The University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business pulled a leap-from-behind third place in 2021 to top our 2022 ranking of the Best Online MBA programs. It’s the fifth time we’ve ranked online MBA programs dating back to our inaugural ranking in 2018. USC Marshall has participated the past four years and has now finished first twice (2019 and 2022) and third twice (2020 and 2021).
Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business followed, finishing second for the second year in a row. Tepper and Marshall, which both offer among the most expensive online MBA options, are the only two business schools to top our ranking multiple times as Tepper was No. 1 in 2018 and 2020. Only three schools have topped our ranking in its five-year history — Marshall, Tepper, and Indiana University’s Kelley Direct MBA, which placed first last year. The full cost of Tepper’s program is just over $140,000, while USC Marshall’s online MBA has a price tag of $112,346.
After USC and Carnegie Mellon, the surprises began. Surging from tenth place to third was the Santa Clara University Leavey School of Business. The Leavey School has one of the newest online MBA programs on the market and has now only graduated two classes of students. Following Leavey is the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, which also made major gains from ninth last year to fourth. Rounding out the top five is Indiana University’s Kelley Direct program, which slipped from first last year to fifth this year.
POETS&QUANTS’ BEST ONLINE MBA PROGRAMS OF 2022
- University of Southern California (Marshall), $111,663
- Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper), $141,760
- Santa Clara University (Leavey), $83,510
- University of Washington (Foster), $78,000
- Indiana University (Kelley), $78,246
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Kenan-Flagler), $125,589
- Rice University (Jones), $109,930
- Baylor University (Hankamer), $51,264
- Lehigh University $41,595
- Jack Welch Management Institute, $48,695
ONLY ONE ONLINE MBA HAS RANKED IN THE TOP FIVE EVERY SINGLE YEAR
Over the past five years during which Poets&Quants has ranked online MBA programs, however, Indiana Kelley is the only business school to land in the Top Five in every single year. That is a remarkably consistent record of quality in a long-distance learning experience that Poets&Quants named MBA Program of the Year. Just two other online MBA options at Carnegie Mellon and Lehigh University have made the Top 10 each year.
Three schools elbowed their way into the Top Ten this year. Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business debuted its relatively new program in seventh place. Baylor University’s Hankamer School took eighth place, and the Jack Welch Management Institute surged ten spots into tenth.
The program suffering the steepest decline? George Washington University’s pricey $106,000 online MBA. The program plunged 34 places to finish in 41st place after losing ground in admission standards, academic experience, and career outcomes, all three measured metrics in our ranking.
INTEREST IN THE ONLINE MBA REMAINS STRONG
Overall, getting an MBA online continues to be highly popular. More and more top business schools are creating programs, and demand for those programs continues to be strong, with many schools reporting record enrollments during the pandemic. Indiana Kelley, which now has 100 faculty teaching in its online programs across an online course catalog of 140 courses, received just under 3,000 applications and enrolled a record 732 long-distance students during its latest fall and spring intakes, up from 535 a year earlier. Some 700 online MBA students at Kelley showed up on campus in August for the school’s “Kelley On Campus” immersion.
From an initial cohort of 116 students in the University of Illinois Gies College of Business long-distance iMBA six years ago, there are now 4,608 students enrolled with expectations for reaching 5,000 by year-end. During the 2020 iMBA intake, 3,280 applicants poured in from all over the world as Gies processed a record 1,577 new online MBA students. The iMBA program alone went to 4,388 students from some 2,600.
A record 52 schools were ranked this year, up from 47 a year ago and 35 the two years prior to that. Also a record — every school met the minimum alumni response rate of 10% to have their alumni data included in our ranking calculations. The number of schools participating in our ranking still remains small compared to the roughly 350 accredited online MBA options in the U.S. alone. Some schools, including the disruptively priced $22,500 iMBA option at the University of Illinois, prefer not to be ranked (see Online MBA Rankings? No, Thank You, Says Gies). Other schools, including the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, are so new they have yet to graduate a full class (see A New Milestone For Michigan Ross’ Online MBA: Its Very First Graduate).
TWO SLIGHT METHODOLOGICAL CHANGES
From the get-go, our ranking has been based on three equally weighted categories — admissions standards, academic experience, and career outcomes (see a full explanation of our methodology). Admissions standards data is collected from a survey sent directly to schools while academic experience and career outcomes data is gathered from an alumni survey. Both surveys took place between May and September of 2021. This year, we surveyed students graduating between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021.
