1. What would you advise students shopping around for an online MBA to look for regarding the programs available?
At face value most online MBA programs sound similar, though they may vary according to delivery model, mode of interaction, and cost. While each of these are important dimensions to consider when selecting an online program, there is one additional factor that is essential for potential MBA students to consider before all others – the program’s level of accreditation.
Knowing something about the school’s accreditation will tell students a significant amount about the value of the degree for which they are paying, and all reputable programs should openly provide this information to prospective students.
At its most basic level, accreditation is an external validation process by which institutions of higher learning are measured against established standards to ensure a consistent high-level of academic quality. This is usually completed through a peer review process in which representatives from accredited institutions review evidence that the school has satisfied the relevant standards. These reviewers then use that evidence to determine whether or not to award the accreditation.
Specialized accreditation in a particular discipline–such as that awarded by AACSB International for business schools–demonstrates that a school has made a commitment to academic quality and continuous improvement, as defined by experts in that field. AACSB-accredited institutions, which make up less than 5 percent of the world's business schools, are thus subject to an extra level of rigorous review and evaluation, ensuring that courses are taught by well-qualified faculty and that students graduate with the knowledge and skills needed for advancing their careers.
By understanding accreditation, and making a point to include accreditation among other selection criteria, students will not only avoid the increasing number of ‘diploma mills’ that are popping up around the world, but also be assured that they will receive value for their money.
Delivery Models & Interaction
While many students find the flexible nature of online programs appealing, it is important to remember that they do not have to sacrifice quality for convenience. Rather, with a variety of online delivery models available, students who “do their homework” can ensure that the structure and delivery model of their chosen program suits both their learning style and schedule.
Currently there are a range of delivery models available for students considering an MBA. Amongst AACSB accredited institutions, the ‘traditional’ onsite model of MBA instruction is still the most common, and generally maintains the highest level of student-professor interaction.
Online programs also facilitate interaction among students and their professors using a variety of means that may include the following: viewing multi-media lectures; contributing to instructor monitored course blogs; participating in group projects or online discussions; completing individual homework assignments or semester projects; or even participating in tele-conference class sessions. Some students believe that online programs will require less effort than traditional classroom-based programs; the reality is that online programs often require more independent work in order to provide the required amount of course or credit hour coverage. Online options works best for students who are disciplined and self-directed, have strong written communication skills, and can manage the variety of course requirements on their own.
An alternative option for students who do not want to take a course completely online is the hybrid course. These courses combine the best of both onsite and online programs, often including a blend of streaming audio or video lectures, instructor monitored course blogs and group projects, and requirements that students attend classroom lectures/discussions on a bi-weekly or monthly basis. This is a good alternative for students who prefer the scheduling freedom of the online option, but want the face-to-face interaction of the classroom environment.
For any delivery model, whether it is onsite, online or a hybrid combination, student-faculty interaction is an important factor to consider. Students considering online courses should make sure instructors maintain posted office hours, (either in person, online, or via telephone), and are easily accessible during non-classroom times.
The cost for an online program is usually dependent upon an institution’s current tuition structure. Prospective students who are employed should investigate their employer’s tuition reimbursement policies as some have a different reimbursements structure for online programs than for traditional onsite programs. In addition, some companies do not reimburse their employees for enrollment in business programs that are not AACSB International accredited.
Students who are not employed or whose employer does not offer tuition reimbursement may be eligible for a variety of private or governmental student loans available. In this circumstance potential students should contact the institution’s financial aid office for a student advising appointment. When loans are available, it is important for students to fully understand the terms of re-payment and interest rates prior to commitment.
2. How has the downturn of the economy affected enrollment or students considering online MBA programs?
The economic downturn has affected potential MBA students in different ways. Among those currently working, individuals considering an MBA may be hesitant to give up a current job and salary to return to school full-time. As a result, these students are more likely to pursue part-time programs, either onsite or online. Conversely, recent university graduates or displaced professionals may be more likely to go into a full-time MBA program for two reasons – both to delay the job search function, and to increase their level of employment attractiveness for when hiring opportunities begin to pick up.
Compared to the previous academic year, in 2008-2009 AACSB member schools reported a 4.8 percent increase in the number of students enrolled in part-time MBA programs, but a -5.2% decrease in student enrollment in full-time MBA programs. Of students enrolled part-time, 11% participated in an online program, whereas less than 1% of students enrolled in a full-time program enrolled in programs delivered through an online format.
Data concerning enrollments for the current 2009-2010 academic year is not yet available, but is expected to provide us with a clearer understanding of how the economic downturn has affected MBA programs worldwide.
3. What are the advantages/disadvantages of doing an online MBA?
The primary advantage of doing an online MBA is convenience – but caution, AACSB schools that offer online MBA programs should never be viewed as “easy”. As mentioned earlier, the varying delivery models of MBA programs will provide different positives and negatives to each student.
Positives identified by most students are: the flexibility of schedule and the ‘on-demand’ learning capabilities.
