If you’re in the market for an online MBA program, you don’t want to pay a whole lot of attention to the 2021 ranking of the world’s best online options from the Financial Times. A quick glance at the list will tell you all you need to know why it’s not at all helpful or valuable to a potential applicant.
The FT ranks only 15 different programs in one of the most robust graduate management areas of study in the world. There are well over 350 online MBA options in the market, and because a long distance degree program can be taken from anywhere, this list isn’t even helpful to candidates in Europe.
Even so, the FT is a credible source for business education. It’s just too bad that this ranking is among the least credible given all of its omissions. Just think about the quality of the business schools offering online MBAs that are not included in this ranking: Carnegie Mellon, the University of Michigan, the University of Southern California, and Rice University to name a few.
A HIGHLY LIMITED VIEW OF ONLINE MBA OPTIONS MAKES THE FT RANKING NOT ALL THAT HELPFUL OR VALUABLE
And that brief list of omissions doesn’t get you to the truly disruptive online offerings from the University of Illinois Gies College of Business, with an all-in price tag of just $22,000, or Boston University’s $24,000 online MBA at its Questrom School of Business, or the new ESMT Berlin online MBA that carries a price tag of just $30,000, not including discounts for paying early.
Nonetheless, this limited view of the market from the Financial Times adds something to the game of evaluation. It largely puts some of the European options in a fine light. Warwick Business School’s long-distance MBA program tops the list for the fourth consecutive year. IE Business School, Europe’s pioneer in online business education, is second. And a newcomer, Imperial College Business School is third, an impressive showing for its debut in the FT ranking.
Then, three U.S. options that have consistently ranked well by both Poets&Quants and U.S. News, follow those European schools. The University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School’s MBA@UNC program placed fourth, Indiana Kelley School of Business’ Kelley Direct online MBA is fifth, and the University of Florida’s program is sixth.
TWO SCHOOLS PREVIOUSLY RANKED HIGH HAVE DISAPPEARED FROM THIS YEAR’S RANKING
The bigger news in this ranking is less obvious to a casual observer. It is the absence of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst which has a superb online MBA option that finished third on the FT list last year as well as 2019 and 2018. Northeastern University’s online MBA also disappeared from the list, even though it had been ranked eighth for the two previous years by the Financial Times.
Their omission, along with the expansion of the ranking to 15 programs, up from ten last year, gave way to a large number of newcomers to the list. Besides Imperial, the newly ranked online MBA programs are at the University of Maryland, the Australian Graduate School of Management, Babson College, the University of Utah, the University of Nebraska, and Arizona State University.
Warwick’s success in this ranking owes a great deal to the current salaries of its alumni. With average pay of $207,725, the alumni earn more than any other school on this list, more than $20,000 than the alums of the online MBA program at Imperial, which placed second best on current salary. The FT considers this an important metric because it places a 20% weight on the average salary of alums three years after graduation. These figures, moreover, are adjusted for purchasing power parity.
Current salary of alums is the most heavily weighed of all the metrics used to rank these programs, double the weight given to average increases in salaries from graduation to three years later, or a school’s faculty’s research rank, even though there is no control that the professors who produced that research teach in the online program, or what the FT calls online interaction, the extent to which alumni rate the interaction among students, teamwork and the availability of faculty.
Users of the ranking have to determine if those four metrics–which account for half of the total weight in the ranking–are all that important to them in deciding where to get an online MBA degree. The importance of each measured data point as well as what to measure is made by journalists who often have little to no experience in graduate management education. For many applicants, the program’s standing on metrics that have much less weight could loom larger in a candidate’s decision to choose one school over another. That’s why it is important to parse the ranking to get to the stats that may be more important for you to consider.
MORE TELLING THAN THE ACTUAL RANK IS HOW A PROGRAM COMPARES WITH OTHERS
Warwick was able to stay on top because it scored well across the 18 data points used to rank the schools, though on some of these metrics the school fell short of several rivals. On salary increase, Warwick was tied with the University of Florida for third place. Nine other programs won higher scores from their alums than Warwick on online interaction, with the University of Utah coming in first on this measure. On the faculty research stat, Warwick was in fifth place, with Indiana Kelley coming out on top.
More telling than a school’s actual rank is how it compares against this small sub-set of programs on the various metrics the FT uses to place its numerical ranks on the programs. The FT asks online MBA alumni a set of questions that attempt to get at a graduate’s satisfaction with their experience (see below). Graduates of Italy’s Politecnico di Milano School of Management reported the largest increases in salary: 45%. Alumni with the highest current salaries are from Warwick’s program: $207,725.
The program deemed the best value for the money was at the University of Bradford where the price tag for the online MBA is just £18,296 or $25,415, slightly more than either Gies College’s iMBA and Boston University’s new online MBA program. In contrast, Warwick’s tuition and fees comes to £34,046, roughly 86% more than the least expensive offering in the ranking from Bradford.
The most alumni who believe that their program allowed them to achieve their aims are at the University of Florida, where 82% of the respondents said that the online MBA satisfied their objectives. Florida was followed closely by the University of Nebraska (81%), The University of North Carolina (80%), Indiana Kelley (80%), Durham University (80%), and the University of Utah (80%). Indiana Kelley led all schools for its career services staff which earned the highest marks from its alums.