How Much Do Online MBA Programs Cost?
The costs of online MBA degree programs vary dramatically. To compare program prices and to understand the factors that contribute to the differences, BSchools.org analyzed a sample of 33 online MBA programs.
There were several high-quality programs offered online at very affordable rates, as well as several features that appear to correlate with higher prices. In this guide, we present a few examples of affordable, mid-range, and high-end online MBA programs.
Then, to put the cost data in perspective, this article reviews some of the benefits of attending an MBA program, followed by some of the features that distinguish the high-end programs.
What Online MBA Programs Cost: Examples
In our sample, the average cost-per-credit amounted to $1,100, with the least expensive institution charging $250, and the most, $1,765. Here are some examples of affordable, mid-range and high-end programs.
Online MBA Program Examples: Most Affordable ($850 per Credit Hour and Below)
Arizona State University, W. P. Carey School of Business
Ranked #5 in the U.S. News “Best Online MBA Programs,” ASU charges $512 per credit-hour (excluding fees), significantly less than our sample’s average. The school offers a global immersion program and online student clubs, but doesn’t provide synchronous courses or the other features that the high-end programs typically furnish.
University of Illinois, Gies College of Business
At $250 per credit, the University of Illinois Coursera-powered “iMBA” online degree (featured in our digital marketing and general management MBA program guides) ranked as the lowest cost program in our sample. The degree demonstrates how low cost doesn’t necessarily equate to low quality among online MBA programs.
Admissions may be competitive, but at a surprising $22,000 for the degree, tuition only amounts to about one-fifth of the $100,000 the university charges for their on-campus program and about one-third the cost of online MBAs from comparable institutions. Coursera reports that the University of Illinois ranked among Times Higher Education’s 30 most powerful university brands in the world, and U.S. News & World Report initially ranked the school #29 among online MBA programs, just a few months after the university introduced the program late in 2016.
University of Delaware, Alfred Lerner College of Business & Economics
At $812 per credit, the online MBA program from the University of Delaware (featured in our accelerated online healthcare MBA program guide) also ranked as one of the more affordable in our sample, at about $300 less than our per-credit average. U.S. News ranked the program #22 in “Best Online MBA Programs.” The school doesn’t offer synchronous courses or consulting projects, but does provide global immersions, career coaching, and student clubs. Students can complete the MBA curriculum entirely online in as few as 16 months.
Finally, Southern New Hampshire University has 25 online MBA concentrations and only charges $627 per credit-hour.
Online MBA Program Examples: Mid-Range ($850 to $1,400)
University of Cincinnati, Lindner College of Business
Charging $905 per credit for part-time, out-of-state tuition, Cincinnati ranked close to our average. Like Delaware, this public institution doesn’t offer synchronous courses or consulting projects, but does provide global immersions, career coaching, and student clubs. Cincinnati’s curriculum requires 12 semester-credits in a concentration along with 26 credits worth of the MBA program core courses.
Online MBA Program Examples: High-End ($1,400 and Above)
University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School
At $1,728 per credit-hour, the online MBA program from the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, which the university brands as MBA@UNC, ranked as the second most expensive in our sample.
Notably, U.S. News ranked this program highly at #4 in “Best Online MBA Programs,” while rating the school’s overall MBA program 18th in the nation. Moreover, every course involves at least weekly synchronous, live class sessions. The program also offers students consulting projects, student clubs, and quarterly global immersions. The online MBA@UNC curriculum requires only 18 months and emphasizes strategic leadership; through a choice of eight concentrations, students can cultivate industry-specific expertise in their current or planned field.
George Washington University School of Business
The online MBA program from George Washington University, also profiled in our accelerated online healthcare MBA program guide, ranked as the most expensive in our sample at $1,765 per credit. This private school offers students the opportunity to pursue a graduate certificate in one of seven areas during the online business program.
The Bottom Line
High-priced schools typically offer more of the features that the best-qualified applicants demand in online MBA programs. Moreover, a robust correlation indeed exists between price and program quality as measured by rankings like those published by U.S. News, or the Poets and Quants inaugural chart of their top 25 online MBA programs.
However, that price/quality correlation doesn’t apply in every case. Because of remarkable exceptions, such as the new iMBA program offered by the University of Illinois, there’s plenty of hope for online MBA program applicants looking for a quality education that’s also affordable.
Features Offered by Higher-Cost Online MBA Programs
What goes into the costs of attending an online MBA program? Poets and Quants (P&Q) explains:
As a general rule, the more expensive programs attempt to mimic as best they can on-campus programs — and the pricier programs also typically boast better academic brand. The least-expensive offerings are less likely to include on-campus residencies, accessible tenure-track faculty, more live classes, immersion trips, projects, and live presentations.
P&Q describes how employers were more likely to pay for online MBA programs ten years ago. As students increasingly funded online education without employer support, they also started demanding more from the schools. Besides the above features, students also requested real consulting projects requiring live presentations, one-on-one executive coaches, and full access to career development centers.
Talking about online programs, Bob Dammon, dean of Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, remarks:
They all have slightly different models, and it’s important for students to understand the differences and whether they will get direct access to faculty and classmates and a personalized degree experience. For some, that may not be important. But we have a very high satisfaction level, higher than even our full-time program.
Overall, there are several general factors that correlate with a higher price tag. Drawing from a P&Q table of distance-based MBAs, here are some of the features correlated with a higher per-credit cost.
Academic Brand Recognition
Half of the table’s most expensive eight entries are occupied by online MBA programs affiliated with major university brands—or by business schools that command stature as major brands by themselves. Specifically, these schools include Carnegie Mellon, the University of North Carolina, Syracuse University, and Indiana University. These are schools with long track records of robust evaluations by ranking authorities. One authority, U.S. News, affords its single greatest weight (25 percent) to peer assessments by business school deans and MBA program directors who rate each other’s programs, essentially measuring reputations. By contrast, only one of the least expensive eight programs (the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater) benefits from major brand status.
Public vs. Private
Private institutions typically charge the most; the universities which cost the least, at the bottom of the list, are all public.
Schools charging the most include those offering synchronous courses. Using video, these courses enable students to interact live and in real-time with their professor and other students in an online class that meets at regularly scheduled times. Synchronous courses provide an online experience that can feel very similar to on-campus classes, and can encourage students and professors to collaborate on teamwork and develop relationships.
It’s significant that all three of the highest-ranked schools in the U.S. News 2018 “Best Online MBA Programs” rely heavily on synchronous course delivery. For example, at Carnegie Mellon, 70 percent of courses involve live 30-student classes held two evenings a week for 70 minutes. At Indiana University, 60 percent of courses are synchronous, delivered live in weekly classes. And at the University of North Carolina, every course involves weekly live class sessions.
It’s also significant that schools charging the least exclusively generally offer asynchronous courses, which may boast tremendous scheduling flexibility but lack any real-time interaction with faculty or other students.
These trips give students opportunities to travel to major business centers around the world. The University of North Carolina explains:
During immersions, students join their classmates, professors and influential business leaders to engage in collaborative learning experiences, take in the local culture, and develop invaluable personal and professional relationships.
All the most costly programs offer these trips, but not all of the least expensive provide them.
Almost all the pricey schools hook students up with client companies for consulting projects; few of the least costly provide this business “matchmaking” service.
All the high-end schools provide students one-on-one career coaching; only a few of the most affordable offer this feature.
All the big-ticket schools offer networking opportunities through exclusive online student clubs; once again, this feature only appears at a few of the least costly schools.