The Best Online MBA Programs Of 2019

Sandra Chrystal, vice dean for online education at USC Marshall


To compile the ranking and help inform applicants’ decisions on which school to attend, we gathered a trove of valuable data. When it came to alumni perceptions of the quality of their professors, for example, no program scored better than the Jack Welch Management Institute, the only ranked Poets&Quants‘ online program not affiliated with a mainstream business school. Alums of the program that bears the name of the legendary CEO of General Electric Co. rated their profs a remarkable 9.74 on a 10-point scale. The faculty at USC and Carnegie Mellon were not far behind, respectively gaining equally impressive scores of 9.52 and 9.48.

USC had the most alums, 64%, who reported receiving a promotion at work as a direct result of the online MBA program. Alums from Welch were next (58%), followed by those at the University of Maryland’s online offering (53%) and that of UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School (52%). Alums who reported gaining a salary increase as a direct result of their MBA experience topped out at the University of Texas at Dallas (90%), with USC (80%), Indiana Kelley (73%), and Carnegie Mellon (69%) all at the high end of immediate impact.

Of course, one of the big concerns many would-be students have with online programs is the diminished ability to connect with their classmates. Asked about their satisfaction with opportunities to create strong connections with fellow students, the following programs ranked highest: Hofstra (9.79), USC (9.52), Carnegie Mellon (9.43), and Kenan-Flagler (9.19).


While the ranked schools all offer pure or hybrid online MBAs, they are not all created equal. The top 10 business schools alone offer a bewildering array of online options, with differing price points, program lengths, and approaches. The least expensive of the top 10 costs just $30,240 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where students never meet each other or faculty in person because the program is 100% online, with 10 core courses and six electives that can be completed in as little as one and one-half years or up to 10 full years.

The most expensive program? Carnegie Mellon’s $133,680 hybrid online MBA. While it costs more than $100,000 than the Nebraska option, it’s a three-year program with 18 core courses, including a capstone, and 14 electives, including an on-campus orientation, intensive leadership, and communication coaching and workshops. There are live online classes twice weekly taught by the same faculty who teach in Tepper’s full-time MBA program, and the program also includes Friday-through-Sunday residencies six times a year.

What Nebraska and Carnegie Mellon prove is that not all highly ranked online options are even remotely the same. In general, the least-expensive programs offer the least amount of in-person study. Online MBA students at Auburn, who pay only $34,125 for the experience, are required to come to campus just once at the end of a capstone course. At Indiana University’s KelleyDirect program, which sports a $67,830 pricetag, students can complete the degree in two years during four, 12-week terms taught by the same profs who teach in the full-time program. The vast majority of the work is online in recorded sessions — but there also are a pair of one-week residencies as well as optional global immersion projects that have taken place in such places as Brazil, China, Cuba, India, South Africa, and Thailand.

“Students have enormous options to choose the right program for the best individual fit,” says Idie Kesner, dean of Indiana’s Kelley School of Business. In KellyDirect, the school’s online MBA program that has been offered since 1999, there are a variety of different touch points that supplement the online courses. “Students come back for a residential week each year so that they can network with their fellow students and work on a live case consulting project which is very meaningful,” Kesner says. “It’s something that is valuable to do person-to-person as opposed to simply in a virtual environment. We also allow our online students to travel to different countries with a faculty member to work on projects.”


Meanwhile, more and more business schools are offering online options. Every month, yet another highly prominent player jumps on the online bandwagon. Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business just welcomed its first cohort this year. The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, the highest-ranked U.S. business school to get into the game, has announced plans to launch an online option next fall.

So have University of California-Davis, the first UC-system school to offer an online MBA, and the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. UC-Davis is among three new online MBAs being launched by online education provider 2U in 2019, additions that will bring its MBA partners to 10 different schools. Even the University of Iowa’s Tippie School of Business, which announced the termination of its full-time residential MBA a couple of years ago, recently said it will reintroduce the MBA in an online version in the fall of 2019.

“There is a whole generation of people we are seeing who would rather learn through online than come to classrooms,” says H. Rao Unnava, dean of the business school at UC-Davis. “Online makes a lot of sense for them. There is a large segment of people who would probably want to do their MBA degree online.”