Not all online MBA programs are considered equal. So how do you know if you’re landing a quality degree or a dud? Even some stellar options may simply not be the right fit for you.
Poets&Quants's News & Feature Editor Lauren Everitt quizzed the deans and directors at several schools offering online programs to find out the essential questions you should be asking before signing up for an internet-based MBA. Here are their top 10:
1. Is the school AACSB accredited? This one should be a no-brainer. Any program that’s not accredited is likely a waste of your time and money. Employers don’t trust them, and nor should you. Needless to say, business executives won’t exactly be beating down your door to hire you or shower you with raises and promotions.
Some schools claim accreditation, but it’s often the wrong kind. The closest you can get to a stamp of approval is accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. You can check the status of your prospective institution on the AACSB website. This will effectively rule out the for-profit schools, and that makes sense. Why go to a no-name for-profit institution when you can go to a legitimate university with the accreditation that counts?
2. Are students awarded the same degree as full-time MBA graduates? Many institutions offer online degrees for students who either work full-time or have other commitments that prevent them from taking the more traditional bricks-and-mortar degree path. Ideally, the degree for the online program should be indistinguishable from a school’s full-time MBA credential.
Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business will award identical diplomas in their new online FlexMBA and their mainstream full-time MBA. Kenan-Flagler’s MBA@UNC and Arizona State University also grant online and full-time MBAs the same exact degree. You certainly don’t want to diminish your employment prospects by walking away with a newly minted degree that isn’t quite as good as the traditional MBA.
3. What are the outcomes for students who have completed the program? As an aspiring business student, you probably know that outcomes are key. The school should be able to provide you with stats on how many students have completed the program and their job placement rates. You’ll also want to find out job promotion rates and salary raises.
Indiana University reports that their online MBAs began the Kelley Direct program with an average salary of $76,750. By graduation they were pulling in an average of $104,160, an increase of 36%. Moreover, 66% of the students also earned a promotion by commencement. Babson College says its Fast Track MBA students averaged a 30% increase in pay by graduation. UNC’s Kenan-Flagler reports that nearly one-third of students in the online program for more than a year were promoted or landed a new job. While these numbers aren’t a guarantee, they give you a good idea of whether or not a program is effective.
4. What services are available? Students completing online programs don’t have the advantage of rubbing shoulders with on-campus recruiters during social events or dropping in to have their resumes reviewed at the career services center. You’ll want to find out what your potential program offers students who are off campus.
Most importantly, you’ll need to know about access to the career resources center. Can you sign up for interviews with on-campus recruiters, and will career services staff accommodate MBAs with nonstandard hours? Students enrolled in Tepper’s FlexMBA will have access to the full range of career resources, and the school is experimenting with new technology to enhance long-distance job interviews.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that for technology-based degrees you’re going to be using your computer – a lot. So if the software fails on a Saturday night, will their help desk be open and accessible to you? Given the hefty cost of most online MBA programs, you’ll also want to ask about financial aid services.
5. What type of technology does the school use? Online MBA programs rely heavily on digital communication. By and large, the majority of interactions with your professors and peers will be virtual, so you’ll want to be sure these exchanges are as seamless as possible. Many programs, such as those at Arizona State and Duke, have tech teams dedicated to building out and supporting online MBA platforms. Long gone are the days when professors walked into a recording studio, taped their lectures and posted them online. Quality programs will offer a variety of prerecorded lectures (for convenience), live programs where you can interact with professors and platforms where you can connect with peers. You should also expect to find interactive discussion boards where students can post questions and expect a timely answer from faculty.
You’ll also want to find out the ratio of asynchronous learning, or independent study, to synchronous learning, real-time classes. Asynchronous learning generally offers more flexibility since you can pull up prerecorded videos and lectures whenever your schedule permits. The drawback is that you loose the classroom experience of talking with your peers – a major value-add in the synchronous learning experience. Most programs blend the two together to varying degrees, so you’ll want to pick a program that matches your priorities.
