The US News 2021 Online MBA Ranking places both schools in joint first position, followed by Indiana University: Kelley in third, with University of Southern California (Marshall) and University of Florida (Hough) making up the rest of the top five.
The rankings are based on five categories, with the 324 schools who took part given a score for each one. Engagement—the level of student participation included within the course—and Expert Opinion are the most important, making up 30% and 25% of the ranking. Other factors including Faculty Credentials and Training, Student Excellence, and Student Services and Technologies, are worth 15%.
Tepper placed first in Student Excellence and second in Engagement, helping propel the school above its previous third-place finish. UNC was ranked first in Engagement, which allowed it to secure a joint top spot for the third year in a row. Both schools scored 4.2 out of five in the Expert Opinion category, based on a survey of high ranking officials at MBA programs.
The news means the two highest ranked courses are also the most expensive, with a place in the Tepper course costing $140k and a place at UNC costing over $125k. Indiana’s offering is a more affordable $75k. Our Online MBA Guide 2021 breaks down the tuition costs for the rankings top 20 programs.
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Winners and losers
Following a year in which applications for online MBA programs rose by 86% as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, there were some dramatic changes among the top 20 courses.
Lehigh University rose eight places to enter the top 10 after finishing 18th in 2020, while University of Kansas placed 20th, rising 11 places.
By far the highest riser, however, was Rice University which saw a monumental increase from 123rd in 2020 to ninth place in 2021, for their hybrid online MBA which costs $109,930.
Hybrid courses have been included in the rankings before, however for 2021 US news updated their definition of an online program to be one in which the 'vast majority' of coursework is completed online.
It was bad news for Villanova University which, after rising four places from 13th to ninth last year, fell out of the top 10, dropping to 17th.
University of Mississippi fell four places from sixth in 2020, leaving them tied in 10th places with five other schools. University of Arizona, University of Maryland - College Park, University of Washington and University of Wisconsin MBA Consortium, had all finished 10th in 2020 and remained there in 2021, along with Lehigh University.
US News Best Online MBA programs in 2021
Further down the list, there were more significant rises for Santa Clara University who rose from 131st to 40th, and Bentley College who rose 112 places to 67th. Coming in 94th was Florida Southern College, who rose 97 places.
The Drexel Lebow Online MBA saw the biggest fall within the top 100, down to 88th after finishing 32nd in 2020.
As well as its main online MBA rankings, US News also published separate rankings for online MBA specializations.
These include rankings for Business Analytics and Finance online MBA programs, which Tepper also came first in, as well as General Management and MBA Programs in Marketing. Arizona University scored well in these, ranking first for General Management and joint top with Indiana for Marketing.