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’s 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 effectively through theoretical and experiential learning. These programs also teach students communication and collaboration skills, practical approaches to leadership, and how to bring about change 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 studies and tend to go on to doctoral programs following graduation. For those interested in pursuing a career in academia or research, an MS is generally the better option.

Graduates of both MS and MA programs in organizational leadership 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 ten online master’s programs in organizational leadership as well as three notable faculty members who teach courses in these programs.

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 newcomers to 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 2.75 in previous studies. Those with undergraduate GPAs below that may be offered provisional acceptance.

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. 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 prepares 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 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. Courses included in the program include ethics and values, organizational development, organizational leadership, strategic leadership, design and implementation, and creative problem-solving.

The program now offers four concentrations: diversity, inclusion, and belonging; organization management and leadership; organizational psychology and development; and talent development and leadership. With such specialized training options, graduates are prepared for diverse 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: $923 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.

This practical, hands-on degree program prepares graduates for job opportunities 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: $1,040 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 the 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 credits of coursework explore the complexity involved in organizational leadership, in public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Two core courses are leadership and organizations and leading change and innovation. The program also includes five specialized tracks, allowing students to customize their learning as per their career goals. These tracks include human resources, strategic leadership, organizational communication, leading innovation, 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 operations and designs.

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

  • Location: Boulder, Colorado
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $725 per credit in-state, $795 out-of-state
  • 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., although candidates with lower GPAs are invited to apply with a statement of explanation.

The 30-credit program has four optional concentrations: global leadership, servant leadership, change leadership, and strategic and organizational communication. 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.

Throughout 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, and 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: $1000 per credit
  • Program length: Two years

Additional online programs in organizational management include:

Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota

Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota offers a 36-credit MA in organizational leadership aimed at the development of personable, caring leaders. Completed in 24 months over six semesters, the curriculum features a “clustered design” and focuses on the following six areas: learning, connection, global issues, organizational expertise, change, and adaptivity. Classes are similarly themed and approach innovative topics like the importance of creativity and play in the workplace through courses such as applied creativity.

The program requires a GPA of 2.75 or above, and in addition to a personal statement, resume, and transcripts, two letters of recommendation must be submitted along with the completed application.

Saint Mary graduates are trained to be adaptable, ethical, tech-savvy leaders prepared to create lasting organizational change.

  • Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $779 per credit
  • Program length: Two years

Concordia University Wisconsin

The MS in organizational leadership and administration at Concordia develops students’ leadership qualities by mining the resource of their personal and professional experiences. This is done through a focused study of ethical principles, leadership theory and practice, and organization-building through the lens of Christian leadership values.

Students earn 32 credits through the completion of ten courses, four of which are earned from the graduate research project. Other course topics include: leading change in organizations, leadership in international organizations, and organizational communication and negotiation.

Graduate entrance exam scores are not required for admission, but candidates must provide transcripts documenting a minimum GPA of 3.0.

  • Location: Mequon, Wisconsin
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $779 per credit
  • Program length: Two years

Brandman University

Brandman’s master of arts degree in organizational leadership (MAOL) helps students identify and develop their individual leadership styles for success in the business world. The program allows future leaders to focus their studies, based on personal values and career goals, in areas like business administration, human resources, health systems administration, computer science and information systems, and education.

Uniquely, Brandman offers four ways for candidates to qualify for admission, allowing prospective students to choose the one that best highlights their potential for graduate study. While all candidates are required to submit a completed application and transcripts, four options are offered to satisfy the GPA requirement: 1) 3.0 GPA; 2) 2.5 to 2.99 GPA calculated over the most recent 30 credits completed and graduate admissions exam scores; 3) a completed master’s degree; or 4) submission of a portfolio.

The 36-credit MAOL program consists of four segments: theoretical foundation, practical application, electives, and a capstone seminar. The program allows students to apply military experience to satisfy certain degree requirements.

  • Location: Irvine, California
  • Accreditation: WSCUC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
  • Tuition: $670 per credit
  • Program length: Just over a year

Lewis University

The MA in organizational leadership at Lewis University focuses on the human side of leadership. The program equips graduates with tools for the critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills needed in leadership roles today. Five concentrations are offered in higher education, student services, organizational management, professional and executive coaching, and training and development. The coaching concentration is accredited by the International Coaching Foundation, and completion of course work in this focus area fulfills the 125 hours of training required to become eligible to take the credential exams.

Graduates of Lewis U’s MAOL program go on to occupy positions in consulting, executive leadership, human resources management, senior administration.

For professionals with less time to devote to graduate study, 18-credit, 12-month certificate programs are also offered in each concentration area.

  • Location: Romeoville, Illinois
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $710 per credit
  • Program length: Two years

University of Wisconsin-Platteville

Learn to navigate the intricacies of the modern business environment in the online MS in organizational change leadership at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. The 30-39 credit degree can be completed within two years, and courses are taught by professionals with extensive industry experience.

Students begin their studies with three foundational courses: applied accounting, human resource management, and research methodology. Seven core courses follow, and a variety of electives allow students to tailor their program of study according to their professional interests and career goals. Optional areas of emphasis include healthcare, human resources, project management, and safety risk control.

No GRE or GMAT scores are required for admission and a GPA of 2.75 or above (or 2.90 on the last 60 credits) is acceptable, although applicants not meeting this minimum requirement may still gain admission through a comprehensive review process. A number of scholarships are also available to qualified candidates.

  • Location: Platteville, Wisconsin
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $675 per credit
  • Program length: Two years

Professors to Know in Organizational Leadership Programs

  • avatar

    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.

    Dr. Carey’s 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.

  • avatar

    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, Dr. Khilji has worked with several higher education institutions and organizations in the private and non-profit sectors. 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.

  • avatar

    Felice J. Tilin, PhD
    Saint Joseph’s University

    Dr. Felice Tilin serves as the director of organization development and leadership programs at 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. She 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 earned her doctorate in organization development from Temple University.

Farheen Gani
Farheen Gani

Farheen Gani is an expert in online MBA programs, having covered MBA programs in computer science, economics, healthcare management, and fraud and forensics, among others, since 2018. She writes about healthcare, technology, education, and marketing. Her work has appeared on websites such as Tech in Asia and Foundr, as well as top SaaS blogs such as Zapier and InVision. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter (@FarheenGani).

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