What Is The Value Of An Online MBA?

By offering the best of both worlds, could the Online MBA eventually make the brick-and-mortar version obsolete?

As online learning programs continue to disrupt traditional classroom models, the online MBA has emerged as a major player in the field, and for good reason—these programs allow students to maintain professional careers without having to commit to attending classes in a static environment.

However, some amount of trepidation around online MBA programs persists since much of the value of business school is tied up in the networks that one creates with fellow students. While such skepticism is healthy, it is unwarranted. Given the resources now available in online MBA programs, let's investigate how the value of digital degrees has grown exponentially.

Online MBA Students Break Traditional Mold

While the main difference between traditional and online MBA programs is obvious, one of the most salient points of divergence is the makeup of the student body.

According to US News data, the average age of the online MBA student enrolled between July 2015 and June 2016 was 33 years old—about six years older than the average traditional MBA student. US News also found that 91% of these students were already employed at the time they began pursuing their online MBA.

Kay Faris, senior associate dean of academic programs at ASU’s Carey School of Business, notes that “many of our students travel for their jobs or are live around the globe, and the online MBA allows a student to build leadership skills to meet their professional goals from any location.”

Indeed, if one is already employed at the time of pursuing an online degree, attaining an online MBA is certainly a further boon to one’s resume.

Consultant Paul Bodine of Paul Bodine Consulting/Admitify writes that potential employers will recognize “the dedication and time management skills required to earn an MBA while working full-time."

Other experts in the field seem to agree. “Ultimately, students need to be not just great managers but great leaders,” says Sridhar Balasubramanian, professor of marketing and senior associate dean for MBA programs at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business.

In other words, the ability to complete difficult MBA coursework while maintaining a professional life takes both will and superior time management skills. Whether an online MBA student’s goals are to move laterally or within the industry she currently works, any and all employers will admire the determination and expertise it takes to juggle professional, educational, and personal commitments.

Similarities Remain

However, some similarities between traditional and online MBAs remain, particularly if one is searching for the program that is the best fit. Before a potential student even begins that search, it is absolutely necessary to ask “whether or not [he or she has] the bandwidth to commit to the program,” says Karen Marks, president and founder of North Star Admissions Consulting.

Investing resources into an online MBA if uncertain about the answer to such a question is foolish, so these considerations must be taken seriously. That said, many online MBA programs have doubled down on efforts to make their programs as similar to the traditional business school program as possible.

Cindy McCauley, executive director of the Online Hybrid MBA program at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, notes that an online MBA holds the same value as an on-campus MBA if the program maintains the same admissions standards, faculty, curriculum and access to career services.  When the programs offer the same education and access to resources, there is no difference in the value between programs.”


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