The business world is a-changing as online platforms become predominant and consumers change. However, business schools, per usual, are on the cutting edge of this industry, but evaluating them can be a real challenge.
Comparing the best online MBA programs for 2011 is difficult. Comparing the best online MBA programs to prepare one for a competitive business landscape is equally as difficult. Even MBA students have difficulty deciding which schools are the best. Any online MBA comparisons are fraught with a number of issues not the least of which are emotional attachments. It is difficult for those that attended traditional schools and enjoyed them not to look down on these upstarts in business education: the online schools. In the end, it all comes down to this: if you’re not going for an IPO and you don’t need a big name, but you want to improve your skills, will an online MBA do the job? In most cases, the business metrics generally focused upon within the boardrooms in New York City and Chicago aren’t the ones that most people considering an online MBA need to worry about.
The success of determining the best MBA and the best choice for a specific student’s competitive landscape rest upon the definition of the word “best.” How does one determine “best”? There are a several ways to evaluate “best” presented for the reader to choose from. One of the most widely read comparisons of education in the US is the US News & World Reports survey on higher education. Its purpose is to provide a framework for parents and students to evaluate collegiate programs. Its methodology is simple, but exhaustive. US News recently added online schools to its annual survey.
US News takes all the colleges and universities evaluated. It divides them into categories based upon the Carnegie Endowment’s classifications of the various types of educational institutions that exist. This permits an apples to apples comparison between schools. Within the categories, the schools are ranked based upon a set of criteria applicable across that class of school. What this does is permit the comparison of liberal art schools to liberal arts schools of the same size and means. Or the comparison of state schools to other state schools of similar size.
There are several key measures that students would consider important. The US News & World Reports survey focuses on the quality of the faculty, the number of students being served, the courses being taught and the number of students that graduate.
Along with the Carnegie Endowment, US News & World Reports views these elements as essential predictors of the quality of the education that a student receives. Institutions surveyed by US News are sent a questionnaire. In addition, US News conducts its own objective evaluation of course catalogs, materials and third party evaluations of each school. Schools that don’t respond are evaluated by these means by the staff of US News. Most schools do respond.
The Sloan Consortium also surveys online education. Their methodology is different. They ask each institution for their self-reported marks on what they entitle “THE SLOAN CONSORTIUM QUALITY FRAMEWORK AND THE FIVE PILLARS.” Sloan’s five pillars are: Learning effectiveness, Cost effectiveness, access, faculty (employee) satisfaction and student (customer) satisfaction. Sloan has a number of indices of these five pillars which it measures from surveys of the school management. The Sloan approach is a more top-down approach to describing the school’s activities from the schools management perspective. US New’s approach is a bottoms-up approach from a value to student approach. Both have validity.
For a student to determine which schools best meet their needs, the path is more complicated. The best approach is to determine what the goals for education are. Determine what the student needs to learn to meet those goals and the identify the curriculum that has the knowledge. With some idea of the critieria, the student can then assess the schools. The GMAC surveys of recruitment indicate that it is what you know and not where you learned it that appear to matter. Accredited online schools with the right curriculum can deliver just as much value as traditional b-schools.