. The ranking has six schools tied in tenth place: Lehigh, the University of Arizona, Maryland, Mississippi, Washington, and the University of Wisconsin MBA Consortium.

Among the top 100 programs, only one other business school soared more than 100 places besides Rice. Bentley College’s online MBA offering jumped 112 spots to rank 67th from 179 a year ago. Florida Southern College and Santa Clara University both made huge gains, advancing 97 and 91 places, respectively, to rank 94th and 40th.

On the down side, no school experienced a greater fall and still remained in the top 100 than the online MBA program at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Drexel’s program dropped 56 places to rank 88th, from 32nd a year earlier. Central Michigan University’s online MBA plunged 47 places to rank 100th, from 53rd.


Temple University’s Fox School of Business, which was tossed off the list two years ago after the school acknowledged that it had fraudulently reported data to U.S. News over a number of years, ranked 100th, falling 12 places from its return rank of last year. It is quite a comedown from the school’s four consecutive No. 1 years from 2015 to 2018 when it inflated rankings data to secure its top ranked status.

Yet, surprisingly perhaps, the scandal did not cause a hit to Temple’s online enrollment. The school reported that it has 564 Online MBA students currently enrolled, 18 more than the 546 students it had in 2018 when Fox admitted it cheated. Other aspects of the program, however, took a hit, at least from the numbers it had reported to U.S. News back then. The acceptance rate for the latest cohorts is now 91%, up from the reported number of 46% two years ago, while only 11% of the newly enrolled students submitted a standardized test score for admission. In 2018, Temple fraudulently claimed that all of its enrolled students entered with a GMAT test score and the average was 619. The average for Temple’s latest class is 546.

The ranking is based unaudited data provided by “regionally accredited” business schools to U.S. News along with what U.S. News calls a survey of “high-ranking academic officials at MBA programs.” But the ranking organization does not report how many officials were surveyed nor how many responded. U.S. News does not survey students, graduates or employers for the ranking. The school-provided data and the opinions are rolled up into an overly complicated formula that centers on nearly 50 different metrics in five measured categories: Student engagement (30% of the weight), expert opinion (25%), student excellence (15%), faculty credentials and training (15%), and student services and technology (15%).

In each category, several metrics are taken into account. To measure “engagement,’ for example, U.S. News assigns a 35% weight to graduation rate defined by the two-year average of students who completed the online MBA within three years, another 35% to what it terms “best practices.” Half the score in this part of the ranking is based on a program having accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs or the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education. The other half is based on ten different components that range from an anti-plagiarism policy to required course evaluations. Some 10% of the weight is given to class size, under which sections with fewer than 20 students receive full credit, while classes with 50 or more students get no credit. Another 10% weight is applied to one-year retention rates, defined as a program’s average re-enrollment rate over four years. And finally the remaining 10% weight is given to “time to degree deadline,” described by U.S. News as a requirement for students to complete their degree or retake coursework within 1.5 times the program’s length. All of this is for only one of the five measured categories. We told you this is unnecessarily complicated.

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