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The challenging economic times in the Land of Lincoln embody precisely the kind of climate in which an MBA can help the most.

It may be true that projected population growth remains negative and the net migration rate out of the state remains high, resulting in a labor force at its lowest level in more than a decade. Consumer demand is weaker in Illinois than in other states, and key industries like construction and the public sector continue to show anemic gains.

Also, Illinois has faced years of budget gridlock in Springfield related to the state’s subpar economic performance compared to the rest of the nation. In June 2017, Moody’s downgraded Illinois’s credit rating to the lowest in the nation

Nevertheless, August 2017 marked the first month in two years without any Illinois metropolitan area in recession. Plus, of the thousand biggest firms by revenue in the nation, the state is home to 69 of them, which is the fourth largest crop of any state. These companies include Boeing, Abbott Labs, Kraft Foods and Peoria-based Caterpillar. They also include Chicago-based Madison Industries, discussed below, with revenue of $5 billion.

Clearly, an MBA can help in a mixed economic climate like that in Illinois. Furthermore, MBAs can significantly boost a professional’s salary prospect. In fact, the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign reports the second-highest salary uplift in the world, at 176 percent.

Additionally, those considering an MBA should reflect on the following points from a Georgetown University study titled America’s Divided Recovery: College Have and Have-Nots:

  • Graduate degree holders “experienced no decline in jobs in the recession and maintained a stable employment growth” throughout the recovery. They not only gained 253,000 jobs during the recession but also gained an additional 3.8 million after.
  • Those with the most years of college were the last fired during the recession and the first hired during the recovery.
  • Two industries dominated by MBAs, consulting and business services, added the largest number of jobs in the recovery (2.5 million).
  • Among occupations, management added more jobs than any since the start of the recession (1.6 million).

Furthermore, graduate management education is well-known to be counter-cyclical: during economic contractions, MBA program applications surge as applicants seek a safe harbor. However, this strategy not merely involves ”riding the storm out,” but can position ambitious MBA candidates in stronger positions to secure better jobs.

Also, online MBA programs play a key role in a challenging economy because they save students money. Discussed below, the new University of Illinois iMBA program charges a small fraction of the tuition at other top business schools. Yet even when tuition rates are identical, the online MBA programs typically provide more cost-effective alternatives to residential programs because of savings on costs like relocation, childcare, and transportation.

Read on for profiles of five online MBA programs—and three of their best professors—from universities within the State of Illinois.

Featured Online MBA Programs in Illinois

Benedictine University provides online MBA programs in seven concentrations: accounting; entrepreneurship and managing innovation; financial management; health administration; internet marketing; international business; and marketing management. Dual concentration options are available, and these programs are available in both accelerated and traditional formats.

Core courses include financial management, strategic management, ethics and leadership in a global environment, managerial economics, project management, and managerial accounting. Students take online courses through the school’s Engage Learning Management System, where they can interact with peers and faculty, as well as complete business simulations and mini-capstone experiences.

Notably, the program offers six start dates annually and there are dual degree options available; students can add a master’s of science in nursing (MSN), a master’s of public health (MPH), or a master of science in management and organizational behavior (MSMOB) to the online MBA program.

Location: Lisle, Illinois
Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Format: Online
Tuition: $600 per credit
Program length: 12 to 22 months

In a radical advance disrupting graduate education, the University of Illinois partnered with Coursera and made their new iMBA program one of the most affordable degrees from major universities: $250 per credit or $22,000 for the degree. Compare that modest cost with the $196,067 average cost of an MBA from a top 20 school, including nine schools charging over $140,000 and nine costing over $200,000.

Moreover, the iMBA costs only about 20 percent of the school’s residential program tuition and about 33 percent of the cost of online MBAs from comparable institutions, according to Dean Jeffrey Brown. Even though it’s affordable and accessible, the school offers:

  • A 425,000-strong global alumni network
  • Flexible specializations that include digital marketing, strategy, finance, analytics and entrepreneurship
  • Live classroom sessions incorporated into flexible online delivery
  • No GMAT or GRE scores required for admission

Another disruptive aspect involves the iMBA’s “try before you buy” demonstrations that are unprecedented among top universities. The school offers free trials of courses through their Coursera partnership. The school then encourages students who like the instructional formats and quality to enroll as degree candidates.

It’s easy to see why such a disruptive educational innovation needed to rapidly scale up to accommodate more than 2,000 students in its first months since launching in January 2016. After all, the University of Illinois ranked among Times Higher Education’s 30 most powerful university brands in the world, and U.S. News initially ranked the iMBA #29 upon its debut.

But why would the school offer such a rich value proposition at such an affordable price? Brown explained to Poets & Quants that the school’s mission advocates removing barriers and offering access to talented students who may never have been able to afford graduate management education from a top school:

We have expanded access to high-quality graduate-level business education by reducing geographic and financial barriers. By re-engineering how we teach, we are delivering an affordable and transformative MBA experience for talented people across the globe. It’s innovative and making a global impact.

