The Online MBA market is rapidly growing as more business schools launch digital rather than campus-based degrees in response to students’ need for greater flexibility and their concerns about the escalating cost of a full-time MBA.
Little wonder that a record 335 US business schools signed up to be included in the annual US News Online MBA ranking, with 321 ranked courses, up from 285 last year.
There’s an increasing demand for Online MBA programs which cost less than full-time MBAs and don’t require that students give up their salaries or jobs. But it is surprising that so few changes took place at the top of the US News ranking table in 2020, which is largely dominated by the same names as in 2019.
Best Online MBA Programs
The top five Online MBAs in 2020 are exactly the same as last year, with Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business and North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School coming in joint first place for the third time.
Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, Florida’s Warrington College of Business and USC Marshall School of Business round out the top five.
Temple University’s Fox School of Business rejoined the ranking after being dropped from last year’s list following a rankings scandal in which the school admitted to falsifying data to improve its ranking. However, it fell to 88 in the list, a far cry from its first place rank from 2015 to 2018.
There are many ties for places, with 14 schools now ranked in the top 10, raising questions over whether US News’ methodology can differentiate schools so that MBA aspirants can make an informed choice of where to study.
And while there were few changes at the top of the list, swings occurred further down the ranking that are so staggeringly large that they seem unlikely to reflect any changes in the quality of the program. Washington’s Foster School, for instance, leapt 116 spots from its 2019 position to break into the top 10 this year.
The volatility may reflect a recent change to US News’ methodology: increasing the weight placed on students’ engagement with other participants and faculty, from 28% in 2019 to 30% this year.
Other factors that make up the ranking include the opinions of business school administrators; faculty credentials and training; the quality of the students; learning technology and student services, such as career guidance.
Unlike in other rankings, US News does not survey students or graduates to compile its list, with the data instead collected from business schools themselves.
Online MBA cost
The prices of Online MBAs vary. Even though the Online MBAs from the Kelley School and UNC Kenan-Flagler are in joint first place, at $74,520 the Kelley course is $50,000 cheaper than at Kenan-Flagler: $125,589. Kelley has raised the price of its course by 10% from a year ago.
Among the top 10 Online MBA programs there are bargains to be had. Florida’s Hough Graduate School of Business, at the Warrington College of Business, charges $59,807 for its Online MBA. At Arizona State University’s Carey School of Business, the degree is on offer for $58,352.
The fact that all of these programs are among the best in the US suggests that price is not indicative of quality when it comes to Online MBAs.
When choosing a program, students should also consider career progress in terms of salary achieved and salary increase after the program; the strength of the faculty’s teaching and research; and the quality and diversity of the cohort.
Cheaper tuition fees may increase the return on investment of the degree, which can be calculated by taking the average salary achieved by graduates and deducting the tuition fee. This, of course, will stack up over time.
Beyond Online MBA rankings
The market for Online MBAs is expanding fast, with several schools having recently launched or planning to launch a digital version of their MBA. This includes the $24,000 online course that Boston University’s Questrom School of Management is launching this year.
Some top-tier Online MBA programs are not included in US News’ ranking, because they have declined to participate, or are so new to the market that it would be difficult for them to make their mark. The respected Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business launched an Online MBA in 2018, but it has failed to break into even the top 100 courses, coming in 123rd place.
The much hyped iMBA course at Illinois’ Gies College of Business, which costs just $22,000, did not participate.
If you want a cheaper, more flexible MBA experience, an Online MBA program could be the best option.