How Much Does A Top Executive MBA Cost?

MBAWhat can you expect to pay for an Executive MBA program that is ranked among the world’s best?

The simple, if unsatisfying, answer? Plenty.

Three years ago, when we last looked in on the most expensive EMBA programs in the world, we found 22 with six-figure price tags. That number has almost doubled since 2011 with 40 EMBA programs that cost $100,000 or more in tuition and fees. And many other programs are just under the six-figure cost, ranging from $96,400 at Boston University and $95,000 at Fordham University in New York to $95,000 at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and $94,000 at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Despite increasing use of technology in many of these programs to deliver at least some content, costs continue to rise partly due to the increasing popularity of residencies, either on-campus or in different international locales. Case in point: Georgetown University’s joint 14-month EMBA program with ESADE in Spain has residencies in Washington and New York, Madrid and Barcelona, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janiero, Doha and Bangalore, and Shanghai and Bejing. All that travel–and the food and accommodations that go along with it–adds up rather quickly which is why the program costs $148,625.

Still, the price leader again is the Wharton School’s prestigious Executive MBA at $181,500 for students who enroll at either the school’s home campus in Philadelphia or its satellite campus in downtown San Francisco. Wharton’s tuition increases in the past three years have been comparatively modest–only 5.4% for the West Coast program and 11.8% for the East Coast version. Until recently, Wharton used to charge slightly more for the San Francisco experience due to the higher cost of living in the Bay Area. But the school decided to simplify its pricing to a single price tag, no matter where an EMBA student enrolls. That tidy sum also includes airfare for a required week-long global experience.


Significantly larger increases at such schools as Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Columbia Business School have helped to close the gap between them and Wharton. Three years ago, the Kellogg program was $18,300 cheaper than Wharton. Today, thanks to a 17% hike in program fees in the past three years, the difference is less than $1,500. Columbia Business School now charges $175,200 for its Executive MBA program, up 18.1% from $148,320 three years ago. The difference between Wharton now? Just $6,300 versus $23,880 in 2011.

Still, there were plenty of schools that put through even larger increases. UCLA’s Anderson School, for example, lifted the cost of its Executive MBA by 28.2% in the past three years to $138,000. That’s despite seeing new competition in the L.A. market from the University of Michigan’s Ross School which recently came to Los Angeles with an EMBA program now priced at $146,00. Northwestern University’s joint EMBA with Hong Kong University of Science and Technology hiked program fees by 24.5% in the past three years to $155,000. But the program has been ranked first in the world by The Financial Times for the past five consecutive years.

Only one prominent executive program shows a decrease in price. At $117,00, IMD’s highly touted Executive MBA program in Switzerland is $15,500 cheaper than it was three years ago. But it is largely a technicality: the result of a currency translation from Swiss francs to U.S. dollars.


Why is there such a big difference in the cost of these top-ranked EMBA programs over those at other schools? “It’s like anything else, whether you’re talking about buying Pepsi or Sam’s brand of cola,” says Michael Desiderio, executive director of the Executive MBA Council, the trade group representing EMBA programs. “There is a value inherently tied to a brand.” In fact, the average cost of an EMBA program, says Desiderio, is only $73,400 last year. 

The price tags on many of these programs could easily cause sticker shock because they are often much higher than the cost of a two-year, full-time MBA program. Of course, EMBA tuition typically covers meals and accommodation–and in many top programs few students are staying at the Motel Six. When Michigan opened its EMBA program in Los Angeles two years ago, it initially put up students in the swanky Beverly Wilshire Hotel (For the incoming 2016 EMBA class. Ross students will begin their program this fall at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel). And when the prestigious Trium EMBA program–a partnership among New York University, the London School of Economics and HEC Paris–brought its students to China and India for immersion trips, students were put in up such five-star hotels as the Four Seasons in Shanghai and the Taj Coromandel in Chennal.

As Kate Smith, director of MBA admissions at Kellogg, puts it: ”Our price includes the cost of staying overnight on campus. If you did a true fully loaded comparison with our full-time MBA program, you would find that the difference in costs are minimal.”

Still, the cited price tags often tend to be on the conservative side. That’s because they don’t reflect future price increases in the second year of a two-year program. Kellogg tells prospective applicants to expect a 3% to 5% increase in EMBA tuition in the second year which would increase the $180,084 estimate by $2,701 to $4,502. Some schools, such as UC-Irvine, “lock” in your tuition rate during the course of the program so there are no increases in the second year.

More importantly, some of the prestige programs also fail to include fairly significant costs that are unavoidable. By the end of the Trium program, which sports a price tag of $159,500, most students spend upwards of  $210,000 to $230,000 with the additional costs of travel and accommodation, says Leesa Soulodre,  a Class of 2014 representative. Some of these costs are avoidable, she adds,  “I could have stayed in a 1-3 star hotel, flown multitrip economy and cooked my own meals. The point of it is, to build relationships – that requires staying in the same hotels as your class mates to maximise both learning and social time together and flying a reasonable class of airfare so that you can perform at your best at the other end.  It’s entirely a personal choice.”

Then, there are completely unexpected costs–also avoidable–that could crop up. “Our class also invested $45,000 to sponsor a village out of poverty in Tamil Nadu as our legacy to the community,” she notes. The base cost of $159,500 covers tuition, lodging in emerging market locations such as China and India, lunch and group dinners, an iPad, books and materials. But still there are more costs to do it all. “The good news is that the TRIUM program directors work with you to support a suitable payment plan that accommodates your personal situation,” explains Soulodre. “As a sweat equity entrepreneur, income from clients is not always consistent. The program office was flexible and highly supportive throughout the program.”

In many other cases, the tuition includes just about every expense imaginable, with the exception of travel. But there are some instances where students can pay even more. INSEAD tells prospective EMBA students to expect to budget another $19,500 for “transport, accommodation or individual dinners. The school’s $136,000 tuition fee for those joining its European section 14-month Global Executive MBA covers teaching, academic materials, access to the school library, computing charges, lunches, use of the fitness center, parking and “some INSEAD-organized group dinners.”


At Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, there’s an additional $2,000 charge per elective, or $8,000 if you want a concentration that results in a certificate in one of five areas ranging from energy and the environment to strategy. Duke also charges another $1,500 for a “managed laptop” with software configured for the program.

The most obvious question out of all this? Is it worth it? Most graduates of Executive MBA programs say it is and several schools that have crunched the data have a good story to tell. The Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina says that the five-year average compensation increase for its EMBA students after enrollment is 46% and that the average payback period for the degree is just 3.5 years. Besides the bottom line cash return, there are less tangible but not less important returns: 47% of UNC’s students were promoted while they were in the program, while 60% of the students received new responsibilities during the program.

Says Soulodre who will graduate from the pricey Trium program in September, 2014, “I now have an enviable advisory board, access to strong capital sources through my alumni network and a network of trusted advisors internationally,” says Soulodre, who is an entrepreneur and co-founder of a consulting company that advises clients on reputation and risk management. “These programs in my view are a platform. It’s what you make of the opportunities before you that counts.”

(See following page for our table of the six-figure EMBA programs)

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