Three highly prominent Online MBA programs muscled their way into a first-place tie in U.S. News & World Report‘s 2022 ranking of the best online MBAs in the U.S. Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business all finished first in the newest ranking.
For Kenan-Flagler, which was in a two-way tie last year with Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, it is a repeat win. Indiana’s Kelley Direct Online MBA moved up two places to capture its new ranking, while USC’s Marshall School rose three spots from fourth to share top honors. The Tepper School, meantime, slipped three places to finish fourth this year. It was an especially good ranking for Kelley, which also was cited by U.S. News for having the best online MBA in both general management and finance and for gaining a tie with USC for the best business school for online master’s programs in business overall (see Indiana Kelley & USC Marshall Top U.S. News’ Ranking Of Best Online Master’s Programs In Business)..
There were lots of surprising changes in the new ranking. Six business schools in the Top 25 saw double-digit gains or declines in the rankings of their online MBA offerings. The most dramatic turnaround occurred at the University of Pittsburgh whose Online MBA soared 43 places to rank 16th this year from 59th just a year ago. The online MBA at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst rose 14 spots to claim 12th place, up from 26th, while Rochester Institute of Technology and Kansas State University both advanced 11 places each to finish ninth and 24th, respectively.
U.S. NEWS IS RANKING 328 ONLINE MBA PROGRAMS THIS YEAR
On the down side, Lehigh University’s online MBA plunged 14 places to rank 24th from 10th last year, while Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Management’s online MBA fell out of the Top Ten it only entered last year, dropping 11 places to rank 20th, from ninth last year. For Rice, which welcomed its first online MBA cohort of roughly 40 students in July of 2018, it’s all a matter of perspective. Only two years ago the school’s online MBA was ranked 123rd by U.S. News.
But there were even more eye-popping swings later down in the ranking. The online MBA program at Texas Tech University jumped 58 places to rank 42nd best in the U.S., up from 100th last year. The Citadel saw its online MBA offering soar 51 spots to finish 37th, up from 81st a year ago. And St. John’s University moved up 44 places to rank 37th as well, from a rank of 81 last year.
There also were some spectacular tumbles, particularly among some of the pricey online options. Syracuse University’s $93,636 online MBA plummeted 42 spots to finish 62nd from 20th last year. Pepperdine University’s $99,840 Online MBA fell 26 places to rank 52nd this year, from a perch of 26th in 2021. American University’s $86,976 online MBA fell 19 places to rank 69th from 40th last year.
While roller-coaster results like these should give applicants pause in treating this ranking with much credibility, the U.S. News list is bound to get plenty of attention given the website’s overall status in college rankings. This year U.S. News placed numerical ranks on 328 online MBA programs, up from 295 last year. The magazine publishes rankings on the top 75% of participating programs, putting the bottom quartile with a ranking of 252-328 and displaying them alphabetically.
All told, U.S. News, lists 358 online MBA programs, including 30 additional programs that are unranked because they reported having fewer than 10 students enrolled or were founded as recently as the 2020-2021 academic year. The large number of schools now participating with the ranking shows how crowded and competitive the market has become. These are only U.S. options because the U.S. News ranking is entirely U.S.-centric and the list does not include many of the newest entries into the market, such as the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, as well as schools, such as the University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business, which declines to participate in rankings. Nor does it include the newly unveiled online MBA programming for part-time students at both NYU Stern and UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.
CONSISTENTLY AT THE TOP ARE INDIANA, UNC, CARNEGIE MELLON, USC & WASHINGTON
Nonetheless, a set of schools has consistently emerged at the top of this and other online MBA rankings, including Poets&Quants’ latest list of the best Online MBA programs. They generally include Indiana, UNC at Chapel Hill, Carnegie Mellon, the University of Southern California, and the University of Washington–all five of which are in the Top Ten of the Poets&Quants 2022 ranking as well as this latest list by U.S. News.
Almost all the top programs are reporting healthy increases in enrollment, with Indiana University topping them all. Indiana’s Kelley Direct Online MBA now boasts a current enrollment of 1,639, up 42% over last year’s 1,157 students. Enrollment in USC’s online MBA now numbers 360, an increase of 64% from last year’s 219 total. Some 717 students are studying for online MBAs at the University of Florida, up 43% from a year-earlier total of 502 students. Kenan-Flagler’s MBA@UNC online offering posted a 7% increase to 766 from 717 students a year ago. One exception to these increases: Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School where online MBA students slipped by 26% to 335 candidates from a total enrollment of 450 last year.
U.S. News also publishes rankings of the best online MBAs For Business Analytics, Finance, Management & Marketing. These lists are entirely based on responses to its peer assessment surveys (see Best Online MBAs For Business Analytics, Finance, Management & Marketing). Carnegie Mellon won tops honors for analytics, while Indiana Kelley, as noted earlier, placed first in both general management and finance. The University of Maryland was first for marketing.
Prices for online MBA programs vary widely. Just look at this year’s Top Ten options. At the high end is Carnegie Mellon’s blended online program with a price tag of $141,760, while at the low end is the Wisconsin MBA Consortium program at a mere $29,700.
