It wasn’t all that long ago when the thought of getting an online MBA degree seemed preposterous. Why settle for a third-rate education at a for-profit school whose courses were largely taught by poorly paid adjunct teachers?
But in the past few years, a large number of prestige universities have launched online MBA degrees, making the cyber option a viable alternative, particularly for the vast numbers of people who study in part-time evening programs or weekend executive programs.
The big question then is which schools have the best online MBA programs? U.S. News & World Report tried to answer that question earlier this year with a debut attempt to numerically rank the best Internet offerings. But it was a highly flawed and easily manipulated ranking that raised as many questions as it answered (see our critique of the U.S. News ranking). Surprisingly, the online MBA ranked ahead of any other by U.S. News is at Washington State University’s business school which fails to make our top 100 list of the best full-time MBA programs.
DON’T MISTAKE ‘LINK FARMS’ FOR REAL RANKINGS OF ONLINE MBA PROGRAMS
The Economist also has ranked online programs in the past, though its last special report on distance learning is somewhat dated, having come out in 2010. Instead of providing numerical rankings for each of the 16 programs evaluated, the British magazine instead chose to rate the programs excellent, good, average or poor. Only two schools’ programs were deemed “excellent” at the time: the University of Florida and IE Business School in Spain. Another three schools were rated “good.” They are the programs at Thunderbird Global School of Management, Indiana University’s Kelley School, and Euro MBA, a consortium of European business schools. The distance learning options at two schools–Imperial College Business School and the Royal Holloway School of Management in London–both were judged “poor.”
Potential students will also find a large number of websites that purport to rank the best online options, but almost all of them are little more than “link farms” that collect a royalty or click payment when someone seeks more information on one of the listed programs. Any website that ranks online programs but fails to provide detailed explanations of the methodology with specific back-up data for each school is pretty much worthless. Be extremely wary of these fake rankings which often attempt to mix for-profit schools with legitimate academic institutions.
Because so many brand name universities are in the online space today, and their acceptance rates are significantly higher than for their full-time MBA programs, there is no reason to settle for a degree from the University of Phoenix, Kaplan, Capella or any other organization that lacks academic and professional credibility. Prestige may not come cheap, however. The most expensive online MBAs cost about $75,000 and up, with a top price tag of $118,000 for the new Carnegie Mellon program–far more than the no frills University of Phoenix program which goes for something like $28,000.
AT LEAST 21 OF THE TOP 100 BUSINESS SCHOOLS NOW OFFER ONLINE MBA PROGRAMS
We believe the best online MBA programs are simply at the best business schools. The ultimate test for any degree is the reputation of the school that grants it. To that end, we’ve taken our ranking of the flagship full-time MBA programs and filtered out the schools that don’t yet have online versions of their MBA degrees. That exercise led us to a ranking of the best business schools with online MBA programs. All told, there are seven business schools in the Top 50 in the U.S. that now offer online MBA programs: Carnegie Mellon, the University of North Carolina, Indiana University, Penn State, Babson College, Arizona State University, and Northeastern University. There are another 14 business schools in the second half of the Top 100 schools, including George Washington University, the University of Florida, and the University of Arizona, which begins its first class in September of 2013.
The higher up the list you go, the more likely it is that the online option is as close a replica as you might get if you were on campus. It is far more likely to be taught by the same full-time faculty and to include all the business basics in the on-campus MBA curriculum. In almost all the cases, the MBA degree you get is exactly the same diploma that full-time, on-campus graduates receive.
While new online MBA programs are being launched on a nearly weekly basis of late, the highest ranked schools with online programs now form a significant group offering would-be students a lot of worthwhile choices. Most of them are blended programs that combine online learning with on-campus retreats and immersions. Many of these programs also allow students to specialize or concentrate on specific fields, ranging from corporate finance and entrepreneurship to global supply chain management and sustainable enterprise.
It’s also worth noting that there are several very good non-U.S. options available, including the global online MBA program from Spain’s IE Business School (see Inside IE’s Global Online MBA) and Warwick Business School’s MBA by distance learning.
(See following page for our ranking of the top 20 business schools in the U.S. with online MBA programs)