Ever since I enrolled in my MBA program back in 2009, I’ve been an advocate of online MBA programs. However what I quickly learned is that not all online MBA programs are the same. Take my program for example; it was not an ‘online MBA’, but rather a standard, part-time MBA program where I just happened to complete all of my degree requirements via online courses. Yes, there is a difference between this approach, and enrolling in a program that it designated and designed as an online MBA program.
Through random conversations I began to hear varying opinions about not only online MBAs, but MBA programs in general. I heard that the networking opportunities in traditional, full-time MBA programs was overrated; I heard a wide range of opinions on accreditation. In addition to this as the years went on, I began to see both an increase in advertising of online MBAs, and I’ve seen some very prominent business schools launch or revamp online MBA programs. So it seemed to me that the stigma of online MBAs were fading away.
However, about 3 weeks ago I noticed that a GMAT test prep expert advised to a prospect that they should not bother looking into online MBA programs. That’s when I started to wonder…perhaps online MBAs are not as widely accepted as I thought. I figured that the only way to find out for sure, was to do a survey.
I designed the survey with the intention that those taking it either have an MBA degree, or are applying to MBA programs. As of the time of this writing, most of the survey respondents currently hold an online MBA degree. I fully understand that this presents a very biased set of responses. Regardless, I see the feedback as valuable, and it is interesting to formally see the opinions on online MBAs outside of my own.
The survey opens with some questions to help determine the current status of the respondent in regards to whether they have an MBA or not, how they earned or how they desire to earn their MBA, etc. However as I mentioned previously, the majority of the survey respondents are online MBA holders, so I don’t think it’s worth reviewing these results. I will mention thought that 50% of those who are not online MBA holders are not or would not consider an online MBA program. This is a good thing. It shows that MBA degrees and programs cannot take on a ‘one size fits all’ type of model.
The Degree Itself
A comfortable majority say that their online MBA does not say anywhere on their degree (and most likely, not their transcript either) that their MBA was earned online.
Choice of a Program
The most important reason why the respondents chose online MBA programs was scheduling flexibility. My guess is that these are people who either are currently employed, or who currently have other obligations (like being a stay-at-home parent, or needing to accommodate the schedule of a spouse). I know in my MBA program there was one woman who was enrolled who moved three times over the course of the program because of her husband’s job. So there is definitely a need that online MBA programs are fulfilling in regards to these people…who otherwise would not be able to pursue advanced business studies.
The next two most popular reasons were affordability and travel and commuting. Another survey question revealed that MBA program tuition costs were the most important consideration when choosing a program; even more so than program ranking. To me, this was a surprise. In my case, I’ve made it no secret that wanted to spend as little as possible on my MBA, being that I incurred so much debt in my undergraduate studies. But I thought I was an anomaly. The bad news here is that from what I’ve seen, schools have been introducing flat tuition rates for online MBA programs at public universities. This tends to make the tuition cheaper for out-of-state candidates, but higher for in-state candidates.
There is no easy response to the question “Are accredited MBA programs better?”, and this survey seems to reinforce that. With all other things being equal, then yes, it is better to get an online MBA from an accredited program vs. a non-accredited program. However judging from the survey responses, only 1/3 of the people seemed to have full understanding of the accreditation of their own MBA program; and out of all of the survey takers, no one responded that if they were a hiring manager, that they would see an MBA from a non-accredited program as a deterrent to hiring a job candidate (although the resolve of this stance is not as strong as that of not holding an online MBA against a job applicant; but again, this could very well be biased since most of the survey respondent hold online MBAs themselves).
The negative stigma surrounding online MBAs definitely exists. What needs further exploration though is how many of these negatives are accurate, and how many are largely exaggerated. For most of the survey respondents, the lack of networking opportunities is more of a concern than how well an online MBA degree is perceived by others. However more than have of the survey respondents rated the networking opportunities in their program to be between 5-10 on a 1-10 scale (with 10 being defined as “most beneficial”). Now this question was open to all survey respondents who had an MBA, not just online MBA holders. But 80% of the survey respondents were online MBA holders. So….
About 1/3 of the online MBA holders either would not or are not sure if they would enroll in an online MBA program if they had to do it all over again. For most respondents, the ranking of an MBA program was important (higher than 7 on a 1-10 scale). But program ranking was not seen as a priority over program costs for most of the respondents.
Because of the small and homogeneous survey population, the results are not scientific or conclusive. What the results do show however is that there is a diverse set of priorities in regards to both MBA program features and outcomes that tends to be ignored by many. I encourage anyone who is in the process of applying to MBA programs to first determine your own set of priorities and expectations. Once you have that, it will be much easier to determine right away, if an MBA program is for you or not.
Also, as a special treat, since it seems that MBA program costs are a big consideration for people, here’s a link to a list of online MBA programs that are less than $30,000. 😉
Thank you so much to all who took the time to participate in the survey, I truly appreciate it!