It would, however, be wrong to compare these two online experiences based on their costs. That’s because the Carnegie Mellon option boasts the same rigorous curriculum as its full-time MBA, taking 32 months to complete. It is taught in twice weekly in live sessions by the same faculty who teach the full-time students. And students meet face-to-face with faculty during Access Weekends, which take place six times a year in various locations.
ONLINE PROGRAMS DIFFER GREATLY IN APPROACHES AND AVAILABLE RESOURCES AND SUPPORT
The Wisconsin program, on the other hand, is limited to 100% online asynchronous learning. Translation: There are no live classes. There are no immersions. Students never meet each other nor the faculty. And there is little career support, compared to the Tepper offering. What’s more, the Wisconsin online program is not taught by faculty from the more highly ranked Wisconsin School of Business in Madison but rather faculty from the schools in Eau Claire, La Crosse and Oshkosh.
Users of the U.S. News ranking are sure to find the many ties in ranks somewhat maddening. Of the top 27 programs, for example, 25 are tied with other schools for the same rank. Two programs share a rank of fifth and seventh. Three schools are tied for both ninth place and 12th place. There are four different schools ranked 16th, 20th, and 24th. The further down the list you get, the more ties you’ll see, including ten Online MBA programs sharing a rank of 42nd. The proliferation of ties is the result of a convoluted methodology that fails to effectively measure the considerable differences among these programs.
Temple University’s Fox School of Business, which has been making headlines due to the recent conviction of its former dean for a rankings fraud, came in at a rank of 105th shared with nine other schools. Fox’s online MBA was tossed off the list three years ago after the school acknowledged that it had fraudulently reported data to U.S. News over a number of years. A year ago, the program ranked 100th, quite a comedown from the school’s four consecutive No. 1 years from 2015 to 2018 when it inflated rankings data to secure its top ranked status.
FOR THE FIRST TIME, U.S. NEWS DROPPED USING NEW ENTRANTS’ GMAT AND GRE SCORES
The negative publicity, which reached a pinnacle from the coverage of the federal trial, didn’t help enrollment. The school reported that it now has 467 Online MBA students currently enrolled, a 14.5% decline from last year’s 564 total. Other aspects of the program also took a hit, at least from the numbers it had reported to U.S. News when it was ranked No. 1. The acceptance rate for the latest cohorts is now 92%, up from the reported number of 46% three years ago, while only 19% of the newly enrolled students submitted a standardized test score for admission. In 2018, Temple fraudulently claimed that all of its enrolled students entered with a GMAT test score and the average was 619. The average for Temple’s latest class is 539.
The U.S. News ranking is based on unaudited data provided by “regionally accredited” business schools along with what U.S. News calls a peer assessment survey of “high-ranking academic officials at MBA programs.” For the latter survey, the website tosses in data that it collected for the past three years. But the ranking organization does not report how many officials were surveyed nor how many responded. U.S. News does not survey students, graduates or employers for the ranking. The school-provided data and the opinions are rolled up into an overly complicated formula that centers on nearly 50 different metrics in five measured categories: Student engagement (30% of the weight), expert opinion (25%), student excellence (15%), faculty credentials and training (15%), and student services and technology (15%).
For the 2022 ranking, U.S. News decided against using new entrants’ GMAT and GRE scores which in the past comprised 40% of each school’s student excellence score. More schools are now waiving standardized tests are not requiring them at all for their online degree programs. The weight applied to those scores was redistributed to the other admissions data so that undergraduate GPA now accounts for double the impact it had (50% vs. 25% in the student excellence category. Average work experience and acceptance rates also assumed greater importance, each accounting for 25% of the category, up from 15% for admit rates and 20% for work experience.
IN MEASURING ‘ENGAGEMENT,’ U.S. NEWS MEASURES ANYTHING BUT TRUE STUDENT ENGAGEMENT
In each category, several metrics are taken into account. To measure “engagement,” for example, U.S. News assigns a 35% weight to graduation rate defined by the two-year average of students who completed the online MBA within three years, another 35% to what it terms “best practices.” Half the score in this part of the ranking is based on a program having accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs or the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education.
The other half is based on ten different components that range from an anti-plagiarism policy to required course evaluations. Some 10% of the weight is given to class size, under which sections with fewer than 20 students receive full credit, while classes with 50 or more students get no credit. Another 10% weight is applied to one-year retention rates, defined as a program’s average re-enrollment rate over four years.
And finally the remaining 10% weight is given to “time to degree deadline,” described by U.S. News as a requirement for students to complete their degree or retake coursework within 1.5 times the program’s length. All of this is for only one of the five measured categories, and it is rolled up in the ‘engagement’ category that doesn’t really measure how deeply engaged students are in their courses.
That’s another reason why every one should take this and other rankings with a big grain of salt. While rankings are important, your choice of a school should be based on a deeper understanding of how these programs differ from each other. Far more expensive programs may provide greater bang for the buck than those that have smaller price tags, depending on your needs as a student.
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