Are online MBA degrees worth it compared to traditional MBAs?

By Ann Whittaker

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, April 30 2012 12:00 p.m. MDT

MBA graduates file forward to receive their diplomas during commencement exercises.

Jeremy Harmon, Deseret News

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Carol Platt was born in a working-class family and was determined to graduate from college. However, after one-and-a-half years in college, she dropped out to start working. Years later at the age of 51, and right as the recession hit, Platt lost $6 million in real estate contracts and found herself out of work. As she began the job hunt she found that she was competing with people half her age, and many of them had MBA's. How was she supposed to compete? Platt turned to Kaplan University for its affordability and its flexibility, and earned her MBA online in two years, finally graduating from college decades after she dropped out.

Over the past 20 years the cost of higher education has risen 5 percent annually, and the threat of rising interest rates for student loans hangs in the balance as both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney advocate to keep the rates low. People looking to advance their careers in this current recession with 8.2 percent unemployment are looking for smart and affordable options, hoping to avoid more debt and more bills as belts are already pretty tight.

Online MBA programs, such as those offered by Kaplan and the University of Phoenix, offer degrees for those who not only want to take advantage of relatively low tuition costs, but who do not want to leave their jobs for two years to enter a full-time program. In a time when many critics are questioning the value of higher education with its exorbitant costs and supposedly low outcomes, Dr. Tracey Wilen-Daugenti, vice president and managing director of the University of Phoenix, argues, “Job insecurity for the college-educated and the high cost of education are serious concerns. However, the evidence points to an overwhelming fact: The future belongs to the well-educated. The fastest growing jobs in the coming decade are expected to be jobs that require a college-level degree or higher.”

According to a recent Graduate Management Admission Council survey, 86 percent of 2011 MBA graduates were employed after graduation, and 93 percent of those found the job they were looking for. These results are good signs for anyone interested in obtaining an MBA with hopes of advancing their career, but will an MBA from any program — traditional or online — have the same results?

The advantages of an online MBA

According to recent research presented by The Journal of Online Educators, “convenience or flexibility in time management” is considered “to be of greatest importance in choosing online education in general ... while learning opportunities from interactions with other students were considered much less important.” The results from the latest Sloan Survey conclude that 67 percent “of academic leaders rated the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those in face-to-face” programs, which is up from 57 percent in 2003.

Online programs cater to those who feel they cannot afford the time or the money for a full-time program. Deb Bushway, interim president of Capella University, reports that Capella's “average student is a 39-year-old female balancing family and work while trying to get the education she needs to advance her career. She has turned to Capella because (it is) an online institution that provides the rigor and access she needs in her chosen field.”

Not only are online programs recognized for their affordability and flexibility, but some research shows that online programs strengthen creativity. Oregon State University reported results of a MERLOT study revealing that “based on students’ feedback, it appears that taking online courses generally enhances (students') creativity. They are not only more inclined to be creative thinkers, but also more likely to be organized and exercise critical thinking. The students noted, however, that online instructors are largely instrumental in enhancing creativity.”

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