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

If online MBA’s don’t usually have the same earning power that accompanies a traditional full-time MBA, is it worth it to leave a secure job for two years and go into debt without knowing the outcome? Cynthia Barlow, an MBA graduate of Brigham Young University who is now working in the financial sector, left her job a few years ago for two years to obtain a full-time degree. She affirms that it was “worth it to take two years off” because her “earning potential is so much greater,” and her “return on investment has been phenomenal.” Barlow feels that the most important aspects of her education were the recruiting opportunities presented to her, and the network she was able to establish and interact with. Companies routinely send recruiters to full-time MBA programs whereas online programs do not offer the same opportunities. In addition, full-time programs provide a vital social network with daily interaction with both professors and peers with a wide range of experience. Barlow feels that the informational content of her degree was “secondary to networking.” She continued, “The Content is not rocket-science. You can read a book, or take a course” to learn the same things.

Corey Walker, a Harvard MBA graduate, agrees that you can learn the same “fundamental principles of business from school to school.” Although Walker is passionate about his MBA experience, he is also emphatic that an “MBA is not right for everyone.” He advises that on-the-job experience or enrolling in a couple of useful classes at a local community college can be just as beneficial, if not more so, than an MBA degree. It all depends on what your career objectives are. For Walker, his experience in a full-time MBA program provided him with a priceless network of professors and peers that created a depth in the learning experience that extended beyond the basic content of his education.

For those who want to continue and advance in a similar career path, an MBA may or may not be the only solution. Asking industry experts and peers questions about how to advance a career can prevent unnecessary time and money spent on a degree that might not get you anywhere, whether online or traditional. Executive MBA’s allow people to continue working while obtaining their degree, and many programs will waive their GMAT score requirements in lieu of work experience. These programs tend to have better results than online programs, and might be worth the extra dollar investment.

If an MBA is appropriate for a certain career change or advancement, the school does matter. In the GMAC’s recent study, “Understanding the Value of the MBA,” it is reported that both the MBA degree and the school/program (brand-level) “contribute to predicting the overall value of the MBA.” However, the study reports, “the school/program variable is slightly more influential ... than the MBA degree variable.”

The school’s “brand” plays an important role in the value of your MBA degree. Quoted in a recent New York Times article by Laura Pappano, Kenneth C. Green, founding director of the Campus Computing Project, says, “No one would confuse Phoenix with Princeton,” and warns that there is “stigma in various industries about whether an online degree is ‘as good as.’”

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