Online, or remote, learning was already on the rise in the US before the coronavirus pandemic turned us all into shut-ins. The pandemic accelerated an already-vigorous trend in higher education toward online education.
This trend is particularly pronounced in graduate education. A 2018 report from the Urban Institute shows that enrollment in online master’s degree programs has increased substantially since the early aughts. According to the report, 5 percent of students enrolled in a master’s program in 2000 reported that their courses operated entirely online. By 2016, 31 percent of master’s students reported enrolling exclusively in distance education.
The number of master’s degrees awarded through distance-learning programs has increased across various fields, and business programs are no exception. Students choose online Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs to grow their professional skills without taking time away from their careers. Plus, as online students, they avoid considerable relocation and commuting expenses.
So, how much does an online MBA cost? The price varies considerably depending on several factors. Let’s dig into what those are—and why they matter when finding the right program for your needs, interests, and career goals.
In this article, we’ll answer “how much does an online MBA cost?” by considering the following:
Online MBA degree programs confer numerous benefits. Because most (or all) lectures and assignments are delivered asynchronously—available to students 24/7, to be completed at their convenience—the format provides greater control over scheduling and pace of study. Many programs also offer multiple start dates throughout the year. The online MBA at Kent State University at Kent, for example, offers five. Students can begin taking online classes during the spring, summer, or fall semester or enroll mid-semester in the fall or spring.
Like traditional MBAs, online programs focus on helping students develop the analytical, communication, leadership, and decision-making skills necessary for management and executive-level roles across a range of industries. Many online programs also allow students to concentrate their studies in a particular subfield of business, reaping the benefits of a curriculum that combines foundational management education with specialized career preparation. Common online MBA specializations include:
While online MBA programs weren’t as well-respected in decades past, their reputation is changing. Today, more employers understand that online MBA programs provide comparable quality of instruction to traditional on-campus business programs. There’s also substantial research indicating that school reputation and accreditation—whether through the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) or the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)—typically impact employers’ perception of MBA graduates much more than the manner in which they earned their degree.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers predicted an average starting salary for 2019 MBA graduates of $84,580—provided those graduates found jobs in computer science, engineering, science, or business. (
Students considering an MBA or graduate business degree can choose from varied career paths, including those focused on financial management, data analytics, market research, healthcare management, and operations management. The analytical skills and problem-solving techniques gained from graduate level business degrees are in high demand across business sectors. ( )
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Each business school sets its own admissions and application requirements. Even so, some elements are common to most, if not all, applications. They include:
Additional entry requirements may vary depending on program, program type, and the applicant’s background. These may include:
Tuition rates and fees for online MBA programs are typically close, if not identical, to those of their on-campus analogs. Numerous factors impact the affordability (or lack thereof) of an online MBA, ranging from the low five figures to the six-figure range. Here’s how they break down:
Most business schools require students to pay for their online degrees on a per-credit or per-credit-hour basis. The credit requirements of online MBA programs typically range from the low 30s to high 50s, depending on the program, the coursework a student has previously taken, and work experience.
The online MBA at Utica College in New York, for instance, consists of 30 credits in both its generalized track and all specializations. It’s designed for students with a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and two or more years of relevant work experience. The program charges a flat $700 per credit for all domestic students, resulting in a total estimated tuition of $21,000. Keep in mind, however, that this doesn’t include fees (more on those later).
An example of a program with a much higher credit requirement—and sticker price—is the online MBA at the University of California – Davis, which requires 72 credits across a mix of core and elective courses. Students matriculating in Fall 2020 pay $1,465 per credit for a total tuition of $105,480.
In-state vs. out-of-state are terms that typically only apply to public universities, which receive financial support from state governments to subsidize their operations. Traditionally, out-of-state students pay more per credit hour for tuition than those attending public graduate schools in their state. However, some MBA programs at public business schools allow online students to pay in-state tuition even if they are nonresidents. Others may provide an entirely different category of tuition for online students than they do for traditional students.
State governments subsidize most public schools’ operating costs, allowing them to offer lower tuition costs than private colleges and universities. In contrast, private schools rely primarily on endowment funds, donations from individual donors, and tuition fees, which explains their higher tuition rates.
Although tuition constitutes the greatest cost associated with online MBA programs, schools charge additional fees that, in aggregate, can add up. These include:
According to U.S. News & World Report’s 2020 rankings of best online MBA programs, the top online MBAs in the United States (listed alphabetically) include:
U.S. News & World Report’ also offers a range of resource guides on the program costs of online MBA programs. The publication reports that the following online MBA programs charged the least per credit for part-time, out-of-state students during the 2019-2020 school year. These are the least expensive, in order of cost per credit:
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