The prospective Executive MBA student would seem to be the best candidate for an online degree: he or she already has a career.
Having the flexibility to pursue an advanced degree from the comfort of his or her own home or office would appear to be optimal and even cost effective. However, that’s not always the case.
As a prospective Executive MBA student determining whether or not an online degree is right for you, the best starting point is to consider and weigh what you most want out of your learning experience.
How much of the program is online?
Not all online Executive MBAs are going to be completely delivered over the web—many will incorporate varying amounts of face-to-face contact with the cohort and faculty on campus.
“Verify how much of the course work and curriculum is delivered on campus,” Gayle Rigione, Director of Strategic Development for Ivy Exec says. “A program that’s 100 percent online is something to be cautious about. Having real contact with the mother-ship is important.”
On face value, it might seem reasonable to expect that an online Executive MBA would be a cost saver. However, this is not always the case. For example, MBA@UNC–the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s online Executive MBA program through the Kenan-Flagler Business School—costs about $99,675. But if you complete the evening Executive MBA program, you’ll pay substantially less at $79,500. In this case, however, UNC blends online learning and in-person classes with quarterly, three-day immersion sessions. Housing costs for those immersion sessions are included in the tuition but travel is not—so if you’re truly engaging in remote learning that will be an additional cost to be factored in. The Fuqua School of Business at Duke also has a remote, online Executive MBA available called the Global Executive Program. There too, you’ll pay a premium for online courses. The online degree costs $166,000 while the more traditional weekend Executive MBA program costs $122,500.
Rigione also advises that with an online program there may be significant travel costs to factor in—particularly if you select an online Executive MBA program that is not nearby. Furthermore, with some online Executive MBA programs, students are expected to make up for limited face-to-face interaction with intensive, multi-week study programs overseas or on campus.
“You could be 100 percent out of [contact with] your company for a week or two weeks periodically,” Rigione notes.
Cohort, Networking and Alumni Base
Many Executive MBA graduates agree that the two most valuable parts of their higher learning experience are their cohort and their ability to network. In your online Executive MBA experience, the ability to connect in person with your cohort will understandably be somewhat diminished. The same is true of your ability to network with faculty face-to-face.
“An EMBA is not a solo pursuit. So much of it is a collaborative effort. If you’re looking at your Executive MBA as a solo pursuit with your computer then you’re missing the boat,” Rigione says. “A program that is conducted exclusively online could short-change you of many of the benefits of an Executive MBA program where you collaborate and interact face-to-face with managers from many walks of life. Much of the program is the project work with your cohort: that’s what really stretches you as a professional. You may not get everything out of an online course delivery that you’re hoping to get out of your Executive MBA.”
Rigione explains that some schools even choose their Executive MBA students based upon how they will work together as a cohort: making sure there is a strong balance of perspectives and industries represented.
“On a Friday night, you might go out and have a beer with your cohort. You connect with them as people and get in their mindset,” Rigione says. “Once you graduate, you have this whole network of people you respect that you can call on, seek advice from and potentially have to help you get to your next job.
Another point to consider is each school’s alumni network. If you’re investing in an Executive MBA online—whether at a six-figure cost or not—having access to a wide range of professionals who have gone on from that program to succeed will be key. If the online program remains new and has yet to graduate many students, make sure it’s attached to a more traditional, in-person program that can perhaps yield some fruitful connections for you in the long run.
“The EMBA goes beyond just the coursework,” Rigione explains. “It’s the access to the network of highly accomplished professionals.”
Not all online Executive MBA programs are created equal
Online Executive MBAs are still few and far between—and the ones that do exist might need some additional research to ensure that they are reputable and accredited. As with anything, it’s important to remember that you pay for what you get. Remembering that a name-brand school might be your best bet for a return on investment, choosing to matriculate online at Duke or UNC might give you the most options in the future. However, keep in mind that if you’re a Boston-based executive pursuing your Executive MBA online at a university many states away, remember that your alumni network may not go the distance.
Either way, weigh your decision to pursue an online Executive MBA carefully.
“It’s not about the degree for the degree’s sake,” Rigione says of people who might consider an online Executive MBA just to add the degree to their resume. “You’re not just trying to get that piece of paper. It’s pretty hollow if it’s just about the piece of paper. It should be about the coursework, the faculty, the study—what you learn from your fellow professionals.