Illinois can make their iMBA so affordable because the school is so well-funded, thanks to a $150 million gift from Illinois alumni Beth and Larry Gies, the CEO of Madison Industries. Their gift ranks as the fourth largest to any business school in history and earmarks funding “technology to democratize education;” in other words, the gift directly underwrites the iMBA program.

Before founding Chicago-based Madison, one of the world’s largest private equity firms with over $5 billion in annual revenue, Larry earned a degree from the College of Business and an MBA from Northwestern; Beth met Larry while studying for her degree from the U. of I.’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

Probably the jewel in the crown of course offerings is the school’s innovative specialization in digital marketing, a rapidly growing field which extends marketing principles to competitive online environments. This concentration is anchored by the school’s marketing in a digital world course, taught by Google’s director of analytics Kevin Hartman and named one of the best online classes for professionals by Inc. Magazine. For more on digital marketing and the school’s specialization, see our guide MBA in Digital Marketing & Social Media.

The program may be fully online, but it includes many courses delivered live in synchronous formats using the Blackboard and Zoom platforms. Moreover, admissions may be competitive, but the program boasts a 98 percent “yield ratio,” i.e., 98 percent of those offered admission accept.

Students are older than many MBA students; they average a seasoned 12 years of work experience and range from 22 to 61 years of age with an average age of 37. Underrepresented minorities account for 31 percent of students. As of February 2019, 25 percent of students now hail from 70 nations outside the U.S.

Location: Champaign–Urbana, Illinois
Accreditation: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International), North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
Format: Online with live synchronous classes
Tuition: $250 per credit
Program length: Two years
3Loyola University Chicago, Quinlan School Of Business

Loyola’s Quinlan School is based on North Michigan Avenue—Chicago’s famous Magnificent Mile. Given their posh neighborhood, just steps away from the John Hancock Center and Water Tower Place, it’s not surprising that Loyola would charge the highest tuition of all the schools profiled for this guide—even for their low-overhead online programs.

Like many Roman Catholic business schools, Loyola seeks to train successful yet socially responsible executives whose core values include ethical leadership. This is the first way that Loyola differentiates their curriculum—by requiring not one but two core courses in business ethics.

The school gives students plenty of choices with broad discretion within a unique array of course groupings. For example, Loyola divides their non-ethics core courses into a basic core and an advanced core. It then requires students to choose courses from each of those two menus. Also, the school requires a global business course. The school also offers thirteen concentrations, and each one presents its own cluster of course options. The curriculum concludes with a required capstone course integrating strategy and leadership.

Incidentally, at Loyola there’s no full-time residential MBA program; in-person classes are offered only in part-time night-school and executive formats. But the university offers eight dual MBA degrees in combination with their professional and specialized master’s degrees.

The school makes waivers available for some core courses based on B or higher grades in undergraduate coursework within the past seven years. For GMAT waivers, candidates can apply if they have seven years of qualifying professional work experience. In addition, students with acceptable grades can apply for GMAT waivers if they have an undergraduate degree from an AACSB-accredited school or a graduate degree (or professional certification) with quantitative coursework. Please note that GMAT waivers are automatic for students holding terminal degrees like PhDs.

Location: Chicago, Illinois
Accreditation: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International), North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
Format: Blended hybrid online
Tuition: $1,496 per credit, $92,064 for the EMBA
Program length: Two years minimum (estimated)
4Dominican University, Brennan School of Business

Dominican University sits nestled in the affluent near western suburb of River Forest, just southeast of O’Hare International Airport. “We offer a challenging, values-based environment where you will engage with faculty to learn real-world skills that prepare you to thrive in a fulfilling career,” states the Catholic school’s website.

Women seeking graduate management education on an accelerated timetable might especially wish to consider this program. Why women? Two-thirds of the school’s 72 admitted degree candidates in 2017 were female. The intimate class sizes, with a student-to-faculty ratio of only 11-to-one, might appeal to many candidates.

The school offers waivers for foundation courses as well as admission tests. Dominican may grant discretionary GMAT waivers for candidates with six or more years of work experience, Beta Gamma Sigma business honor society membership, a GPA at or above a 3.0 from an AACSB-accredited undergraduate business school, or an advanced degree.

Five dual-degree programs and concentrations are available in disciplines such as data analytics, healthcare administration, and accounting. The program also offers a unique, compelling advantage: “access to personalized coaching from Chicago’s experienced business leaders on everything from interview skills to career planning.”

Location: River Forest, Illinois
Accreditation: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International), North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
Format: Online and blended hybrid formats
Tuition: $1,009 per credit-hour
Program length: 18 months

Formerly a teachers’ college, this regional university based in the soybean-processing hub of Charleston is one of only eleven business schools within Illinois that won AACSB accreditation.

EIU’s 18-month accelerated online program, which requires seven core courses and eleven concentration courses or electives for graduation, distinguishes itself in a few ways. First, EIU offers two concentrations fully online: applied management, and geographic information sciences (GIS). Two other special programs—an accountancy concentration and a cybersecurity master’s degree—require partial residency at the Charleston campus to complete.

EIU “bookends” their applied management concentration by kicking off with a strategy class and finishing with a core capstone managerial simulation course—a combination that not all business schools offer.

