This is where I explain why I am ranking online MBA programs. First off, I am biased. I hold an MBA from the University of Houston at Victoria, class of 2009 and member of Beta Gamma Sigma. I am fifty years old, which should tell you that I am mature, experienced in my work, and frankly not at all interested in schools that promise more than they deliver. I will also say bluntly that you will not get anything of value from a school that does not start with a serious investment in time, study, and effort. An ‘easy’ MBA is worthless. I chose to earn my MBA online, because as a manager my schedule often requires me to come in early and stay late, and I can’t even guarantee my Saturdays will always be available. Also, I cannot afford to take a couple years off work to go back to school, and as a professional the idea that I should stop working in order to learn theory is ludicrous on its face. So I am a strong advocate of the online MBA, though again I caution the reader not to imagine that it’s easier than face-to-face programs, nor that once you have an MBA you will get everything you want in your career. Earning an MBA is acquiring a tool, and in the process developing your mind and identity as a business professional. Like a gym, a university’s worth depends on how hard you sweat out the work and how much discipline you have.
But not all MBA programs are equally valuable, and that’s also true for online programs. In fact, the bias that many people have against online MBA programs comes from the more well-known online programs, which are poorly accredited and do little to really prepare their students to become leaders and build effective teams. No names, but you know the kind of schools I mean. If you're going to do the work to get an MBA, I mean a real one, then you owe it to yourself to protect your investment by making sure you get a degree that will be a true asset to your career - by coming from a solid university, and by making sure your education truly endows you with the tools to lead and build.
The people at MBA.com put out a survey of MBA candidates which note that there are about “4,750 graduate management programs around the world”. That same survey reported that the most common place for applicants to find out information on MBA programs is from school websites, but frankly when you’re starting out that’s a big field to work through. Published rankings also get a lot of notice, but here’s the problem – the big magazines and mainstream media play up the full-time schools and – sort of – some part-time programs, but discounting the cheapo ads pushing the garbage programs, no one breaks down the qualities of top-tier online MBA programs. In fact, no one even defines what would be the top tier.
Well, no one besides me. I took the time to look up a few things, weigh some numbers, and this year I improved significantly my methodology and the amount of data I gathered. I also tried to find information that you, the reader, could verify for yourself, and reweight to suit your preferences. That MBA.com survey says that 14.9% of all MBA candidates at least consider an online program, so there are a lot of people who deserve relatively easy access to some good numbers to know.
Let’s start with a few key numbers about online MBA programs. As I said, MBA.com reports that there are around 4,750 graduate management programs in the world. But only 593 of them are accredited by the AACSB (Association for the Advancement of Collegiate Schools of Business), the international accrediting body founded in 1916 specifically for business schools, and which includes every program generally recognized to be worth the cost and effort. Of those 593 schools (up from 580 in 2009), 141 offer online classes at the graduate level (up from 77 in 2009) and 72 schools offer a true online MBA as I define it (up from 50 in 2009). You have a lot of choices.
I define an online MBA as one a candidate can earn without ever setting foot on campus, except for a maximum of three weeks residency. All required classes must be taught online. That’s my starting point, and while there are a number of programs which almost make that standard, if they did not I did not count them.
Next, I wanted to make sure you could get the same information I did, so I used two sources for each school – the AACSB member profile and the schools’ websites. If the information was not available there, I did not include it. The idea is to compare schools on consistent standards.
Next was to find the valid data to count. I settled on fifteen categories of information:
AACSB accreditation types
Degree levels offered
Undergraduate in-state tuition
MBA in-state tuition
Undergraduate out-of-state tuition
MBA out-of-state tuition
Average GMAT score
Minimum GMAT score
Number of MBA concentrations available
Number of Students
Budget per student
Minimum program duration
Number of FTE faculty
Obviously, these are not of equal value to the MBA candidate, so next I weighted them according to their importance to the program:
AACSB accreditation types 2.5%
Degree levels offered 14%
Undergraduate in-state tuition 0.36%
MBA in-state tuition 2.14%
Undergraduate out-of-state tuition 0.71%
MBA out-of-state tuition 10%
Operating budget 1.07%
Average GMAT score 18%
Minimum GMAT score 1.79%
Number of MBA concentrations available 24%
Student/Faculty ratio 9%
Number of Students 1.43%
Budget per student 3%
Minimum program duration 4%
Number of FTE faculty 8% Total 100%
The next sixteen posts reveal the results of scoring in each category, and provide a list of the top schools in that category and a running total of the leading schools in points scored. The last post will discuss the overall results, and present the methodology clearly, so you can reweight the data if you would like to do your own scoring.