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Are online MBA degrees worth it compared to traditional MBAs?

By Ann Whittaker

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, April 30 2012 12:26 p.m. MDT

Online education enrollment growth continues to surpass growth at traditional higher education institutions. The Sloan Survey reports that online enrollments increased 10 percent last year contrasted with the less than 1 percent growth of the overall higher education student population. Online institutions are meeting the demand. Students’ busy lives require a thoughtful and skilled juggling act as they attempt to balance work, family and business travel. The online degree seems like the perfect solution for career advancement without having to give up a good job with its secure income.

Are all online MBA's equal?

Cost is a serious concern for most people considering an online MBA program. All of us have seen internet ads touting a $7,000 price tag for an online MBA degree. Too good to be true? Maybe.

The number of online MBA programs has grown in the past few years, but apparently, not all online degrees are cheap. They vary from the pervasive University of Phoenix with a $28,065 tuition price tag to the one-year-old MBA@UNC, which costs an unexpected $91,225.

The for-profit schools offer a significantly lower tuition rate and have looser admission standards. Kaplan only requires an interview and official transcripts for proof of a bachelor’s degree, and a GMAT score is not required. You can start as soon as you’re ready and tuition starts at $26,460.

Not only do top-end online programs like MBA@UNC cost substantially more than for-profit university programs, but according to a Financial Times interview with Douglas Shackelford, associate dean of MBA@UNC, “The admission standards, the quality of the faculty, and the breadth and depth of the curriculum equal our residential MBA program.” In addition to the online application, MBA@UNC applicants must submit official transcripts from an undergraduate degree, a GMAT or GRE score, three letters of recommendation, and complete an online interview.

In the same Financial Times interview, Mark Taylor, dean of Warwick Business School in the UK, argues, “Clearly, not all online MBA's are of an equal quality. So always choose one that is accredited and that preferably has an on-campus MBA also. Always seek out information about the student experience, preferably by talking to current students and alumni to get their views.” The accredited online schools that have an on-campus MBA as well usually carry a higher price tag, but make every effort to make up for the usual shortcomings of an online education. MBA@UNC holds weekly live sessions with classmates and professors, professors keep office hours where they are available via webcam to converse with students, and students congregate for three-day immersions four times a year.

Traditional or online? Define your career objectives

Despite all the technological advances that an online degree can use to overcome inherent weaknesses, there are still many critics of online MBA degrees. In her Bloomberg Businessweek article, “The Online MBA Salary Blues,” Tori Stilwell reports that MBA graduates of the online Kelly Direct program experienced only “half the increase (in salary) achieved by Kelley’s full-time MBA's, whose salaries increased by nearly $37,000 — or more than 70 percent — to $89,144.” Wilen-Daugenti affirms that MBA graduates are likely to obtain a significant salary increase, according to multiple studies, but for-profit schools like the University of Phoenix are careful with reporting their internal statistics.

Deb Bushway, interim president of Capella University, an online institution, defended her university’s decision not to participate in the US News & World Report Education Survey because “there aren't a lot of institutions that look like us, so it's difficult to make comparisons.” Capella provides its own statistics on its website, reporting that only 51 percent of its graduates experienced satisfaction of career growth potential, and only 63 percent were satisfied with salary and benefits upon graduation — much lower than the national average reported in the GMAC survey. Where the online MBA results are published, they appear unequal in both career advancement and salary to their full-time counterparts.

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