MBA Alternatives: Master's Programs in Organizational Leadership


While a master of business administration (MBA) is the gold standard for professionals looking to pursue leadership roles, a good alternative is a master’s degree in organizational leadership. An MBA provides students with a solid foundation in various business fundamentals such as accounting, finance, and marketing, while corporate leadership programs focus solely on leadership development, the role of leaders, and strategic decision making. Organizational leadership programs help students develop skills essential to lead effectively and can prove a strong management-focused alternative to an MBA.

A master in organizational leadership typically comprises 30 to 34 credits. A number of these programs also offer specialized tracks in strategic leadership, global leadership, and human resource management. Students learn how to lead an organization, through theoretical and experiential learning effectively. These programs also teach students effective communication, practical approaches to leadership, collaboration, and how to bring about changes in an organization. Additionally, students develop self-awareness and learn how to inculcate a sense of responsibility across their organization.

Students can opt to enroll in a master of arts or science (MA or MS) in organizational leadership. While both typically take two full-time years to complete, the two differ in a few significant ways. An MA generally concentrates more on skills and practices that are considered arts, such as language, communication, and philosophy, and is designed for students who wish to go into practice immediately following graduation.

On the other hand, an MS examines the more quantitative side of a subject, focusing on scientific skills, such as mathematics and analytics. Unlike MA students, MS students will complete a thesis at the end of their study and tend to continue their studies in a doctoral program following graduation. For those interested in pursuing a career in academia or research, an MS is generally the better option.

Graduates of both MS in organizational leadership (MSOL) and MA in organizational leadership (MAOL) programs can pursue opportunities in several areas such as healthcare management, human resource management, and project management. The program prepares students for leadership roles across a variety of organizations.

The following guide takes a look at five online master’s programs in organizational leadership as well as three notable faculty members who teach courses in these programs.

Professors to Know in Organizational Leadership Programs

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    Michael R. Carey, PhD – Gonzaga University

    Dr. Michael Carey is an associate professor at Gonzaga University. He teaches courses on the foundations of leadership, organizational leadership, and Ignatian spirituality. Before joining Gonzaga, he served as a vice principal and teacher at several Catholic secondary schools in Los Angeles.

    His research focuses on leadership formation, pedagogy, servant leadership, and Ignatian spirituality. He has been published in the Journal of Entrepreneurship and The Palgrave Handbook of Workplace Spirituality and Fulfillment. Dr. Carey completed his doctorate in educational leadership and master’s in educational administration and curriculum from Gonzaga University, and his bachelor’s in English from Loyola Marymount University.

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    Shaista E. Khilji, PhD – George Washington University

    Dr. Shaista E. Khilji is a professor of human and organizational learning and international affairs at George Washington University. She is also the director of the organizational leadership and learning program. Her classes delve into topics such as globalization, learning, and human systems.

    A former consultant to the U.S. and Canadian governments, she has worked with several higher education institutions and organizations in the private and non-profit sector. Her research focuses on innovation, talent development, global leadership, economics, and cross-cultural management. Dr. Khilji serves as the editor-in-chief for the South Asian Journal of Global Business Research. She has been honored with the Outstanding Service Award from the Academy of Management and the Honorary Lifetime Fellow of Cambridge Commonwealth Society. Dr. Khilji earned her doctorate and masters in philosophy from Cambridge University.

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    Felice J. Tilin, PhD – Saint Joseph’s University

    Dr. Felice Tilin serves as the director of organization development and leadership programs at the Saint Joseph’s University. She has held directorial positions at several other organizations including the Teleos Leadership Institute, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Cigna Corporation.

    Dr. Tilin not only teaches organizational development but also works in the field and has authored several publications on the topic. Dr. Tilin advises executives and teams about cultural change, leadership, and working as a team. She teaches classes in global leadership and innovation, organizational culture and change, and organizational leadership. Dr. Tilin completed her doctorate in organization development from Temple University.

Featured Online Master’s Programs in Organizational Leadership

Southern New Hampshire University

Southern New Hampshire University offers a master of science (MS) program in organizational leadership. The program is designed for professionals as well as beginners in the field and explores theories, research, and real-world application of leadership. While GMAT and GRE scores are not required, students must have a minimum GPA of 3.0 in previous studies.

