For-profit schools, particularly large online colleges like the University of Phoenix and Kaplan University, have garnered a tremendous amount of attention in recent years. As the schools seek to reach more students through aggressive advertising campaigns—University of Phoenix has a $154 million naming rights deal for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals' stadium—and politicians continue to push for more stringent industry regulations, efforts made by other schools in the online sector can go seemingly unnoticed. For-profit schools are not accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), which is regarded as the benchmark for business school quality among the academic community, experts say.
However, several traditional business programs accredited by the AACSB, some highly ranked, have made the push into the online realm in recent years. Business programs at the University of North Carolina, Pennsylvania State University, Indiana University, and the University of Florida, among others, offer M.B.A.s online comparable to the ones they've long offered on campus. School officials note that the smattering of online M.B.A. programs offered by brick and mortar schools today represents a genesis of business schools adopting online programs, not the peak. "[Other schools] are trying to find out how we do what we do," says Terrill Cosgray, executive director of Kelley Direct—the online program established by the University of Indiana's Kelley School of Business that admits more than 200 students a year. "It appears there are a lot of programs that are exploring the option of an online program."
[Learn more about online M.B.A.s at top schools.]
Officials at various online M.B.A. programs maintain that students are held to the same admissions standards as their on-campus peers, and some programs, like Penn State's Intercollege M.B.A., occasionally admit a lower percentage of applicants for the online program compared to their traditional, full-time M.B.A. Additionally, these programs are typically taught by the same professors who teach on-campus classes, in an effort to keep the academic standards and rigor of online programs on par with those of the traditional ones, school officials maintain.
The University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School is launching its online M.B.A. program this fall, but waited to dive into the online realm until they felt technology could make the online experience on par with their on-campus one. "The quality of the students, faculty, and curriculum will remain the same—what will be different is how we deliver it," says Kenan-Flagler spokesperson Allison Adams. "We can we do this well now thanks to technological advances."
[See U.S. News's Complete rankings of Best Business Schools.]
The business schools with established online programs note that they appeal to a different demographic than traditional, full-time M.B.A. programs. Kelley Direct students, for instance, are 31 years old, on average, which is three years older than their on-campus counterparts. Additionally, the average salary among online students when they begin the program is roughly the same as the average salary of full-time, on-campus M.B.A. students when they leave their program.
Business school officials note that online M.B.A. students are typically farther along in their career and hoping to get a final leg up—akin to traditional executive M.B.A. students—rather than pursuing the degree in the hopes of making a drastic career change. "Almost all of our incoming students are already employed," says Ashutosh Deshmukh, chair of Penn State's online iMBA program, which was established in 2002 and admits 120 students a year. "Their most important objective is to move upward in their own organizations. Our informal survey indicates that most of our students receive promotions and some of them change their jobs to go to a higher level."