Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Best Online MBA Program, 2010 Discussion Part 1

Many of you know that every year, I put together my list of what are, in my opinion, the best Online MBA programs available. While there is a certain subjectivity to any ranking system, I try to be clear about my criteria, and to improve on my system. As a result, if a achool changes in my rankings from one year to another, that should be taken necessarily to mean that the school has improved or declined in quality, especially since more and more mainstream universities are coming to understand the need to serve the demographic of the population which finds the online MBA most appealing. Before looking again the criteria for a top online MBA program, in this first section I want to examine what sort of student should choose that means to atain their Master of Business Administration.

Years ago, there was a pernicious myth spread about online degrees, that they did not represent real work or a quality student. The image of the slacker seeking an easy degree or worse, the cheat who figured he could sneak his way to a degree he never earned, or the school that was 'too easy' on their students who trook online classes, all of these images persisted through rumors and innuendo, perpetuated through imagination and a bit of elitism. The main problem was, a lot of online schools weren't very good, and the conventional brick-n-mortar universities held command of the best job opportunities for graduates. That has changed a bit in recent years, however. That's not to say that you can expect a fast-track-to-C-suite position when you graduate with an online degree, and sadly the 'online' tag still carries a stigma in certain industries. But there are a number of paradigm changes which brought major changes into the online degree community.

First, the global economy. It may seem strange to Americans in this blame-America culture that is so popular, but American business practices, even in spite of Worldcom and Enron, remain the standard for the world, and the MBA is quintessentially American. So, the international professional who cannot afford to come to the United States in person for his MBA, will be interested in earning it online if that can be done.

Second, the economy of Academia. The Boomers have gone and there's no reason to believe the next few generations will provide as many students as before. Costs continue to rise for universities, especially buildings and materials. Eventually, universities will discover that the most cost-effective way to operate is to add online students, which is far less expensive than face-to-face classes.

Third, those demographics again. People earn an MBA to be competitive in their business career. But not everyone is able to go after an MBA right after earning their Bachelor's degree, and many people want to earn their MBA while they are working in professional positions. And if you are raising a family while working a manager's job, your schedule is not always going to allow you time for noinal sclass schedules, especially when traditional schools like to keep their professors happy by scheduling core course in weekday mornings and afternoons when professionals cannot possibly attend. This reality drives professionals, people with serious experience and a very valuable perspective on what really works in business, to attend online classes.

And finally, money. I mentioned that costs for universities are rising fast. But regular people don't have extra money to keep paying higher tuition and fees. Sure, an MBA from Wharton, Harvard, or Stanford would be very nice, but you have to know what you can pay for - it's nice to talk about how your top-tier job will pay for all of that, but frankly it's stupid to count on a top-dollar job in today's world right out of school, it's stupid to load yourself down with debt just to get a degree when half the idea is to make sure you understand the concepts and lessons that make the difference between a true businessman and another Bernie Madoff. And it's stupid to ignore opportunity that is within your range, in terms of coast and with acceptable quality. 90 percent of people who earn an MBA would be wasting money to go to a school primarily because of its prestige, because your career will depend more on your accomplishments in the real job and what you really learn and apply as you get there. Sometime I will mention the top business leaders who never earned an MBA, and I should not have to remind you of the many people proved to be good at making money for themselves, but whose principles were pathetic. If you do it right, you can earn an MBA without getting into serous debt, without giving yourself illusions about who you are and what you can do, but which will equip you with real tools to get a good job, prove your worth and get promoted, and have a truly fulfilling career.

The online MBA, if you earn it from a good school, will be demanding in terms of work and effort, you will worry about getting through some of the classes, and anyone who thinks they are taking an easy road to their MBA is either in for a surprise or picked a worthless school. The online student will have to be self-disciplined, he will have to establish and keep his own study practices, he will have to make contact with and keep a network of study partners and project buddies. And he will have to seek out his own job opportunities, prepare his own resume and monitor his own degree and career progress. That's not to say your school won't help, but the online student must be far more self-reliant and disciplined.

For the record, I completed my MBA from the University of Houston at Victoria in May 2009. I am now making 28% more than my salary from last year, and I am a full garde higher in role, having accepted a position with a new company. Ironically, this came after being laid off. Was I fortunate? Without a doubt, but I worked hard and my degree made a real difference.

I can't speak for everyone, but I can say an online MBA, if you do the work and choose the right school, can be as good as many traditional MBA programs.



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