How Much Do Online MBA Programs Cost?

The costs of online MBA degree programs vary dramatically. However, the program’s cost can often be offset by the potential boost in earnings that having an MBA can bring. The 2021 salary survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that MBA graduates have an average starting salary of $87,966 annually. This is over $29,000 more per year than average for bachelor’s in business program graduates.

Picking an MBA program can be difficult as there are numerous factors to consider, including the cost. Potential students should ensure their program is accredited, has the electives or concentrations they are considering, high-quality faculty that are thought leaders, and strong networking opportunities. Comparing costs can be more complicated as objective and subjective elements can affect the price.

To help students who are comparing program prices and understand the factors that contribute to the differences, analyzed a sample of several online MBA programs. There were various high-quality programs offered online at very affordable rates and several features that correlate with higher prices.

This guide presents 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 benefits of attending an MBA program, followed by some 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 to $1,300, with the least expensive institution charging $332 and the most, $2,420. Here are some examples of affordable, mid-range, and high-end programs.

Online MBA Program Examples: Most Affordable ($330 to $950 per credit)

University of Illinois, Gies College of Business

At $332 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 $23,904 (tuition and fees) 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 of the cost of online MBAs from comparable institutions. Notably, this fully online program does not require GRE or GMAT scores for admission.

The University of Illinois ranked among Times Higher Education’s (2022) 50 most powerful university brands worldwide. Coursera reports that the Poets & Quants, a leading authority on management education, selected this iMBA program as the 2022 MBA Program of the Year and named it the #1 Biggest B-School Innovation of the Decade.

  • Location: Champaign, IL
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 72 credits; 24 to 60 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $332 per credit

Arizona State University, W. P. Carey School of Business

Ranked #7 by the U.S. News & World Report (2023) among the best online MBA Programs nationwide, Arizona State University charges $565 per credit (excluding fees), significantly less than our sample’s average. The AACSB-accredited business 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. Classes are taken one at a time for five weeks each, allowing students the time to focus on only one subject. Students have access to the same outstanding career support services as on-campus students.

  • Location: Tempe, AZ
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 49 credits; 24 to 36 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $565 per credit

Southern New Hampshire University

SNHU has 15 career-focused online MBA concentrations and only charges $627 per credit. The most popular concentrations include human resources, project management, and healthcare management.

This program not only provides students with an MBA but also offers numerous industry-standard credentials that students can earn, helping them create competitive resumes before graduating. Students are required to take seven core courses that are scenario-based learning. This approach gives students real-world examples to apply what they have learned to develop solutions and overcome problems.

  • Location: Manchester, NH
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE); Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 30 credits; 12 to 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $627 per credit

University of Delaware, Alfred Lerner College of Business & Economics

At $950 per credit, the online MBA program from the University of Delaware (featured in our online strategy & strategic management and finance MBA program guide) also ranked as one of the more affordable in our sample. U.S. News & World Report (2023) ranked the program #33 in “Best Online MBA Programs.”

The school doesn’t offer synchronous courses or consulting projects but does provide global immersions and student clubs. Each student is also assigned their own career coach to help prepare them for a career post-graduation. Students can complete the MBA curriculum entirely online in as few as 16 months.

  • Location: Newark, DE
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE); Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 44 credits; 16 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $950 per credit

Online MBA Program Examples: Mid-Range ($950 to $1,400 per credit)

University of Cincinnati, Lindner College of Business

Charging $1,015 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.

Courses are structured as a blend of academic coursework and research-intensive projects that aim to prepare students with the necessary skills to excel in the workplace. Cincinnati’s curriculum requires 12 semester-credits in a concentration along with 26 credits worth of the MBA program core courses.

Courses include accounting for managerial decisions; corporate legal and social responsibility; decision models; managerial economics; financial management; information and technology management; strategic management; and leadership and organizations.

  • Location: Cincinnati, OH
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 35 to 48 credits; 12 months
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($1,000 per credit); Non-Resident ($1,015 per credit)

George Mason University

The online MBA at George Mason University is close to average as well. Current tuition is $1,066.70 per credit. This online MBA equips graduates with a global perspective and diverse skill set for solving various complex organizational challenges. Adhering to AACSB accreditation requirements, this online MBA emphasizes four primary areas of study: contemporary issues in business; collaborative communication and leadership; analytical decision-making; and knowledge of functional business disciplines.

Students in this program will have the option to participate in their global residency program. This option allows students to spend a week abroad and study foreign companies while completing a team project and gaining a transformative view of the business from another country’s perspective. This program also has an optional business analytics graduate certificate that can be integrated into the MBA curriculum.

Moreover, George Mason’s faculty dedicates time to hold interactive sessions online for students who wish to learn more about the programs. Taught by renowned faculty of innovators and experts who teach in the on-campus MBA program, this two-year program does not require GRE or GMAT scores for admission. Notably, a minimum of two years of professional work experience is required to apply.

  • Location: Fairfax, VA
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC); Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 credits; 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,066.70 per credit

Online MBA Program Examples: High-End ($1,400 or more per credit)

North Carolina State University, Poole College of Management

The online MBA at NC State is above the average as well. Current in-state tuition is $57,298 for this 40-credit program. This comes up to $1,432 per credit, making it the third most expensive in our sample. This program is highly regarded and ranked the 15th best online MBA program by The Princeton Review (2023). Students are afforded a lot of flexibility in this program, and they can complete their studies in as little as 21 months or in as long as six years.

