Online MBA Students Now Outnumber Full-Time MBAs:

As the newest crop of MBA students spill out of US business schools in coming weeks, a little-known yet compelling statistic tells you all you need to know about the shifting MBA landscape.

For the first time ever, graduate students enrolled in online MBA programs now outnumber those in full-time, on-campus MBA programs. In the 2020-2021 academic year, some 45,038 students were enrolled in Online MBA options in the US, compared to 43,740 in full-time programs, according to the AACSB (the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business), the primary business school accreditation agency.

The numbers show that online learning is much more popular in the US than it is globally, however. On a worldwide basis, full-time students still outnumber those in online programs, 78,061 to 53,281.

What’s behind the US surge in the popularity of online MBA programs? “The MBA program landscape has shifted significantly in the last 24 months,” notes W. Brooke Elliott, executive associate dean of academic programs at the University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business. “The pandemic inspired many individuals to re-evaluate their personal and professional choices and to take action, often through education, to change their current path.”

Also helping is a tight labor market that is keeping more young professionals in their jobs. “Thanks to the robust labor market, opportunity costs for people to leave the labor market for a full-time program have increased,” notes Sarah Perez, managing director of MBA programs at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. “The need for learning flexibility, even beyond evening / weekend in-person delivery, is very attractive for folks in many industries. Labor markets globally are strong, so the need for flexibility extends beyond national boundaries, too. During the pandemic, more people became comfortable with the concept and reality of online learning. ”

At UNC, enrollment in the school’s MBA @ UNC online option, now celebrating its tenth year anniversary, has exceeded the school’s full-time MBA enrollment for years, with about 766 students currently online and 637 in UNC’s full-time MBA. “In our case,” Perez adds, “we have four MBA @ UNC starts a year so there are more opportunities to start the program. With online programs, business schools are not limited by physical classroom space.

At Gies, enrollment in the school’s disruptively priced $ 23,000 (a $ 1K increase from the original price) iMBA soared during the pandemic. At Gies, more than 4,200 students are now studying in Gies’ online MBA program from an initial cohort of just 263 students in 2016 (see iConverge: A Love Fest Of Passionate Believers For Gies’ iMBA:).

“Disruption of the traditional graduate business education had already begun pre-pandemic with innovative, flexible, and affordable programs emerging from top business schools,” adds Elliott. “We have seen in the workplace that individuals value flexibility and autonomy and can be productive and happier working remotely. We have seen large organizations completely shift the way they work, how they attract talent, and where and how they allow this talent to work. Individuals are now seeking the exact same things in education! Education has been disrupted because individuals not only value what they learn but how and when they learn, and innovators in the MBA space are meeting this demand! ”

There are already at least 358 online MBA programs in the US, with even more schools getting onto the bandwagon. NYU Stern and UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business will soon enroll students in: an online option: in their part-time MBA programs. The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, currently the school with the highest ranked full-time MBA in the online MBA market, saw its first student complete: its online MBA last August. Boston University’s new Online MBA is: graduating its first cohort in May: and now boasts a current total enrollment of slightly more than 1,700 online MBA students. The school expects that number to increase to 2,400 by January of next year. The school, which is holding steady its initial price for the program at $ 24,000 through the next year, has a goal to enroll roughly 550 students this fall during one of its two intakes. And: in a recent poll:business school deans predicted that a Top Five business school would enter the Online MBA market in the next two years.

What’s more, rankings of Online MBA programs by: US News:, Poets & Quants:and the: Financial Times: have made online learning more visible and credible to would-be applicants.

The growing popularity of online study can be attributed to four major trends, according to Will Geoghegan, chair of the Kelley Direct Program at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business:

  • The higher level of legitimacy of the online MBA to prospective students, employers, and school leaders.
  • Technology advancements that make online learning more impactful.
  • Increased in-person experiences in online programs.
  • The networking and the significantly lower opportunity costs of not having to quit your job.

“Employers have turned the corner, away from their misperceptions about online learning being inferior to full-time MBA experiences,” believes Geoghegan. “In a tight hiring landscape such as the one we are in now, employers embrace opportunities to hold onto their stellar employees while encouraging them to professionally develop through graduate coursework. Online programs are positioned to allow for just such advancement. Our students tell us how their supervisors applauded their decision to remain employed while going back to school through our online MBA. Employers recognize that those who can juggle working full time while earning their MBA highlights an ability to multitask, prioritize, and stay organized – the same traits and behaviors they seek in an employee. ”

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