6. Who will be teaching the program? Ideally you’ll see the same faculty names across a school’s online and full-time MBA programs. You should know whether adjunct and associate professors will be leading your classes, or if you’ll have the opportunity to learn from the school’s cream-of-the-crop tenured professors. If a school is not committing top faculty members to their online MBA program, a red flag should go up. You don’t want to end up taking courses from the faculty dumping ground.
Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business rotates the standard B-school faculty through its blended Global Executive MBA program. Kenan-Flagler also uses the same faculty across its online and full-time MBA degree paths.
7. How many hours per week should you expect to devote to the program? Most institutions insist on the same graduation requirements and core curriculum courses across all of their MBA programs (they should, anyway). However, this information is packaged differently. Depending on your current life and work schedule, you’ll most certainly want to know how the courses are structured, and if you can manage the most hectic periods.
MBA@UNC tells applicants that, in addition to the weekly synchronous class sessions, they should expect to dedicate approximately 10 hours per week per class to studying, class preparation and asynchronous sessions.
Babson College sets different expectations for its Fast Track online MBA program, advising applicants that online learning averages 20 hours per week and reflects readings, case preparation, contributing to asynchronous and real-time discussions, and active participation in team-based exercises and projects. Those hours are in addition to on-campus sessions.
Online MBA programs similar to those at the University of Florida and George Washington University require students to attend multiple on-campus residencies. Students enrolled in Carnegie Mellon’s FlexMBA should expect to attend 15 “Access Weekends” at one of the school’s campuses in Pittsburgh, New York or Silicon Valley.
8. What are the networking opportunities? Bundled into that hefty MBA price tag is the opportunity to bond with key contacts you’ll hopefully run into later in life. Say you’re wanting to expand into South America – what about your B-school buddy from Brazil? For many MBAs the networking supersedes the classroom learning experience in terms of the program’s value 10 to 20 years down the road.
The internet changes things a bit. You’re generally not going to see your peers face-to-face every day or meet them for beers after a long week of exams. That’s why it’s imperative to find out just how many opportunities you’ll have for face-to-face interaction and team-based projects. Ideally, you’ll have at least one in-person meet-up.
You’ll also want to know how the teams are chosen and whether you’ll be with the same team throughout the whole program. Preferably, the program will have a mix of long-term team projects and short-term networking experiences. In Arizona State’s online MBA program, students are assigned to teams at the beginning and travel through the core curriculum with those same teammates. After completing their main requirements, students are free to create their own teams.
Kenan-Flagler groups students into virtual teams, then pairs each group with a faculty adviser for consulting projects with real-world companies. For one global business project for a large multinational corporation, they pulled in students from other business schools. The project will culminate with two-week visits and presentations in Brazil, China and India.
9. What options does the online MBA program offer for specialization? If you’re eyeing a career in financial accounting, you’ll want to make sure you can attend advanced courses in the field. If you dig entrepreneurship and aim to start your own company one day, you’ll want to select a program that will help you stay afloat in the shark tank. Check your online MBA program for potential areas of specialization.
Carnegie Mellon will offer four concentrations in its new program: entrepreneurship, finance, marketing and operations management. MBA@UNC offers concentrations in corporate finance, entrepreneurship, global supply chain management, investment management, marketing and sustainable enterprise. Even when you might not want to target a specific field of study, it’s important to make sure there elective options that appeal to your interests. For instance, students enrolled in the University of Indiana’s Kelley Direct program can choose 12 credit hours from some 60 courses to customize their B-school experience.
10. MBAs offer several pathways to the same degree. If you discover that the online experience just isn’t working out, it’s worth knowing whether or not you can join the school’s weekend or full-time MBA programs. The soon-to-be launched FlexMBA at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business allows students to switch into a full-time or part-time degree path after the first year.
A school’s willingness to allow online MBA students into its other programs sends a clear message that the institution isn’t concerned about the caliber of its cyber students.
Check out our ranking of America's Top Online MBA Programs, the only credible ranking of online graduate business programs.
Originally posted on: Linked In By:John A. Byrne
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