You’d think that at a highly-ranked online MBA program that costs more than $100,000, a very high percentage of the students would earn their degrees within three years. Yet at George Washington University’s business school, only 54% of the online MBAs graduate within three years.
Ranked 20th in the latest U.S. News Online MBA Ranking, GW has the lowest graduation rate of any top 25 online MBA program yet costs among the most expensive at $103,635. That price tag makes the George Washington online experience among little more than a handful of others in the six-figures cost range. There are only six online MBA programs in the world that cost more than $100,000.
Yet, most other schools have far better graduation rates. At the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business in Seattle, 100% of the students get their degrees within three years. At USC’s Marshall School, 96% accomplish that feat. At Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, the Kelley Direct Online MBA–named the MBA Program of the Year by Poets&Quants–boasts an 81% grad rate at three years.
SOME SCHOOLS OFFER LONGER TIMEFRAMES TO COMPLETE THE DEGREE YET HAVE HIGHER GRADUATION RATES
In common with most other Online MBAs, GW gives its students great flexibility to arrange their coursework. It allows its online MBA students up to five years to complete their degree. But there are many other programs that provide even longer timeframes to finish their online degrees yet they have significantly better graduation rates. At Babson College’s Online MBA offering, 92% of the students complete their degrees within three years, even though they have as long as eight years to finish up. The University of Nebraska at Lincoln allows students twice as long at GW–up to ten years–to finish the program but its three-year graduation rate is roughly the same at 56%.
So why is GW’s graduation rate so low? We posed that question to Liesel Riddle, associate dean of graduate programs at the school. “There are three things going on,” explains Riddle. “The majority of these folks graduate within our stated window of five years. But what is happening is that competitively our MBA is structured differently. Often people choose us because they are able to spread out their education. You are not mandated to take nine credit hours. I call it the ‘choose-your-own adventure model.”
Riddle says the model is also different because while Online MBA students are all online, they can periodically grad a class on campus. “We did that again to be strategic,” she adds. “Students in our on-ground program can also take a class in our online program. Most programs have condensed their models to a short timeframe and sometimes offer cohort models because they have standalone online programs. We offer a much more flexible program that you can stretch out over a longer period of time and allow students to move across the modalities as necessary.”
ONE-YEAR RETENTION RATES OF STUDENTS IN ONLINE MBA PROGRAMS IS ALSO AN IMPORTANT METRIC
Whatever the explanation, graduation rates are an important indicator of quality. So are first-year retention rates. Students who graduate within three years are more likely to be fully engaged in the learning experience and the school is clearly nudging them along to stick with the program. While flexibility is generally an advantage in a part-time online program, it can unnecessarily draw out the learning experience in ways that are counter productive.
One-year retention rates also are an indication of how well a program has done in maintaining the interest and commitment of students who enter it. Indiana Kelly retains 99% of its enrolled Online MBA study body after the first year. George Washington loses 14%, an unusually high number. Only two other schools in U.S. News’ top 25 list have higher drop out rates in year one: the University of Arizona, which loses 19% of its students, and the University of Kansas, which loses 17% of the Online MBAs who enroll there.
And those Online MBA programs are ranked within the Top 25 in the U.S. You find much lower retention rates at some other well-known schools. At Temple University’s Fox School of Business in Philadelphia, roughly a third (34%) of the students who enroll in its online MBA program quit in the first year. And you’ll find significantly lower graduation rates. At Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA, where 3,795 students are enrolled in the Online MBA program, fewer than half (46%) get their degrees within three years.
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