Since COVID-19 began forcing schools to close campuses in early 2020, applications for online MBAs in the US have risen by 86%, though demand had been increasing even before then.
In 2021, 324 schools signed up to the annual US News Online MBA Ranking, which provides a comprehensive list of the online MBA courses offered by US business schools.
Online MBAs tend to cost less than full-time MBAs and don’t require students to give up their jobs or salaries. Here, we look at how much the best online MBA programs cost in 2021.
Best Online MBA Programs
The top five online MBAs, according to US News, have remained the same for the last three years, with only small changes occurring between them each year.
In 2021, University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School kept its place at the top alongside Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business.
Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business–which was ranked joint first last year–dropped to third. The University of Florida Hough Graduate School of Business and USC Marshall’s School of Business complete the top five.
The biggest surprise in the 2021 rankings was the well-respected Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business, which rose from 123rd in 2020 to enter the top 10 this year. The school’s Online MBA was only established in 2018, and finished ninth in 2021.
As has been the case in previous years, there are many schools tied for places, with the top 10 actually including 15 online MBA programs. This raises questions over whether US News’ methodology can differentiate schools enough so that MBA aspirants can make an informed choice of where to study.
There are six schools tied for 10th place in 2021, they are: Lehigh University, University of Arizona, University of Maryland - College Park, University of Mississippi, University of Washington Foster School of Business and University of Wisconsin MBA Consortium.
Unlike other MBA rankings, US News does not survey students or graduates to compile its list, with the data instead collected from business schools themselves.
Top 10 Online MBAs: Tuition Fees
Online MBA cost
Prices for the top five courses range considerably, with Hough offering an affordable course at $58,000, while Tepper costs substantially more at $140,000. Indiana Kelley is another cheaper option at $74,520, while USC and Kenan-Flagler cost $125,589 and $105,913. This means that the top two courses in 2021 are also the most expensive.
Rice University’s new entry in the top 10 is a more expensive option at $109,930. Of the six schools tied in 10th place, three offer very affordable courses around $30,000. University of Mississippi offers an Online MBA costing just $32,220, while the most affordable online MBA programs among the top 10 are at Wisconsin MBA Consortium ($28,800) and Arizona’s Eller School of Business ($27,480).
The fact that all of these programs are among the best in the US suggests that price is not indicative of quality when it comes to online MBAs.
When choosing a program, students should also consider career progress in terms of salary achieved and salary increase after the program; the strength of the faculty’s teaching and research; and the quality and diversity of the cohort.
Cheaper tuition fees may increase the return on investment of the degree, which can be calculated by taking the average salary achieved by graduates and deducting the tuition fee. This, of course, will stack up over time.
Beyond Online MBA rankings
The market for online MBAs is likely to increase after a majority of business schools were forced to offer online teaching during 2020.
According to GMAT figures, 57% of schools offered online learning at the beginning of their courses with an intention to transition to in-person in 2020.
There are already a large number of affordable online MBA programs available, both in the US and around the world, but as demand for online learning increases and more schools begin to focus on offering online courses, it is likely that more cheaper options will emerge.
The cheapest course to be included in the US rankings this year was provided by Northeastern State University at just $9,036.
The much hyped iMBA, offered by Illinois’ Gies College of Business, which hasn’t featured in the US News rankings since it was established in 2016, costs just $22,000 and boasts 3,839 students.
What is clear is that online MBAs are only going to increase in popularity. If you want a cheaper, more flexible MBA experience, an Online MBA could be the best option.
This article was first published in January 2020 and updated in February 2021.