by John Byrne,
Google ‘best online MBAs’ and you’ll find plenty of rankings–most of them bogus clickbait schemes to generate leads for programs at second- and third-tier business schools. These ‘rankings’ have vague, non-transparent methodologies and oddball results. They’re not meant to inform and guide prospective students. They’re cobbled together to funnel prospects to schools for cash payment.
To help prospective students get a real handle on which programs to take a hard look at before applying to online options, we’ve just completed our second annual ranking of the best online MBA programs. It’s based on highly detailed surveys to schools and program alumni over the past two years. More than 1,200 graduates responded. Our methodology is based on three equally weighted parts that take into account who gets in, what happens to them while they are in the program, and what outcomes occur as a result of the education.
Here are results:
The University of Southern California Marshall School of Business topped our 2019 ranking, thanks largely to overwhelmingly positive alumni satisfaction rates. Auburn University’s Harbert School of Business catapulted from 10th in last year’s ranking to second, passing last year’s first- and second-place finishers. Auburn was followed by Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business in third and Carnegie Mellon in fourth. Lehigh University rounded out the top five, rising one spot from last year’s sixth-place finish.
Finishing in the top 10 this year were the online offerings from No. 6 University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, No. 7 University of Florida, No. 8 University of Nebraska at Lincoln, No. 9 Hofstra University’s Zarb School of Business, and No. 10 University of Dallas’ Jindal School of Management.
Looking at these programs on the basis of their admissions standards, an alumni assessment of the program’s academic and extracurricular experience, and career outcomes gives a full and complete picture of this booming market in higher education. At the top end of the online MBA market, which now boasts nearly 300 players in the U.S. alone, you can be confident of a quality education at a price point you can afford.
Among admissions data, we examined the average undergraduate GPAs of students, the average work experience of the most recently accepted class, the acceptance rate for applicants, and average class scores on standardized tests, the GMAT and the GRE (see Acceptance Rates, GMATs & More In Online MBAs). This year we also gave schools credit for enrolling students who did not submit a standardized test but who had 10 or more years of experience, a change from the debut ranking that was made in consultation with several schools. The programs with the highest admissions standards were USC Marshall, Indiana Kelley, Texas Jindal, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and Carnegie Mellon.
For the online MBA experience, we relied on alumni answers to 11 questions that probed the essence of their education, from the quality of professors and class projects to their fellow classmates (see How Online MBA Alums Rated Their Schools). Topping the list for the best online academic and extracurricular experience were Hofstra Zarb, the Jack Welch Management Institute, USC Marshall, Auburn, Carnegie Mellon, and Indiana Kelley.
For career outcomes, we asked alums if the program helped them to achieve a salary increase or promotion at work, whether it allowed them to accomplish their primary and secondary professional goals, and how well career services worked on their behalf. USC also showed up at the very top for career outcomes, followed by Hofstra, Texas Jindal, Auburn, Lehigh, and Kenan-Flagler.
To compile the ranking, 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).
With still more schools, including the University of Michigan and the University of Minnesota, about to enter the online market, you can expect more students to opt for this more flexible version of the MBA degree which allows students to keep their jobs and income while earning a highly valued credential.
“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 which is launching an online option next year. “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.”