Additionally, a unique prerequisite system may make Eastern’s MBA program an attractive alternative for students who need an MBA quickly but lack all the undergraduate business or accounting coursework that some programs require. That’s because EIU’s system requires online prerequisite “modules” that seem only to judiciously include the topics necessary for MBA coursework at EIU.

However, these edited selections of topics come at a price: each module costs $350 each, and students must complete each module with average test scores of 80 percent or better to gain access to the corresponding MBA course. Furthermore, students who sign up for modules must complete them within strict time limits; if they don’t, they have to pay another $350 to retake the module. Nevertheless, this feature might make EIU’s program an attractive alternative for some students when compared with the lower tier or for-profit accelerated MBA programs.

Location: Charleston, Illinois
Accreditation: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International), North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
Format: Online
Tuition: $600 per credit
Program length: 18 months for most students
6Southern Illinois University College of Business

This regional university based in the small college town of Carbondale, just east of St. Louis, offers a 42-credit, 16-course online curriculum requiring ten core courses in a cohort format. The program emphasizes leadership and communication skills.

Not typical is the school’s focus on agribusiness, which is probably influenced by the university’s strong agriculture college. The school offers agribusiness as their sole concentration option—one of only a few business schools across the nation to do so. Also, three other courses (business communication, fundamentals of career effectiveness, and critical issues for business leaders) do not typically appear in MBA programs.

Please note that the school requires the GMAT; it offers waivers for five or more years of work experience.

Location: Carbondale, Illinois
Accreditation: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International), North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
Format: Online
Tuition: $854 per credit
Program length: 23 months

Hybrid MBA Programs in Illinois

Experts generally agree that hybrid programs—which blend online and on-campus instruction, networking, and career support—can provide the optimal delivery format for online MBA programs. Although some business schools may require students to visit their campuses at the beginning and end of programs, hybrid programs alternate between online and in-person formats more frequently.

Some hybrid programs host on-site weekends on their campuses or at satellite campus facilities across the United States, followed by several weeks of online education and networking. The nation’s premiere blended programs, such as those offered by Carnegie Mellon University and Babson College, schedule these weekends roughly once every seven or eight weeks.

Candidates whose location or employment commitments prevent them from attending a full-time residential program but who still want in-person instruction, networking, and career support may benefit from hybrid programs like those offered by the following universities:

Professors to Know in Online MBA Programs in Illinois

  • Jeffrey Brown, PhD - University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Gies College of Business

    Dr. Jeffrey Brown is the dean of the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. He is the driving force behind what may be the most disruptive innovation to impact graduate management education since Harvard introduced the MBA degree in 1908; his school’s new iMBA degree is priced at only 15 percent of Harvard’s tuition.

    Dr. Brown also holds an endowed chair as the Josef and Margot Lakonishok professor of business. He served previously as a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School and as a senior economist on the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

    His research focuses on insurance markets; he’s written or edited four books and served as a founding editor of the Journal of Pension Economics and Finance. Dr. Brown also serves on the board of directors of the Fortune 100 financial services firm TIAA. An engaging speaker, Professor Brown regularly gives talks to groups of potential and current students as well as alumni, donors and the public, as in this September 2018 video recorded live in Chicago with Poets & Quants editor John Byrne. He holds an MPP from Harvard University and a PhD in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

  • Kevin Hartman, MBA - University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Gies College of Business

    One of the world’s foremost authorities on digital marketing and data analytics, Professor Kevin Hartman serves as the director of analytics in the consumer, government, and entertainment sector at Google and a lecturer in business administration at the University of Illinois Gies College of Business.

    At Google, Professor Hartman and his team partner with influential advertisers, media firms, and creative agencies to build brands through digital solutions. He mixes science with art to deliver innovative, fact-based strategies behind marketing and advertising programs. He has worked with Boeing, Motorola, Qualcomm, Bank of America, ABN AMRO Bank, General Mills, Kellogg's, MillerCoors, Anheuser-Busch, Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Del Monte, and Wagner USA, among other clients. Professor Hartman specializes in program, project, and campaign management, customer segmentation and targeting, account development and solution selling, and customer value management. As a devoted and artistic practitioner of data, he believes data must express insights in ways as creative as the ideas they activate.

    Professor Hartman received his bachelor's from the University of Notre Dame and his MBA and master of public policy degrees from the University of Chicago.

  • Shabnam Zanjani, PhD - Loyola University Chicago, Quinlan School of Business

    Dr. Shabnam Zanjani serves as an assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago’s Quinlan School of Business, where she is building her career around an interesting and unique research specialty: the importance of consumer experiences in the digital world. Dr. Zanjani is an expert in online communication authenticity, and her research also studies topics like customer product reviews and purchase decision making in the online space.

    Dr. Zanjani teaches advanced courses in digital marketing, marketing communications, and marketing research along with introductory marketing management. The Journal of Advertising and the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science have both published her work. Previously at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, she won the school’s marketing professor of the year award.

    She holds a master’s degree in marketing and electronic commerce from the Lulea University of Technology in Lulea, Sweden, and a PhD in marketing from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.