Professors offer virtual office hours in order to provide online students with opportunities to interact one on one with them. Most courses require students to collaborate through virtual teams to complete projects. There are intensive career coaching opportunities, webinars, and learning labs to help students successfully launch themselves into the workplace. Two on-campus residency experiences provide students valuable face-to-face networking with peers and faculty.

  • Location: Raleigh, NC
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC); Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 40 credits; 21 to 36 months
  • Estimated Tuition: In-state ($57,298); out-of-state ($101,685)

University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School

The total current tuition for this 62-credit program is $125,589.06. At $2,025.63 per credit, the online MBA program from the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, which the university brands as MBA@UNC, ranked the second most expensive in our sample.

Notably, U.S. News ranked this program highly at #1 in “Best Online MBA Programs” while rating the Kenan-Flagler Business School at 20th in the nation among the “Best Business Schools”. 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; students can cultivate industry-specific expertise in their current or planned field through a choice of six concentrations.

  • Location: Chapel Hill, NC
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC); Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 62 credits; 18 to 36 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $125,589.06

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 $2,420 per credit. This private school offers students the opportunity to pursue a concentration in healthcare. GW’s professional and institutional relationships in the area enable their distance-learning students to immerse themselves through an optional four-day residency course in D.C., digital course materials, class projects, co-curricular experiences, and live learning opportunities.

While this program may seem costly, the prestige of completing a George Washington University MBA can lead to better job opportunities and higher earning potential. The consulting abroad programs are available to all students and prepare graduates to enter a global workplace. Online classes combine synchronous and asynchronous learning, allowing students to complete the bulk of their studies at their own pace and develop meaningful relationships with faculty.

  • Location: Washington, D.C.
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE); Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 46.5 credits; 36 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $2,420 per credit

Features Offered by Higher-Cost Online MBA Programs

What goes into the costs of attending an online MBA program? Poets & Quants (P&Q) explains:

The vast majority of online options are significantly less expensive than their residential counterparts. But programs vary greatly, and the more expensive online alternatives often feature live weekly internet classes, in-residence experiences, global immersions, a larger portfolio of elective courses, and one-on-one career coaching.

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, a former 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, several general factors correlate with a higher price tag. Drawing from a P&Q table of distance-based MBAs, here are some of the features associated with a higher per-credit cost.

Academic Brand Recognition

Half of the table’s most expensive 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. While less expensive schools may be affiliated with major brands, they are often satellite campuses such as West Texas A&M, Wisconsin- Whitewater, or Tennessee- Martin.

Public vs. Private

Private institutions typically charge the most; the universities that cost the least are all public and at the bottom of the list. Sometimes public universities offer the same rate to in-state and out-of-state students, further driving down the price of an MBA.

However, many private institutions have more financial aid or scholarship opportunities than public institutions, so the costs can sometimes be comparable for eligible students.

Synchronous Courses

Schools charging the most include those offering synchronous courses. Using video conferencing, these courses enable students to interact live and in real-time with their professors and other students in an online class that meets regularly. Synchronous courses provide an online experience that is 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 2023 “Best Online MBA Programs” rely heavily on synchronous course delivery. For example, at Carnegie Mellon, 64 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.

Global Immersions

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. However, it should be noted that these trips are at an additional, often significant, cost.

Consulting Projects

Most pricey schools hook students up with client companies for consulting projects; few of the least costly provide this business “matchmaking” service. These consulting projects offer students the unique experience of completing proposals that can directly benefit an organization.

Faculty members with consulting experience typically oversee a team of students who work and interact with a corporate client. Students must provide comprehensive, actionable plans addressing the client’s needs. Consulting projects offer real-world work experience and help students build a strong portfolio that can help secure lucrative career opportunities.

Career Coaching

Finding meaningful work after earning an MBA is critical. Students with high career aspirations will benefit greatly from the career coaching services offered through many MBA programs. The type of services vary and can include something as basic as access to a career center to a more hands-on approach of an assigned mentor. All the high-end schools provide students with one-on-one career coaching; only a few of the most affordable offer this feature.

Some schools also rely on their successful alumni for career coaching services, so students interested in a particular field, such as sports marketing or health care, should see if their institution offers networking or mentorship opportunities.

Student Clubs

Building relationships with peers is a large part of completing an MBA program. This can often be difficult to accomplish with distance learning, but some programs overcome this with student clubs. These clubs are typically centered around concentrations such as finance, marketing, or entrepreneurship. In these clubs, students often will complete consulting projects, participate in competitions, and even launch their own companies providing valuable real-world experience and strong resume-building projects.

All the big-ticket schools offer networking opportunities through exclusive online student clubs; this feature only appears at a few of the least costly schools. Larger schools may even have in-person student clubs based in metropolitan areas that distance-learning students can use.

The Bottom Line

High-priced schools typically offer more features that the best-qualified applicants demand in online MBA programs. Moreover, a robust correlation 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.

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.

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