For the fifth consecutive time, Indiana University’s Kelley Direct Online MBA program has won top honors in the seventh annual Princeton Review ranking of the best online MBA options. The University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, which had won the first two online MBA rankings ever published by the Review in 2015 and 2016, came in second place.
From the start, it has been a neck-and-neck fight between these two schools’ online MBA offerings, though the less expensive Kelley program, with an all-in sticker price that is $50,000 less than the UNC program, has now bested MBA@UNC for the past five years. On the test prep company’s new list, which doubles the number of ranked programs from a year earlier to 50 from 25, Carnegie Mellon’s hybrid Online MBA program is third, the University of Florida is fourth, and the University of Southern California’s Marshall School is fifth.
Rounding out the top ten are a number of programs that have consistently ranked well across several lists. Making its Princeton Review debut at No. 6 is Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Management, followed by No. 7 University of Utah, No. 8 Arizona State, No. 9 Babson College, and No. 10 IE Business School in Spain. IE is the only non-U.S. school to make the ranking.
KELLEY FACULTY ‘GET IT’ SAYS ONE STUDENT
The price of these ranked programs varies greatly, with the more expensive options usually featuring live weekly Internet classes, some on-campus sessions and off-campus immersions, as well as one-on-one career coaching. The program with the single biggest sticker price? Carnegie Mellon’s hybrid online offering at $141,320. The Tepper School, however, delivers more than a fifth of its program in-person, compared to just 3% at UNC. The least expensive option on the list? That would be the Online MBA at the University of South Dakota which prices its experience at a mere $15,371, even lower than the two disruptively priced online offerings at the University of Illinois Gies College of Business ($22,000) or Boston University’s Questrom School ($24,000), both unranked by Princeton Review because Gies declines to participate in rankings and Questrom’s program is too new. Illinois and BU, of course, boast more nationally known brands in business education.
Kelley, with a current Online MBA enrollment of 1,154, third largest among the Top 50 after the Jack Welch Management Institute (2,029) and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (1,379), received a series of rave reviews from surveyed students. According to the Princeton Review, students said the Kelly Direct program “was affordable and value-adding” and that professors “get it.” The faculty provide “personalized attention,” and are able to keep online students just as engaged as if they were physically sitting in the classroom. “The fact that the online faculty are the same professors who teach the in-person MBA courses is a huge plus, as the online program directly mirrors the physical program,” one student told the Princeton Review. “There are times when I am actually overwhelmed by how organized my professors are. They are always on top of things, and the quality of teaching is exceptional.”
Students provided equally positive reviews for the Online MBA at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. “I would say six out of eight professors have been excellent, and the non-excellent ones were still good,” one student told the Princeton Review. “I have also felt consistently informed and aware of changes and happenings in the program from the administration.” Not only are MBA@UNC students surrounded by outstanding faculty, they are also “surrounded by classmates from the most prestigious tiers of their respective specialties.” “There is a strong showing by current and post-military personnel,” as well as an assortment of other professionals with varying experiences and knowledge. “Each person brings a unique perspective to the table, which has helped me think differently about business and working with/leading groups of people,” added another student responding to the PR survey.
THE BIGGEST ADVANCE? SANTA CLARA MOVED UP 1 PLACES TO RANK 14TH
As is often the case with such lists, several schools have reason to celebrate, while another group would probably not want anyone to know they’ve lost ground. Santa Clara University’s Leavey School in Silicon Valley climbed 11 places to rank 14th this year from 25th a year earlier. With the exception of a few newcomers to the list, that was the biggest advance made by any school from the 2020 ranking.
On the other hand, several schools fell into the second half of the new Top 50 this year. They are American University, down seven spots to 27th from 20th, Syracuse University, which plunged ten places to rank 28th, and William & Mary, which lost nine spots to fall to a rank of 30 from 21 last year.
Rice University was the highest ranked newcomer to this year’s list, with North Carolina State making its debut at 12th place and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst showing up for the first time with an 18th place finish.
THE PROBLEM WITH THIS Online MBA RANKING
Our biggest issue with the Princeton Review rankings is the lack of transparency on how they are put together. The quality of any ranking can only be determined if users know exactly what is being measured and by how much. The description of the Princeton Review methodology is shockingly vague, with no mention of the value that the organizations places on the metrics it uses to rank programs. Unlike Poets&Quants’ annual ranking of Online MBA programs, it also does not share the actual scores that students give their schools on any of the questions they are asked. PR also fails to disclose the response rate to its student/alumni surveys with form the basis of its ranking. That leads one to surmise that the response rates are so low as to lack statistical meaning.
Another suspicious issue with the PR ranking? Unlike U.S. News‘s more expansive ranking of online MBA options, there are no ties. Every one of the 50 schools on the list has an actual numerical rank, and Princeton Review does not publish the underlying index score that results in that rank. Translation: You don’t know how statistically meaningful one rank is vs. another. So there could be no meaningful difference between a program ranked 10th and one ranked 18th. So given all the other ranking options for online MBAs, the Princeton Review list isn’t all that credible.
Nonetheless, applicants will see many of the schools that make the ranking issue news releases and place notices on their websites to promote their inclusion.