Top M.B.A. Programs Embrace Online Education

A growing number of highly ranked schools are starting online M.B.A. programs.

By Brian Burnsed

Posted: March 15, 2011

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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." 

Online education is what you make out of it.

I really find it hard to believe that most of the opinions posted here are like AHA moments for the brick and mortar school students. I am a graduate of University of Phoenix and I say I really busted my 2 years doing minimum of 700-800 word weekly paper on various topics covered by my MBA program. The richness of discussions are exceptional because of the diverse types of students from all-over the world and we have known that fact for years. As my time with the program progressed, I noticed that only quality students are left to finish the program. Discussion opinions or critiques were very intelligent and colorful because students are usually managers, government analyst, entrepreneurs, field commanders in Iraq, and or teachers who simply could not afford the time to attend any brick-and-mortar schools.

Early on I doubted the quality of facilitators or professors because of the way things are taught in UoP. I caught on rather quickly when I realized that they are not there to spell out text book information, but to guide students on how to truly understand what the ideas are being pointed out by those reference books. By the way, UoP uses the same reference books and electronic libraries as any other brick-and-mortar school. So were pretty sure what ever you guys tried to learn, we read the same thing.

I think its a bit naive that we have this article saying "oh look at us were embracing online methods now and its a cool thing"! When years ago UoP was chastised for delivering education this way. Education is what we make it and I am glad that brick-and-mortar school are opening their eyes to this possibilities for countless other individuals who simply couldn't make it physically or for any other reasons.

I plan to further my education with a Doctoral degree with yet another online education provider and I intend to research the most effective online or distance learning education methods as my dissertation. I wish all brick-and-mortar school who finally embraced the technology of distance learning all the success, honestly, you guys should have done this a long time ago. Your success in this realm of education delivery will only mean a much need lift to the quality of education to anyone who is qualified and have the means ACCESS it REMOTELY.

Lem Rafinan of TX @ Apr 19, 2011 23:10:07 PM

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Thoughts on Kelley Direct

I would like to echo some of the statements made by the others here about Kelley Direct. Like Hussein, I am a first year student in the program and just beginning my first set of courses. The in-residence week is a tremendous experience. If there was ever any doubt in the rigor of the work, sit in on one or two days of the in residence and that doubt will go away. 8 hours of lectures from top notch faculty followed by countless hours of teamwork culminating is a case competition given in front of the faculty to judge and then offer constructive criticisms and suggestions. Everything is filmed for you to review later and I think it will be a great tool to view your progress when you go back to the campus in a year and see just how far you have come after the first year is complete.

Two things that really stood out during that time were the quality of the faculty and how everyone went out of the way to make you feel that you were a part of the campus. The faculty were so engaging and well spoken that hours of lectures went by in the blink of an eye. In some cases I wish they would have been able to keep going. They really do as much as they can in a week to let you feel a bond with the campus and Kelley. The faculty were so nice and would go out of their way to discuss things with you if you asked. Trips were organzied to the football stadium and to the local pub. Other students who were further along in the program were also brought in to share their experiences with you and offer advice. It made you feel that you were indeed a part of the Kelley family, just as Dean Smith told us on the first night of the in residence week.

You will realize very quickly that the cohort is comprised of a number of very intelligent and amazing people. There is such a variety of backgrounds that it gives you some great insights into the ways other people and businesses operate. It is a good opportunity to network with a number of individuals.

Classes themselves have just started and I have found them very interactive and well taught. My accounting Professor runs a live weekly lecture that is very informative and he goes out of his way to make sure we know that we can contact him at any time regarding class, including during off hours when he is home. The point is also made that his class is identical to his regular course that he teaches.

The discussion boards do open up a number of conversations and ideas concerning the subject matter. The posts are well researched and allow the class to discuss many different topics at once. Assignments are done in teams allowing you to further build a network and learn the challenges of interacting with others that are in different time zones as well as different business segments than yourself. With companies operating globally and having many different operations I feel that this is a good simulation of how the real world will soon be.

I'd highly recommend this program to anyone.

Jason Fitzgerald of NJ @ Mar 21, 2011 17:38:29 PM

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