There were two significant changes to this year’s methodology. First, we significantly reduced the weight given to the average GMAT score and dispersed it evenly across other admission data points (average undergraduate GPA, average years of work experience, and a program’s acceptance rate). GMATs or GREs are not required for most online MBA programs, and this year the vast majority of schools waived test scores due to the pandemic (see Average GMAT, GRE & GPAs For The 2022 Top Online MBA Programs). The second change is the introduction of alumni data from two years of surveys (this year and last year). This year’s alumni data was given a 70% weight while last year’s data was given the remaining 30%.
Because it’s a composite of three categories, a school can technically win overall without topping any of the categories. That’s exactly what happened this year for USC Marshall, which finished third in each category. Santa Clara’s Leavey School took the top spot in both alumni survey categories — academic experience and career outcomes. Indiana Kelley earned the first spot in the admissions standards category.
USC MARSHALL FEATURES INTEGRATED, THEMATIC CURRICULUM
The success of Marshall’s program has a lot to do with the resources and creativity behind it. The school’s online offering also is the most selective among the ranked schools with an acceptance rate of only 26% (see Acceptance Rates At The Top MBA Programs Of 2022).
“The Marshall OMBA experience is defined by its thematic curriculum, faculty who are fully connected to the Marshall experience, and — of course — the strength of the Trojan Network,” says Phil Griego, the assistant dean of online learning and program director of the online MBA at Marshall. “Our courses are taught using a thematic approach across six courses over five semesters where faculty frequently collaborate on projects and assignments across disciplines and across departmental lines. Each course is team-taught by two to four faculty.”
Students start USC’s online MBA program with a residential intensive week during which they complete the first course in-person with their cohort. They then go through the five required courses with that same cohort of students. “Our experience has shown that beginning the program with a week-long residential experience and our use of the cohort model builds a strong sense of community even though the program is almost entirely online,” Griego says. Marshall also uses the flipped classroom approach, pairing pre-recorded asynchronous content with synchronous courses.
Griego says one of the newer aspects of the OMBA program at Marshall is the addition of a capstone project, based on a single case that students analyze throughout the entire program. “The case was co-written by one of our faculty members,” Griego explains. “It explores the many challenges that a firm can encounter when expanding internationally.”
A part of that capstone includes an optional international trip, launched in 2019. “Although intended to take place annually, we have had to suspend the international trip due to the pandemic but plan to resume as soon as we are able,” Griego says.
CARNEGIE MELLON’S ‘ONE PROGRAM’ MBA
Carnegie Mellon University’s blended online MBA program differs from most other online options in one important aspect; it boasts the most in-person coursework delivered via a half-dozen Access Weekends scheduled in between the program’s mini-semesters. “It’s a big component of our program,” says Tepper Executive Director of Online Programs Cindy McCauley. “We think it’s important to give our students an in-person component.”
Tepper also differs from several other top programs in both the age and experience of its students. Santa Clara’s most recent incoming class had an average of 11 years of work experience, while USC’s class boasts nine years of work experience. But Carnegie Mellon’s most recent incoming class had less than seven years of experience. “A lot of these students were deciding between a full-time on-campus program and our program,” McCauley points out.
And because of the structure of the program, students can hop between programs and spend a year taking courses with full-time MBA students. “We consider the CMU MBA to be one program,” McCauley explains, noting there at most other business schools there is often a “wall” among different MBA programs. “We don’t see that wall because everything is the same. The admissions standards are the same, the coursework is the same. It’s not different, it’s just delivered differently.”
Students might spend their first year in the OMBA program until switching to the full-time program in the second year to do an internship. They might go back to online learning in the third and final year, McCauley explains. That kind of interchangeable flexibility — and access to career services — is a component few business schools offer.
More About Poets&Quants’ 2022 Online MBA Ranking
The Complete Ranking: How each of 52 of the best online MBAs place
Evaluating Each Online Program: How Online MBA Students Rate Their Programs
What Online MBA Students Get: How Online MBA Students Rate Their Degree’s Career Impact
Gaining Admissions: Acceptance Rates For The Top Online MBA Programs
What It Takes To Get In: Average GMATs, GREs and GPAs At Top Online MBA Programs
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