One-year MBA Programs: Update on the Market’s Changing Dynamics

During just the past few months, stories started to appear in the business press about changing market dynamics driving increasing enrollments in one-year MBA degree programs. Here at BSchools, we’ve covered one-year online programs since our launch in 2018, mainly in the context of “accelerated” MBA degrees offered by United States business schools.

However, these shifting market preferences have already resulted in new residential programs, and they could also drive the creation of transformative new online programs within the next 12 to 24 months.

For example, in one such new residential program at the University of London, the London Business School just announced a major new degree offering with innovative features. This one-year MBA program launching in August 2025 targets a growing market: graduates who already hold a pre-experience, specialized business master’s degree. Now that they’ve logged a few years of work experience, these grads want a “stackable” MBA degree that doesn’t duplicate their prior master’s degree’s academic experience but builds on it.

This accelerated 11-month program will specifically appeal to graduates holding master’s degrees in management (MIM degrees) from LBS or another AACSB-accredited business school and who also have at least three years of professional work experience. However, the program probably would also provide an ideal complement for graduates who hold “equivalent” business master’s degrees in fields like finance, data analytics, marketing, or accounting science.

Graham Hastie, the associate dean at the London Business School and an INSEAD MBA, said in a January 2024 statement:

The new programme is an exciting way to meet the demand from top quality Masters in Management graduates for a one-year programme, in a way that is complementary to our flagship two-year MBA and that maintains the world-class LBS learning experience. We are particularly excited about the opportunities the innovative core courses will give students to apply their learning to contemporary business issues.

One-year MBA Degrees: A European Innovation

Most MBA programs in the United States with AACSB accreditation have traditionally offered two-year programs, following the lead of the Harvard Business School, which has exclusively offered two-year programs since launching the world’s first MBA degree in 1908. However, Europe is where one-year management master’s degrees first launched, and accelerated MBA programs lasting 12 months have long been the standard there. The main reason stems from the founding of the innovative business school INSEAD, “The Business School for the World.”

INSEAD organized shortly after the 1957 signing of the Treaty of Rome that paved the way for the development of the European Economic Community (EEC), the Common Market precursor to today’s European Union. This climate of increasing international economic cooperation combined with growing cross-border trade across the continent had influenced INSEAD’s visionary founder, Georges Doriot. Known as the “father of venture capital,” Doriot had also served as a Harvard Business School professor.

During presentations to the Paris Chamber of Commerce, Doriot proposed a modified version of the American graduate management curriculum that was better suited to Europe’s needs. Essentially, Doriot wanted INSEAD to help rebuild postwar Europe, bring European business leaders from different countries together, and transform international business by training them to do business within other cultures. Accordingly, he advocated a focused curriculum that would develop skills that executives and top management would need for success within Europe’s rapidly growing international marketplace.

Under Doriot’s leadership, INSEAD was the first graduate business school in Europe to announce an MBA degree program. The school then invented the 12-month MBA curriculum format when it launched classroom instruction in Fontainebleau, France in September 1959.

Other European universities soon recognized INSEAD’s innovations and introduced their own MBA programs. With a few exceptions, such as Barcelona’s IESE Business School and the aforementioned London Business School, which offered American-style two-year curricula, most of these newer European MBA programs also offered 12-month curricula to compete with INSEAD.

Advantages of One-Year MBA Programs

Now, why would a potential student choose a one-year MBA program over the traditional two-year curriculum? Some of the advantages might seem obvious, but others are less apparent.

Reduced Direct Costs and Faster Return on Investment

This is the first benefit that comes to mind for most folks considering one-year MBA programs. Only 12 months of tuition and living expenses typically result in a substantially lower overall cost when compared with that of a traditional two-year program. For example, recent fees for the two-year Columbia Business School MBA cost about $170,000 for the degree but only cost about $107,000 for one year in the MBA program at INSEAD and $86,000 for a similar one-year MBA program at Cambridge.

Because graduates start reaping the benefits of their degree in about half the time of a standard MBA degree program, they apply what they’ve learned to on-the-job assignments sooner and earn a faster return on their investment.

Reduced Opportunity Costs

Students in the one-year MBA programs are out of the labor force for only about half the time as with a two-year program. That means most of the one-year students will earn income again after only about 12 months.

That opportunity cost is substantial. Keep in mind that a pre-MBA employee in the United States with a bachelor’s degree and an “average” job will sacrifice roughly $120,000 in lost salary during two years of an MBA program’s training. In some industries like management consulting, financial services, or technology, the opportunity costs of lost wages can be substantially larger.

Fast-Paced Curriculum

Caroline Diarte Edwards, the former director of MBA admissions and financial aid at INSEAD and today a director at Fortuna Admissions, says that a top one-year program will cover four-fifths of a top two-year program’s curriculum. “There’s no denying that the curriculum is thorough but also that the pace is fast,” she says.

For example, students at INSEAD take exams once every eight weeks. She says that “student life is a constant whirlwind (some compare it to being like drinking from a firehose!)”

Different Teaching Styles

Because the case-study teaching method is more time-intensive, Edwards says that faculty won’t use it as much in a one-year program. She says that classes in these programs tend to rely more on lectures, class discussions, and simulations.

