IE Repeats As Top Online MBA Program

Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts

Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts


The University of Massachusetts-Amherst (Isenberg) made this year’s biggest debut. Unranked in 2014, Isenberg raced to 11th in 2015, thanks to above average earnings ($131,661), along with high alumni scores in value for the money (fifth) and program delivery (fourth). Florida International also joined the rankings at 14th. These schools replaced the Thunderbird School of Global Management (8th in 2014) and Open University (14th in 2014), with the former’s exclusion likely stemming from not having the required 20% of alumni participating in the survey. That said, Thunderbird ranked fourth in program delivery and second in online interaction in 2014, with their absence benefitting Northeastern and Indiana the most in these areas.

Among this year’s big moves, Florida and Northeastern exchanged the third and fourth spots overall, with the UK’s Bradford University climbing three spots to number eight. Syracuse University (Whitman) rose a spot to tie Bradford. And the University of Nebraska vaulted from 12th to 10th. At the same time, Arizona State (Carey) and Peru’s Centrum Catolica each fell two spots as Drexel (LeBow) slipped one.

In other evaluation criteria, Bradford University finished first in career progress and female faculty (and second for value for money – a score that was aided by alumni salary increases skyrocketing from 30% to 43% over the previous year). Alumni ranked Syracuse as the top career services center for online MBAs. Florida International enrolled the highest percentage of women (47%), while Warwick Business School maintained the highest percentage of international faculty and faculty with doctorates.


You have to applaud the Financial Times’ efforts to become the “people’s ranking.” Unlike U.S. News & World Report’s ranking – which doesn’t even solicit alumni feedback in its ranking – the Financial Times bases nearly two-thirds of its ranking on alumni opinions of their alma maters’ value, responsiveness, and curriculum. On one hand, this provides a ranking based on true consumer feedback. With salaries comprising a fifth of the ranking, the Financial Times also represents a more results-driven measurement.

However, this makes the ranking more subjective (though the Financial Times gives 2015 responses a 60% weight and pegs 2014 results at 40% to level off potential fluctuations). However, the Financial Times requires survey responses from only 20% of alumni for a school to qualify for a ranking. With only 532 alumni participating in the survey, a relatively small sample carries an enormous weight in the ranking process. Worse, the response rate dropped from 35% to 25% in 2015, with 312 fewer responses.

UNC's Kenan Flagler Business School

UNC’s Kenan Flagler Business School

What’s more, the newest Financial Times alumni survey targeted 2011 graduates, excluding relatively new programs. For example, the University of North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler) – the third-ranked program in U.S. News’ online MBA rankings – launched their program in 2011. As a result, Kenan-Flagler will be excluded from the Financial Times online MBA rankings until 2017, making this year’s (and next year’s) rankings all the more dubious.

That doesn’t mean an asterisk should be placed next to IE Business’ accomplishment. But just compare the size of the Financial Times’ online ranking to that of U.S. News. Here, 147 American online MBA programs – ranging from Temple to Tiffin – were ranked.  In other words, the Financial Times’ rankings – where only 15 of the 18 programs that responded merited a ranking – is barely a tenth of U.S. News’ size. As a result, you can bet that several schools have higher ranks on the Financial Times due to a dearth of competition.


On the other hand, you could caricature U.S. News’ rankings as a quants’ dream. 28% of the weight goes to what is called “student engagement” – which includes accreditation standards, graduation rate, class size, and retention. Another quarter is comprised of “admissions selectivity” metrics, such as standardized test scores, acceptance rates, and undergrad GPAs. Faculty credentials and training, which carries an 11% weight, covers tenured faculty, technical staff, faculty training, and terminal degrees. Another 11% covers student debt, technological infrastructure, and support services.

U.S. News does give opinion a 25% weight, but it is a “peer reputation” score (based on a 1-5 scale) where school officials rank each other’s programs. In other words, the Financial Times is light on empirical data, while U.S. News doesn’t even bother to consult the end user. As a result, the U.S. News ranking – which doesn’t include international programs – reflects a wide variance from the Financial Times.

Kelley School of Business

Kelley School of Business

For starters, Florida, which benefits from heavy student satisfaction in surveys, drops from 1st to 5th among American programs. It gets leapfrogged by Indiana, Temple (Fox), North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler) and Arizona State (which edges up from eighth to fourth among American programs). However, Northeastern, ranked second among American programs, plunges to 36th, courtesy of low scores in admissions selectivity and student services and technology (and removing high alumni survey scores in online interaction and career progress, of course). Similarly, Syracuse (5th to 57th), Nebraska (6th to 21st), Massachusetts-Amherst (7th to 12th), and Florida International (9th to 62nd) all performed far worse on U.S. News’ more data-driven model. In each case, they were dinged by low admissions scores, which were not even measured by the Financial Times. What’s more, Babson (5th) and Drexel (10th) weren’t even listed among U.S. News’ online MBA programs.

If you stripped each ranking of their excesses and combined their empirical and end user bents, you could create a highly informative and durable ranking. However, these dueling approaches simply confuse the process at this point.


The Financial Times’ survey of 2011 grads also yielded some important insights beyond the rankings. Before entering an online MBA program, for example, only 12% of students held senior manager or executive roles. That number skyrockets to 30% within three years of graduation. It also inspired another 20% to start their own companies.

The results also revealed that MBAs were helping women inch closer to equal pay. Men, who earned $130,000 on average, were still paid $22,000 more than women three years after graduation. However, women enjoyed higher salary increases during that time by a 37%-to-30% margin. That was a big turnaround from the class of 2010, where men led by a 28%-to-26% margin.

What’s more, an online MBA helped students achieve their goals. According to the alumni survey, online students pursued an MBA to help them move into management, increase earnings, and land a promotion (in that order). Within three years of graduation, 90% of online MBA degree holders had reached those goals.

To see the rankings, go to the next page.