Indiana & UNC Top U.S. News Ranking Of Best Online MBA Programs

Online MBA ranking

Online MBA programs have experienced explosive growth as shown in the new U.S. News Online MBA Ranking

Two major players in the online MBA market retained their hold on first place in the 2023 U.S. News Online MBA ranking published today (Jan. 24). Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business and the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School share top honors in the new ranking. The online MBA program at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School, which was in a three-way tie for first place last year, slipped into third place.

Rounding out the top five are No. 4 University of Florida and No. 5 Carnegie Mellon University. Florida gained one place from last year, while Carnegie Mellon fell a spot in this year’s online MBA ranking from U.S. News. There was more consequential  year-over-year movement on the list among the Top 25 programs, with four online MBA offerings rising by 12 places from last year: No. 9 Kansas State University, No. 19 Auburn University, No. 19 University of Nebraska at Lincoln, and No. 19 University of South Florida (see rankings table). Ties are prevalent throughout the ranking with 22 of the 26 business schools in the Top 25 sharing their rank with another school.

Just one school fell out of the Top Ten: The University of Texas at Dallas which dropped eight places to finish 17th from ninth last year. It was replaced by the University of Kansas which soared nine spots to rank seventh from 16th last year.

Top Ten Online MBA Programs In U.S. News’ 2023 Ranking

2023 Rank & School 2022 Rank Y-O-Y Change Program Cost Acceptance Rate % With GMAT or GRE Enrollment
1. Indiana (Kelley) 1 ——– $82,158 35% 20% 1,718
1. North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler) 1 ——– $125,589 49% 5% 926
3. Southern California (Marshall) 1 -2 $119,822 44% 10% 370
4. Florida (Warrington) 5 +1 $59,808 42% 11% 722
5. Carnegie Mellon (Tepper) 4 -1 $145,600 61% 30% 190
5. Washington (Foster) 5 ——– $90,000 75% 42% 171
7. Arizona State (Carey) 7 ——– $62,483 61% 36% 309
7. Kansas 16 +9 $36,330 59% 1% 428
9. Rochester Tech (Saunders) 9 ——– $78,000 49% 0% 21
9. Arizona (Eller) 7 -2 $56,250 83% 17% 418
9. Wisconsin MBA Consortium 9 ——– $29,700 97% 22% 392


online MBA ranking
While online MBA students now outnumber those enrolled in on-campus programs, the explosive growth in the Online MBA market is pretty much over. Three of the Top Ten schools, in fact, reported enrollment declines, with with the University of Arizona down to 359 online MBA students compared to 418 a year ago and Rochester Tech losing more than have their students with an enrollment of a mere 21 students from 53 last year. Some of the most highly ranked schools in the Top Ten were able to go against this trend. Indiana Kelley, for example, increased enrollment in its online MBA program by 5% to 1,718 students from 1,639, while UNC Kenan-Flagler reported a 21% rise to 926 students from 766

Even more striking than which program is first or fifth is the explosive growth in online business education reflected in the ranking. Five years ago, U.S. News ranked 267 online MBA options. This year, it has put numerical ranks on 344 programs and boasts profiles of 366 programs. Yet, there are quite a few high quality programs that aren’t on the list either because they chose to not participate in the ranking or are too new to qualify. Among them are the University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business iMBA, recently chosen by Poets&Quants as the MBA Program of the Year, and Boston University’s Questrom School of Business’ online MBA. Also absent from the list are new online hybrid MBA programs at Wharton, NYU Stern, and UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

Consistency matters in rankings because these lists often contain anomalies in any given year. And when it comes to consistency, both Indiana and UNC at Chapel Hill have been nothing but consistent in capturing the top spots in U.S. News‘ online MBA rankings ever since this list debuted in 2013 when U.S. News ranked just 148 online MBA programs.  Kelley’s online MBA has never ranked lower than third through all 11 of U.S. News‘ online lists and has been in the top spot more than any other business school: eight times when you exclude Temple University which cheated to gain its No. 1 spot from 2015 through 2018. (Temple’s Online MBA, by the way, ranked a lowly 115 this year). MBA@UNC, meantime, has finished no lower than third through nine of the 11 rankings and has been first six times. UNC was not included in the first two years of this ranking.


Ranking skeptics will find plenty of reason to question the placement of many online MBA programs on this list. Who, for example, would enroll in the online MBA at Kansas State University, ranked 12th best, over the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, whose online MBA languishes in 18th place? And who would pass over Rice University’s online MBA, ranked 12th, in favor of the University of Kansas, which is ranked five places higher in seventh place by U.S. News? There are, in fact, two reasons, neither of which count in this ranking: The lower cost of the online MBAs in Kansas along with the degree’s networking value which may be higher in the state of Kansas.

Much skepticism surely is in order when it comes to some of these results. The University of Kentucky’s online MBA soared 91 places to rank 85th from 176th last year, while the University of North Carolina at Greensboro climbed 86 spots to land at 73rd from 159 in 2022. Changes like that in a single year cast doubt on the methodology used to crack out this ranking. Even so, among the Top 100 programs, Kentucky and UNC at Greensboro scored the biggest wins of any of the business schools on the Top 100 list.

Not all schools, of course, go up in a ranking. This year, 13 business schools in the Top 100 saw their ranks fall in double-digits, led by the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. Stevens plunged 31 places to rank 73rd on this year's list. Though the decline was less steep at Syracuse University's Whitman School of Management, it will likely prove more troublesome because the school's online MBA has now fallen by 50 places in the past two years to a rank of 85th from 35 in 2021. This year's drop was 23 places, the second biggest decline of any Online MBA program in the Top 100. For a program with a price tag of $64,872 with a current enrollment of 336 students, that is a major setback.


The U.S. News ranking is based on unaudited data provided by “regionally accredited” business schools along with what U.S. News calls a peer assessment survey of “high-ranking academic officials at MBA programs.” For the latter survey, the website tosses in data that it collected for the past three years. 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), peer assessment (25%), student excellence (15%), faculty credentials and training (15%), and student services and technology (15%).

For the 2023 ranking, U.S. News again decided against using new entrants’ GMAT and GRE scores which in the past comprised 40% of each school’s student excellence score. More schools are now waiving standardized tests are not requiring them at all for their online degree programs. In a new change to the methodology this year, U.S. News alternated its weight on debt incurred by students who graduate from online MBA programs. The average amounts graduates borrowed are now weighted twice as highly as the proportion who borrowed instead of both being weighted 50-50. "This change was made to further emphasize the breadth of each program's affordability for borrowers with different financial circumstances," according to U.S. News.

In each of the five ranking categories, 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, and it is rolled up in the ‘engagement’ category that doesn’t really measure how deeply engaged students are in their courses.

That’s another reason why every one should take this and other rankings with a big grain of salt. While rankings are important, your choice of a school should be based on a deeper understanding of how these programs differ from each other. Far more expensive programs may provide greater bang for the buck than those that have smaller price tags, depending on your needs as a student.


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