Popular for their flexible scheduling, most online course requirements can be fulfilled on a 24/7 basis. For those with alternative/busy work schedules or extensive family commitments, this provides the opportunity for students to perform coursework when it’s most convenient for them.
Depending on the format, online degree programs are well known for their ‘on-demand’ learning capabilities. Many contain streaming multi-media lectures that well simulate the classroom environment, and are available for play-back at the discretion of the student.
Disadvantages often identified by students are: the quality of faculty-student interaction, difficulties learning complex material, and the amount of non-classroom assignments required.
For AACSB, the qualifications of the faculty member or instructor teaching the courses should be the primary concern for students considering an online program. Students should know the academic qualifications and professional experience behind the individual facilitating their learning. It is important to look for programs that have a combination of instructors that have received graduate level instruction, as well as real-world corporate experience.
For complex learning materials, it is difficult to mirror the face-to-face interaction provided by instructors’ onsite. For students that need a little more direction or person-to-person interaction the curriculum structure of online programs can be an inhibitor to student learning. Prior to enrolling in an online program, prospective students should do an internal evaluation of their own learning style. If hands-on instruction is what works best, then the online learning environment might not be the ideal option.
For many, the ‘online degree’ carries the stigma of having less work involved, or being ‘easy’ – but for any quality MBA program this should not be the case. Students are often surprised by the amount of non-classroom assignments required, such as group meet-up time for projects, time involved for blog-writing assignments, even time spent viewing or listening to lectures. Students completing an online degree might not be sitting in a classroom on a traditional campus, but for quality programs, they should be required to complete the same level of work, if not more.
4. Do you have a list of online MBA programs in the United States?
Yes, the best place to find this list is on our student website at www.BestBizSchools.com. Powered by AACSB’s database of business schools, BestBizSchool’s search function allows students to search for MBA programs worldwide. Students have the ability to choose search criteria specific to their preferred degree plan (e.g. online, onsite, location, concentration, etc.) It is the most comprehensive and up-to-date search engine for AACSB accredited schools offering undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees.
Beyond its search capabilities, BestBizSchools.com also provides students with guidance on important topics such as admission processes and financial aid, as well as clarity regarding accreditation and school rankings. Linked to AACSB’s database on business schools, this trusted website and search engine have provided guidance to over 40,000 students worldwide in their search for their perfect school.
5. How are online MBA programs accredited? What is the accreditation process AACSB carries out and what are the factors you are looking for?
AACSB accreditation covers all of the programs offered by a business school regardless of whether the degree is offered online or onsite. Online programs are held to the same standards of quality and excellence that ‘traditional’ onsite programs must maintain.
In short, AACSB accreditation is based on two key components. The first is an ongoing self-assessment process in which each school must document its overarching strategic plan, and demonstrate that its decisions (including those concerning resource allocation, faculty hiring, and program and curriculum development) support achievement of this plan. The second component is a recurring “peer-review” in which a team of accreditation experts are assigned to evaluate the school against AACSB’s 21 accreditation-related standards.
Specifically, AACSB accreditation standards require that each school: has a well-defined and stated mission which supports decision making; has a set of clearly identified goals in place to measure student learning; delivers a high-quality academic experience; and has faculty members that are sufficient in number and qualifications. Furthermore, all accredited schools must review their own operations on a yearly basis to ensure that they are in line with their long-term strategic plan, while focusing on continuous improvement.
6. Is there any indication that potential employers value regular MBA's over online MBA's?
Yes. In a recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Survey on the Credibility of Online Degrees (July 2009), 63% of respondents indicated that job applicants with traditional university degrees are preferred by their organization to applicants with online university degrees, presuming work experiences are similar.
While onsite degrees are still the preferred format for applicants, SHRM indicated that online education is gaining popularity with employers. In their study, over 90% of respondents agreed that online university degrees are view more favorably today than five years ago. Similarly, 59% of those surveyed indicated that the current economic recession has led to an increase in the number of job applicants with online university degrees.
While the numbers show there is an increasing level of acceptance for online degrees, it is important for the prospective student to reflect on his or her own circumstance.
7. Is there anything else you'd like to add about the subject?
In summary, just as with any degree program, prospective students must do the necessary legwork and research. It is important for prospective students to identify their own expectations, and (if working) their employer’s expectations, and to determine whether the online program is designed to meet both. Today the options for students are almost limitless. The process is filled with multiple steps and many factors to consider – and the selection of a program is a personal decision that only the prospective student can make.
For those considering an MBA, choosing an online program through an AACSB accredited school will provide students with the assurance that their school offers the most up-to-date business program; that they are taught by the best faculty; there is meaningful interaction between students and professors; that graduates have achieved specified learning goals; that the school regularly undergoes a significant quality assurance and continuous improvement process; and that the school is actually doing what they say they will do.
There are a wide variety of MBA choices out there, and business schools come in all sizes and formats. While it is up to the individual to carefully evaluate the best fit for their ‘preferred’ graduate business program, there is one factor does not need question – AACSB International accreditation provides the gold stamp of quality assurance for which only the best students and employers look.