Online MBAs with Credentials: Making the Distinction

Assessing the quality of MBA programs in QS’s online MBA rankings

The pace at which digitization and artificial intelligence is developing is breathtaking. Technology has infiltrated every area of our lives, including the classroom. It might be (and this is no revelation) that lecture theatres will one day become obsolete, and we will sit in our high-tech multifunctional rocking chairs reminiscing of the times when cavernous rooms echoed with a professor's sonorous drill, and students engaged, often heated and enraptured exchanges permeated the walls to the hallways. Those were the days.


The fact of the matter is that times are changing, the bustle of life is faster, and innovation, when global market competitiveness couldn't be higher, is nothing but necessary. Top business schools around the world have to remain competitive, and the student talent they recruit informs their ability to maintain or climb the ranks of good reputation.

Online MBA programs have evolved considerably since the early forerunners of the format first appeared and, crucially, have increased their cachet as an impactful qualification to hold. Yes, there are still diploma mills out there, yet there is, it seems, a shift happening from the top, as increasing numbers of top business schools draw on their extensive resources and expertise to deliver high quality distance online MBA courses.

This year, the QS Distance Online MBA Rankings ranked 40 programs, 10 more than the year previous - reflecting an increase in established online MBA offerings from top business schools. 

Here’s a synopsis of the methodology used to assess the quality of MBA programs in QS’s online MBA rankings.

18 indicators across 6 categories in QS’s online MBA rankings

The QS Intelligence Unit draws data from two annual surveys; the QS Global Employer Survey and the QS Global Academic Survey, as well as from data provided by the schools themselves. For a school’s online MBA program to be considered, it must be accredited (by AACSB, EQUIS, AMBA, EPAS or ACBSP) and they must have had at least one graduating online MBA class. A total of 18 indicators are used to measure the quality of each program, which can be placed under the six categories you see below. For a visual breakdown, see here.      

1. Employability

There are many reasons to do an MBA, but a prime motivator for most applicants is career advancement. This is why the employers' assessment of business schools takes the largest slice of the pie, in terms of the weighting, to constitute 30% of the final score.

2. Student quality

The quality of class interactions and exchanges are crucial to the success of an online program. The top business schools in the online MBA rankings will recruit top students, each fuelling the other to succeed.

Four separate things are evaluated to measure the quality of the students enrolled in an online MBA program. They are; the number of applicants per place, the average GMAT score of students enrolled, the percentage of those with first degrees and the number of years of work experience each person has before being admitted. This measure constitutes 15% of the final ranking score.

3.  Recognition in the online MBA marketplace

The finest online MBA programs are arguably those most likely to have long-term staying power. Courses that meet student expectations in terms of teaching quality and delivery will build in reputation and popularity. We therefore dedicate 7% of the final online MBA rankings score to the establishment year of the program, and 4% to the number of students enrolled in the program.

The final 4% of the measure in this category acknowledges a business school's formal accreditation (through AACSB, EQUIS, AMBA, EPAS or ACBSP). A business school can be awarded multiple accreditations which boosts their score in this evaluation.

4. Top business schools’ commitment to the online format

The faculty members teaching an online MBA program should, ideally, be the equal of those leading a school’s on-campus equivalents - in terms of their contributions to research and thought leadership, their academic background and their teaching experience. 

To identify the level of priority top business schools are giving their online MBAs, a faculty and teaching measure considers three separate factors; the proportion of full-time faculty members teaching the online MBA program, the faculty/student ratio, and the program’s completion rate among its participants. This last factor is important because high attrition rates could conceivably indicate a lack of support for distance learners. The faculty and teaching measure accounts for 15% of the final weighting.

5. A sense of belonging: The online MBA class experience

While a major selling point of the online MBA is the format's flexibility, a certain rigor in the structure of the course is important. Quality online MBAs are those most likely to bring together their remotely-located students, so that they can share ideas, engage in groupwork and, at predetermined junctures throughout the course of the program, meet up in person, be it to attend seminars, or to collaborate on team projects.

Since working with other people is so critical to modern managerial roles, QS’s online MBA rankings include the availability of the following program aspects in its assessment; physical meet-up, compulsory attendance, regular online classes, groupwork, and how much of the program is assessed using groupwork. Together, evidence of these elements constitutes 15% of the final online MBA rankings score.


6. Diversity matters in online MBA programs too

Student diversity is an important attribute of any MBA class, regardless of format. We consequently assess the number of nationalities enrolled in an online MBA program, as well as a class's gender balance. These two measures account for 10% of the final score.

Karen Turtle
Written by Karen Turtle

A content writer with a background in higher education, Karen holds an MA in modern languages from the University of St Andrews. Her interests include languages and literature, current affairs and film. ​

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