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Should You Consider an Online MBA? Part II

Written by Mark Skoskiewicz | Mon, Nov 20, 2017 @ 03:28 PM

In a recent post, we explored why, in general, one should consider pursuing an online MBA. Our argument was that an online MBA program should at least be considered by most potential MBA students because:

  • The academics, professors, and class options are usually equivalent. You’ll learn the same things form the same professors
  • A working professional can use an online MBA to pursue a graduate education without leaving his or her full-time employment, which completely eliminates the “opportunity cost” of forgone salary for two years
  • Some (but not too many) highly rated “brands” with traditional MBA programs (e.g., University of North Carolina) offer online options

To explore the online MBA option, we posed four questions: 1) what are the main reasons to get any type of MBA 2) what can you expect from an online MBA relative to an on-campus approach 3) when should you consider an online MBA and 4) when should you not consider an online MBA?

In this article, we’ll explore in more detail the scenarios in which an online MBA is a really good option, and those in which it is not.


When is an online MBA a really good option?

An online MBA is a particularly attractive option for those who:

  • Want to keep working and/or are particularly cost conscious
  • Are pursuing an MBA primarily to acquire new knowledge and skills
  • Are pursuing an MBA to advance within their existing organization
  • Are relatively less worried about “signaling” their talent to potential employers with a prestigious MBA “brand”
  • Are relatively less focused on:
    • Being presented with new job opportunities
    • Switching careers
    • Building their network
    • Gaining real-world experience in new areas through projects or internships

Let’s look at one potential program. The University of Kansas offers an aacsb accredited online MBA.

Now, the University of Kansas is a flagship university for the state of Kansas, and very well known nationally and internationally for having one of the best college basketball programs. It’s a high quality educational institution. Its undergraduate program is ranked #115 by US News and World Report.  Compare this to the “brand” of Indiana University, which offers both a highly ranked traditional and online MBA. Indiana is also a flagship university for the state of Indiana, and a very well-known school because of its basketball program. Indiana’s undergraduate program is ranked #90 nationally, in the same general range as Kansas. So, at a high level, for the relatively uninformed person just looking at a resume, “University of Kansas” and “Indiana University,” regardless of whether it’s an undergraduate or graduate degree, will likely elicit a response along the lines of “yeah, pretty good school.”

In a previous post about the online MBA option, we noted that Indiana happens to have a well regarded traditional MBA program (~#25 nationally) and one of the most highly rated online MBA programs in the country (#3 as rated by US News). The traditional MBA will run you almost $350,000 in direct costs and lost salary when taking two years off to do the program, while the Kelley Direct online MBA costs ~$70,000.

Now, let’s use this is an anchor, and consider someone who is just getting an MBA because they need to learn new things, and because they are guaranteed new opportunities at work, or even a promotion, if they earn an MBA. We have already seen that choosing an online MBA from Indiana will save this person $280,000 ($350K - $70K = $280K). The online MBA from Kansas has a price tag of $36,000. Kansas, which has an online MBA program that is only ranked #78 by US News, is basically half the price of Indiana’s online program.

For many folks who are knowledgeable of MBA programs, you might point out that there is a huge difference between Kelley’s online program, which is essentially one of the best possible online MBA programs one can pursue (#3 ranking nationally), and Kansas’ program, which is relatively new (#78 nationally). But one costs $70K (Indiana) and the other costs about half that. And the general “brand” associated with the University of Kansas is not bad at all. It’s a reasonable option, all things considered.

When does an online MBA make less sense?

If your focus in earning an MBA is signaling to the business community, and specifically recruiters at companies for which you’d like to work, that you are particularly motivated, talented, and knowledgeable, it probably makes sense to target a top 10-15 ranked MBA program. Unfortunately, none of those programs offers an online option.

If you are pursuing an MBA because you want to switch careers, this means you are likely interested in having some substantial project-based learning experiences in business school, and you’d like to do an internship. You are probably also hoping that, as your MBA experience nears its conclusion, you’ll have the opportunity to interview with lots of different potential employers who put a premium on applicants with degrees from your school. Unfortunately, these are not the things that online MBA programs tend to offer.

Finally, and perhaps obviously, if you are looking forward to taking a break from your career to build your professional network, the online MBA is not the most logical path.

Conclusion

If you know you want to earn an MBA, and your focus is primarily on learning new things and acquiring new skills, you should consider an online MBA. The traditional in-person MBA is unmatched when it comes to offering opportunities to switch careers or associate yourself with the most highly ranked and prestigious business school brands nationally, but these benefits come with a very high price tag. If you are comfortable in your current job and are just looking for ways to build your knowledge base and advance in your organization, an online MBA could be the perfect fit.