By Cait Etherington January 28, 2017
In January, U.S. News–one of the nation’s most popular ranking sites in the education sector–announced its most recent top online MBA programs. On this year’s list are MBA programs from the following institutions: Temple University, Carnegie Mellon, Indiana University (Bloomington), the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, Arizona State University, the University of Florida, University of Texas-Dallas, Penn State–World Campus, University of Maryland–College Park, and Arkansas State University–Jonesboro. Notably, the list is highly eclectic. It includes private universities with prestigious on-campus programs (e.g., Penn State), as well as many state university. Location also does not seem to be a factor. Simply put, the top online MBA programs value quality in terms of faculty, instruction, services and student selection.
One thing all of this year’s top online MBA programs have in common is high-quality faculty. In the past, many experienced and tenured faculty members avoided online teaching due to its poor reputation. Over time, as online programs have gained prestige and become increasingly engaging, more top-ranked tenured faculty have begun to pursue online teaching opportunities too. This means that students may now
But there is another unspoken factor that may be at work here. As educators who have spent decades using online technologies near retirement, online learning also has another appeal: the ability to keep working full time but at a distance. “I work in New York City but live part-time in Cape Cod,” explains Dr. Ken Stauffer, “So I started to experiment with offering some of my courses, including a very basic undergraduate statistics course, online. It worked very well, so I now spend the Winter in New York City but teach two courses online from the Cape in the Fall. I still go in for meetings and events, but this has enabled me to spend more time at our second home and since my wife retired a few years ago, let’s just say that everyone is happy!”
There was once an assumption that student services (e.g., student advising, counseling services and technology support) were only things required if one was a full-time on campus student. Today, the very best online programs, including the top online MBA programs, value student services for distant learners too. While there is understandably a focus on providing access to technology support, a growing number of online programs are now offering student advising and career services to their online students too. A critical reason to offer student services is related to retention and completion times. Across the top online MBA programs, students complete their degrees in 2.5 years, which is just over the average 2 year completion time for on campus students. In addition, among the top 10 online MBA programs, Penn State and Temple report a 95% to 99% graduation rate, which is as higher or higher than the nation’s top on campus MBA programs.
Engagement is a critical component of any education whether it is online or off. For this reason, all the top online MBA programs value quality engagement. As Stacey Dorang Peeler, the Director of the Online MBA Program at Penn State, explains, “In addition to our Orientation Residency, which connects our students to each other, their faculty and campus at the start of the program, our ICE model of learning—Integration, Collaboration and Engagement—truly sets us apart. It is essential to the core of our program and exemplifies the interactive and participative spirit of the Penn State Online MBA experience.” Peeler also observes that for some students, an online MBA can enable them to engage even more deeply: “An Online MBA offers a format with the most flexibility, allowing students to fully control their schedule and time. This format can be optimal for students who work full-time or have many personal and professional commitments. This does require discipline and organization, but some students can really thrive in a format with this high flexibility.”
In the past, largely due to lack of prestigious, online programs, especially online MBA programs, lacked selectivity. Indeed, there was a time, when most online MBA programs ran as “cost recovery” programs for universities. In short, students would pay but not necessarily complete their degrees, which meant that universities could use money made via online programs to bankroll more prestigious on campus programs. In 2017, however, the terrain of higher education has shifted. Online MBA programs are often just as prestigious as on campus programs and in a global economy, where professionals are increasingly on the move and working from around the globe, there is more need than ever before to ensure that professionals can complete highers degrees from remote locations. This means that selectivity is now soaring in many online MBA programs and in turn, improving the quality of programs over all. After all, with higher selectivity, classes are more challenging and experienced faculty are more likely to choose to teach in online MBA programs too.