Indiana Kelley Does It Again: Tops U.S. News Online MBA Ranking

The champagne bottles are popping in Bloomington, Indiana, today.

For the ninth time in a dozen years, Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business online MBA program has topped U.S. News‘ annual ranking of the best online MBA program in the United States. That is a record of consistency in business school rankings that often show many ups and downs. Over those 12 years, the school’s Kelley Direct MBA has never finished lower than third.

This year, Kelley claimed the number one spot alone, after sharing it with the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School last year. MBA@UNC, the school’s online offering, slipped to third place behind the hybrid online MBA degree at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. Tepper moved up three spaces from a rank of five last year to nudge aside Kenan-Flagler. UNC, however, has also been a consistent winner in this ranking, never finishing lower than third through ten of the 12 rankings and having captured first place six times. UNC was not included in the first two years of this ranking.


This time around, however, UNC shared third place with two other online MBA players: the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business in Los Angeles and the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business in Seattle.

Kelley’s online program had also won a first-place ranking for the second consecutive year in Poets&Quants more robust ranking based in part on satisfaction surveys from alumni. Graduates give the program some of the highest satisfaction rates and especially single out the online program’s in-residence sessions. The school’s online MBA is the most selective of the Top 100 in this ranking, admitting just 27% of its applicant pool when most programs accept the majority of their candidates. Kelley also boasts one of the highest one-year retention lists of 98%.

Rounding out the top ten online MBAs are the No. 6 University of Florida, Arizona State University, and the University of Arizona, both tied for seventh, while the Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Kansas, both tied for ninth place.


Ties are common throughout this ranking, evidence that even U.S. News has trouble differentiating many of the programs. Of the 28 schools that rank 22nd or higher, 24 online MBA program share their ranks with rivals. Seven schools alone, for example, are ranked 22nd, including Auburn, Ball State, Penn State, and Texas Tech. Dig deeper into this ranking and ties become even more commonplace. For programs ranked between 29th and 42nd, every school is tied. Nine programs share the rank of 42nd, eight programs are ranked 29th, and five share 37th place.

Despite the large number of ties, there were some big movements up and down the list. The online MBA at the University of Iowa skyrocketed 44 places to rank 29th from 73rd last year. Oregon State zoomed up 31 spots to rank 42nd from 73rd, while Bryant University in Rhode Island jumped 28 places to rank 37th from 65th. Florida State University’s online MBA program soared 26 places to rank 18th from 44th last year. Oklahoma State climbed 11 spots to rank 16th from 27th, and Texas Tech also rose 11 places to end up 22nd, from 33rd. But the single biggest rankings boost, at least in the Top 100, benefitted UC-Davis which jumped 100 places to rank 42nd from 142nd last year.

On the other hand, Villanova slumped 18 places to rank 37th from 19th last year, while Hoftra and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln both plunged 10 places to rank 29th, from 19th.


2024 Rank & School 2023 Rank Y-O-Y Change Per Credit Cost Acceptance Rate Enrollment
1. Indiana (Kelley) 1 —– $1,635 27% 1,652
2. Carnegie Mellon (Tepper) 5 +3 $2,274 61% 228
3. North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler) 1 -2 $2,025 62% 797
3. Southern California (Marshall) 3 —– $2,307 46% 283
3. Washington (Foster) 5 +3 $1,500 73% 160
6. Florida (Warrington) 4 -2 $1,208 56% 867
7. Arizona State (Carey) 7 —– $1,330 80% 515
7. Arizona (Eller) 9 +2 $1,250 74% 552
9. Rochester Tech (Saunders) 9 —– $1,660 50% 39
9. Kansas 7 -2 $865 66% 489


Growth in the online MBA market has largely stalled as competition among programs has exploded. Among the Top Five programs, for example, four reported lower enrollments this year, with USC’s Marshall School losing nearly a quarter of its students, an actual decline of 23.5% to a total enrollment of 283 students versus 370 a year earlier.  UNC saw a  14% decline, while IU Kelley reported a 3.8% enrollment decrease. The biggest gainer among the Top Ten was Arizona State University which grew its online MBA enrollment by an astounding 67% to 515 students from 418 last year. Its in-state rival, the University of Arizona, also did exceptionally well on this measure, increasing enrollment by 32% to 552 students from 418 a year ago.

Nonetheless, online MBA students more often than not outnumber full-time MBAs at most of these schools, with a few reporting enrollments that exceed 1,000 MBA students online.  Some 26 of U.S. News‘ Top 100 now have more than 500 enrolled online students studying for the MBA. One of the most successful shifts online can be seen at he University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business. The school phased out its full-time MBA with the Class of 2019 when the cohort numbered not much more than 100 students. Tippie, which enrolled its first online cohort five years ago in mid-2019, now boasts 1,427 students in its online MBA, ranked 29th in the nation by U.S. News. Other ranked schools with more than 1,000 MBAs online include the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (1,605), the University of Southern Indiana (1,665), Washington State University (1,509), the University of Massachusetts at Lowell (1,427),  and Penn State University (1,091). And this list does not include schools that are not ranked by U.S. News, including the highly successful online MBAs at the University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business or Boston University’s Questrom School of Business.

At Liberty University, where 29% of the online MBA students drop out within the first year and only 51% graduate in three years, enrollment now totals 2,540 students for a program ranked 223rd by U.S. News.


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 collected over the past three years. 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%).

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 the graduation rate defined by the two-year average of students who completed the online MBA within three years, and 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.

There were two changes from last year’s methodology. After being reduced in weight last year, the proportion of graduates who borrowed was removed as a ranking factor altogether this year. “In effect, the student indebtedness indicator is now entirely computed from the average debt among graduate borrowers – a stronger gauge of affordability in distance education than whether a graduate needs to borrow,” according to U.S. News.  The weight of student indebtedness within the Services and Technologies category was reduced from 50% to 40%, while Support Services and Technological Infrastructure were each increased in weight from 25% to 30%. The other change was in the support services indicator. Whether a program offered degree audits replaced academic advising as one among 10 services credited. Degree audits within an online learning platform help inform students about their academic progress and degree requirements.

It’s not clear how these changes may have impacted the 2014 ranking. Some 11 programs in the Top 50 or so experienced double-digit increases or declines, compared to nine last year.

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