Kelley Direct Online MBA Tops Yet Another Ranking

Kelley Direct students on a global immersions trip to Athens Greece in 2022. The online MBA program at Indiana University was ranked the No. 1 U.S. program by Fortune Education. Courtesy photo

Indiana University’s Kelley Direct Online MBA is having a banner year in the rankings. The program has topped yet another online MBA ranking, this one put out by Fortune Education.

For 2024, the program at Kelley School of Business also topped Poets&Quants’ proprietary ranking of the best U.S. online MBAs as well as U.S. News and World Reports’. Last month, QS ranked Kelley the fifth best program in the world, and the highest-ranked U.S. program, but that ranking has some issues as we explain here.

For Fortune’s 2024 ranking, Kelley beat out 91 other U.S. based online MBA programs. It was followed by Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper) at No. 2 and University of North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler) at No. 3 – both top 10 finishers in P&Q’s and U.S. News’ 2024 lists.


The top seven schools on Fortune’s list track pretty well with other rankings. That, at least, adds to the signal that these are strong programs. But there are a couple of headscratchers in Fortune’s top 10.

University of Iowa (Tippie) finished at No. 8 in Fortune, but didn’t crack the top 25 in either P&Q or U.S. News. University of South Florida (Muma) ranked No. 9 in Fortune but finished 23rd and 22nd respectively in P&Q and U.S. News. (See chart below.)

Fortune Education’s Top 10 Online MBA Programs of 2024

Fortune 2024 Rank School P&Q 2024 Rank
U.S. News 2024 Rank
1 Indiana University (Kelley) 1 1
2 Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper) 5 2
3 University of North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler) 7 3 (tie)
4 University of Washington (Foster) 2 3 (tie)
5 University of Southern California (Marshall) 9 3 (tie)
6 Arizona State University (Carey) NR 7
7 Rice University (Jones) 6 18 (tie)
8 University of Iowa (Tippie) 34 29 (tie)
9 University of South Florida (Muma) 23 22 (tie)
10 University of Texas at Dallas (Naveen Jindal) 3 12 (tie)

Two of P&Q’s top 10 online MBA programs for 2024 – University of Michigan (Ross) at No. 4 and Jack Welch Management Institute (No. 8) – weren’t ranked by Fortune at all.

Fortune’s online MBA ranking has led to some puzzling results since it launched in 2021, at least compared to other, more established rankings. (See page two for a comparison of Fortune’s top 50 programs and other top rankings). Part of the reason could be because it uses a couple of metrics that seem to have little to do with the realities of online MBAs.

The magazine assigns a 20% weight to the number of B-school alums at high-level jobs at companies on its Fortune 1000 list. But that metric does not distinguish between the type of MBA from those business schools that an executive received. Meaning, they counted full-time MBAs, EMBAs, parttime, and online MBAs all the same. That’s hardly a testament to how an online degree can help one land a spot at a Fortune 1000 company.

Further, the vast majority of online MBA students are fully employed. Many are looking to advance in their own companies.

Fortune assigns another 20% to the monthly Google search volume for the business schools themselves, “to measure public perception of a school’s brand and reputation,” according to the posted methodology. It then converts this to a yearly metric used in its methodology. Again, that is not specific to the online MBA programs at those schools, but to the business schools themselves.

Those two metrics account for 40% of the total score. Fortune then assigns a 5% weight to programs’ previous Fortune rankings.

The remaining 55% is assigned to data points collected from the schools:

  • Size of 2022–2023 graduating class: 5%
  • Out-of-state annual tuition: 5%
  • Graduation rate, 2020–23: 8.5%
  • One-year retention rate, 2022–23: 8.5%
  • Acceptance rate, fall 2023: 7%
  • Yield, fall 2023 (matriculates/admits): 7%
  • Average undergraduate GPA, fall 2023 enrollees: 6%
  • Average number of years of work experience, fall 2023 entrants: 8%


Fortune is just one of several publications trying to rank a growing online MBA market, all with their own strengths and shortcomings.

U.S. News & World Report is arguably the most robust, ranking 345 U.S. programs in its most recent list. But its ranking is based on unaudited data provided by “regionally accredited” business schools along with its peer assessment survey of “high-ranking academic officials at MBA programs.” U.S. News does not survey students, graduates, or employers for the ranking. It also does not rank international programs.

P&Q’s online MBA ranking also sticks to U.S. schools, and we ranked 51 leading programs for 2024. Our methodology is based on three equally-weighted categories – admission standards, academic experience and career outcomes. Data is collected through institutional surveys and surveys of the most recent class of alumni. We require a minimum response rate of 10% of alumni, and schools that don’t meet that threshold do not get full credit for their alumni data. You can see how we calculate our online MBA ranking in our full methodology.

The other major ranking that looks at international programs comes from the Financial Times. But, that list is known as much as for the schools that are not ranked as for those that are. It ranked only 10 schools in 2024. FT reported that just 25 schools submitted data for this year’s ranking, but several failed to make the final list because of an “insufficient” response rate to the FT‘s alumni survey.

As previously mentioned, QS, a British-based admissions events company, also compiles an annual ranking of online MBAs, but it might be the most dubious of the lot. After consulting with MBA consultants and business school staffers who work on rankings, P&Q has called out QS’ Global ranking of full-time MBA programs as being one of the worst for its vague methodology, poor transparency, and concerns over conflict of interest. While the critiques weren’t lodged at QS’s online MBA ranking specifically, it’s enough to give one pause. (In response, QS co-founder Nunzio Quacquarelli defended their ranking.)

You can see how Fortune’s top 50 online MBA programs ranked on P&Q’s and U.S. News’ 2024 lists on the following page.

NEXT PAGE: Fortune Education’s Online MBA ranking for 2024

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