Gaining Popularity of One-Year MBA Programs

American business schools tend to monitor curriculum design innovations introduced by their European counterparts, and have been known in some cases to adopt the Europeans’ methods for both online and in-person course modalities. For example, the current trend towards flipped classrooms caught fire in Europe, then moved to American campus classrooms before Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business adopted this trend for its top-ranked online MBA program.

Now what’s caught the attention of American MBA program deans is that around the world, the one-year residential MBA programs currently appear to be more popular than traditional two-year on-campus programs. In April 2023, the Graduate Management Admission Council reported that 22 percent of prospective students worldwide preferred a one-year MBA option over the 20 percent that preferred two-year programs. Although the poll’s margin was slim, that was probably the first time ever when the traditional two-year option didn’t top GMAC’s global Prospective Students Survey.

Not surprisingly, increasing numbers of top MBA programs in the United States are now offering one-year MBA programs in response to these shifting preferences. According to Poets and Quant’s Marc Ethier, now there are eight elite business schools ranked among the publication’s top 25 that offer one-year MBA programs—with New York University’s Stern School of Business even offering two of these programs targeting different student market segments.

Ethier’s one-year list includes:

  • Northwestern (Kellogg)
  • Cornell (Johnson), Tech MBA
  • Duke (Fuqua)
  • NYU (Stern), Tech MBA
  • NYU (Stern), Fashion & Luxury MBA
  • Emory (Goizueta)
  • Southern California (Marshall)
  • Notre Dame (Mendoza)
  • Southern Methodist (Cox)

Ethier also points out that within the past 24 months, two schools dropped their two-year programs in favor of one-year MBA degrees. These include Penn State’s Smeal College of Business and the Asia School of Business’s MIT Sloan Connection MBA Program in Kuala Lumpur, which has been operated in collaboration with the MIT Sloan School of Management since 2015.

Here at BSchools, the latest edition of our program guide now features 27 one-year online MBA programs from United States universities, a total that’s grown from less than half a dozen when we first launched back in 2018. Some of these programs are offered by business schools at R1 flagship state research institutions with strong national brands, such as the University of Florida and the University of Delaware.

USC Marshall’s Promising Opportunity

As demand for one-year MBA programs continues to grow within the United States, a few select MBA programs are poised to take advantage of those shifting preferences. One notable example is the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California. Why?

USC Marshall operates not only one of the top-ranked one-year residential MBA programs, but also offers one of the top-ranked online programs as well. That combination could enable Marshall to exploit a unique and potentially compelling “double-threat” competitive advantage over most other business schools.

Should Marshall choose to combine those programs into a brand-new, 12-month MBA program offered predominantly or entirely online at a competitive price point, the school could rapidly experience a transformative surge in demand from students worldwide.

Douglas Mark
Douglas Mark

While a partner in a San Francisco marketing and design firm, for over 20 years Douglas Mark wrote online and print content for the world’s biggest brands, including United Airlines, Union Bank, Ziff Davis, Sebastiani, and AT&T. Since his first magazine article appeared in MacUser in 1995, he’s also written on finance and graduate business education in addition to mobile online devices, apps, and technology. Doug graduated in the top 1 percent of his class with a business administration degree from the University of Illinois and studied computer science at Stanford University.

Related Posts

  • 4 December 2023

    Online MBA Programs Ranked by Affordability (2023-2024)

    These online programs ranked by affordability can be a viable alternative to more expensive programs while still receiving an excellent education and providing the flexibility working professionals need to balance work, family, and higher education demands.

  • 30 October 2023

    Best Business Schools for Environmentalists (2023-2024)

    Five business schools, in particular, are outstanding for environmentalists: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s MIT Sloan School of Management, University of Vermont’s Grossman School of Business, Georgia Institute of Technology’s Scheller College of Business, Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business, and the University of California at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

  • 6 June 2022

    Online MBA Students Now Exceed Full-Time On-Campus MBAs in U.S.

    Here’s a surprise: the number of online MBA students just surpassed those enrolled in full-time, on-campus programs for the first time in the United States. That’s according to historic new data released by the world’s main business school accrediting board, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).

  • 24 March 2021

    The Push to Reopen Business Schools – The Covid-19 Revolt MBA Students May Soon Regret

    When the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University decided to defend against Covid-19 in February 2021 by limiting classes with an in-person or hybrid in-person/remote configuration to only 16 percent of the courses offered by the school, MBA students swiftly and vigorously pushed back.

  • 7 September 2020

    Business School Campuses & Covid-19, Part One

    These initiatives demonstrate the big budgets business schools are investing to create an illusion of security and safety surrounding Covid-19 so that MBA students will pay them the kinds of high tuition they’ve always paid.

  • 18 July 2019

    UNC’s Kenan-Flagler: Two Views, One Business School

    In the nascent years of online MBA programs, there was a clear hierarchy: on-campus programs were considered the premier option, while online programs were considered second-rate. That hierarchy doesn’t exist anymore.

  • 12 July 2019

    The New Harvard Business School Online and the Future of Education

    Dr. Joshua Kim, the director of digital learning initiatives at Dartmouth College’s Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL), wrote “the rebranding of HBX to Harvard Business School Online is a signal that online education has well and truly arrived. For those of us in the online education game, Harvard Business School rebranding to embrace online is a great development.”