What the surge in online MBA programs means for business schools

FROM Meghan MalasApr 08, 2022 12:33 p.m

A New York University (NYU) flag flies in front of a Covid-19 testing tent outside NYU Business School, seen in New York City in August 2020. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The number of online MBA programs has risen sharply in recent years, and while pandemic-related factors are responsible for some of this growth, the lower costs and flexibility that online MBA programs typically offer have also contributed to the popularity of this format contributed. The opportunity to work full-time while studying is also an advantage, as students do not have to sacrifice their salary and can apply what they have learned in real time.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, online MBA programs were growing in popularity. According to data from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the number of accredited US schools with fully online MBA programs increased from 284 to 526 between the 2016-2017 academic year and the 2020-2021 academic year. That’s an 85% increase. .

What is Driving the Strong Demand for Online MBA Programs? And has this growth continued since the first year of the pandemic? wealth spoke to representatives from two top business schools that have recently expanded online options for their MBA programs to learn how and why virtual programs have become so popular.

Business schools must offer flexibility to be competitive

“When we talk to potential applicants about NYU Stern’s part-time MBA program, the first thing we always emphasize is flexibility,” said Isser Gallogly, associate dean of MBA admissions at NYU Stern School of Business.

In November 2021, Stern became first among the top 10 business schools in assets Ranking at the start of a hybrid MBA program. Students on Stern’s online/part-time modular option can complete the MBA core curriculum online and then complete a portion of their elective courses in person in New York City through modules, weekend classes, or Saturday classes.

“Adapting, adapting to a changing workplace and meeting the changing needs of working professionals is our top priority,” says Gallogly. The launch of the program was particularly timely and relevant given the rise of hybrid work and increased demand for the ability to adapt the MBA experience to work and life, she adds.

A similar demand existed at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School for several years before the university decided to offer an online executive MBA option for undergraduates.

“The biggest constraint for any Executive MBA program, whether online or in person, is student time,” said Jaclyn Conner, associate dean of Goizueta’s Executive MBA program. “Students are pressed for time and their program encounters, regardless of format, need to be maximized.”

Goizueta announced the launch of the program in February 2022. The online executive MBA program, which requires applicants to have eight years of professional experience and full-time employment, is the first of its kind to be offered by a top-ranked university.

“We’ve become an on-demand culture that expects fewer boundaries in terms of space and time,” says Conner. “Educational experiences are no different.”

One of the most appealing aspects of online MBA programs is that they allow professionals to apply what they are learning in real time. While the pandemic certainly impacted the surge in demand for online learning, it also transformed many other workplace factors. Being able to learn business and management strategies while witnessing these changes is a big selling point of online MBA programs.

“Navigating an ever-changing business landscape, these students need to have options for their learning experiences,” says Conner.

Interest in online MBA programs is waning

In 2020, 80% of schools reported an increase in the number of applications to their online MBA program 2021 Application Trends Survey conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council. But that growth has slowed significantly; In 2021, only 30% of schools reported an increase in applications to their online MBA programs.

However, the ability to pursue a career and get paid without completely putting your life on hold remains attractive to many professionals, and the pandemic has underscored the need for more flexibility. While applications for fully online programs aren’t growing as rapidly as in previous years, Stern points out among business schools that are incorporating more online elements into their existing programs.

“Our goal was to further improve the flexibility of our existing part-time MBA program,” says Gallogly. “So our goal in launching this new option was never to try to create some sort of online MBA program. We believe that personal experience is an integral part of NYU Stern’s part-time MBA program.”

In addition to the new online format, Goizueta also offers on-campus and hybrid options for its Executive MBA program. Allowing varying degrees of flexibility within the program is an essential part of meeting the needs of future students.

“In most interviews with applicants, they already know which option is best for their work, life, and learning needs,” says Conner. The decision isn’t about opportunities, networking or lesson content, since all students have the same resources, she adds, but primarily about what type of learning environment is best for the student.

See how the schools you’re considering made Fortune’s ranking of the best business analytics programs, Data Science programs and part-time, executive, full-time, and online MBA programs.

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