The 36-credit curriculum includes organizational leadership, corporate leadership, economics for business, strategic human resource management, and human behavior in organizations. The coursework helps students unleash their leadership potential. Additionally, students learn how to effectively communicate their ideas, resolve conflicts in the workplace, and apply research.

The faculty includes leaders and professionals in the field, thus providing students with a real-world perspective and the program helps graduates develop essential business skills such as leadership, communication, effective collaboration, and problem-solving. Upon completion of the program, students are prepared to lead departments and teams in today’s dynamic workplaces.

  • Location: Manchester, New Hampshire
  • Accreditation: New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
  • Tuition: $627 per credit
  • Program length: 15 months

Saint Joseph’s University

The online MS in organizational development and leadership offered by Saint Joseph’s University can enable students to become leaders and change agents within an organization. The program is enriched by practical opportunities such as interactive assignments and experiential learning. Applicants need to have a minimum of GPA of 3.0, among other requirements.

The 36-credit program teaches students how to apply models, principles, theories, and research in organizational development. They learn how to communicate effectively, create inclusive systems, and inspire and develop leadership in their peers. Some of the courses included in the program are ethics and values, organizational development, organizational leadership, strategic leadership, design and implementation, and creative problem-solving.

The program opens up several lucrative roles as managers of strategic change, training and development directors, human resource managers, directors of human capital, and corporate coaches.

  • Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Accreditation: Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Tuition: $870 per credit
  • Program length: Two years

George Washington University

GW offers an online MA in organizational leadership and learning. Taught by experienced professionals and doctoral degree holders, the program helps students improve their leadership style and implement effective solutions to organizational problems.

The 30-credit curriculum explores the various aspects of leadership such as human behavior in organizations, organizational change, adult learning, leadership development, and global leadership. Along with theoretical knowledge, the program also focuses on practical application and activities. Students learn critical thinking, analysis, and organizational strategies and become adept at inculcating a sense of social responsibility within their organization.

Graduates from the program have the opportunity to work in several types of organizations such as consulting firms, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, think tanks, higher education, and corporations.

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Tuition: $1,090 per credit
  • Program length: Two years

University of Colorado Boulder

The University of Colorado Boulder offers an online MS in organizational leadership. The entirely online program focuses on building and management of teams and becoming an excellent leader. The program is asynchronous, which means that working professionals can complete the course on their own time and at their own pace. With a minimum undergraduate GPA requirement of 2.75 and the optional submission of GMAT/GRE scores, it is one of the more accessible programs.

The 30-credit coursework takes a look at the complexity involved in organizational leadership, in private, public, and nonprofit sectors. Some of the core courses are leadership and organizations and leading change and innovation. The course also includes three specialized tracks, allowing students to customize their learning as per their career goals. These tracks include human resources, strategic leadership, and a broad perspective on organizational leadership. Students in the human resources track study courses such as training and development, and negotiation and conflict resolution, while the strategic leadership courses include competitive analysis, strategic planning in organizations, and communication.

The MS in organizational leadership helps students take strategic business decisions, manage their performance, and lead teams through effective collaboration. Thanks to University of Colorado Boulder’s strong connections with the business community, they get a chance to learn directly from industry professionals. At the end of the program, they can take up leadership roles in any desired field.

  • Location: Boulder, Colorado
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $795 per credit
  • Program length: 19 months

Gonzaga University

Gonzaga University’s online MA in organizational leadership program encourages students to think about leadership critically, strategically, and creatively. The program provides students with the opportunity to learn from faculty as well as classmates. The admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university as well as a minimum GPA of 3.0.

The 30-credit program has three concentrations from which to choose: global leadership, servant leadership, and change leadership. The curriculum consists of four core classes, five electives, one capstone, and one compulsory on-campus immersion. A few courses included in the program are organizational communication, the foundations of leadership, organizational communication, leadership and diversity, and leadership and human potential. While the majority of the courses are available online, students can take classes on-campus during the immersions.

Through the course of the program, students develop skills in conflict resolution, the motivation of groups, decision making, and creative problem-solving. They learn how to navigate policies and procedures, develop cultural sensitivity, and self-awareness. The program prepares students to pursue opportunities in human resources, healthcare management, project management, and nonprofit management.

  • Location: Spokane, Washington
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Schools
  • Tuition: $940 per credit
  • Program length: Two years

As a final note, there are several other online master’s programs in organizational leadership to consider:

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