Graduate school isn’t the same as pursuing a Bachelor’s degree. During their undergraduate careers, up to 40% of students work full-time. In contrast, 76% of all graduate students work full-time—and this percentage is likely even higher among business school students, who typically enroll in their thirties.
To accommodate their academic and professional agendas, MBA candidates need to have scheduling flexibility. That’s why more universities are shifting their resources to offer online classes via hybrid, low-residency, or fully online programs. Recent data from the U.S. News and World Report shows that 91% of students enrolled in online MBA classes pursed their degree while working full-time. This pattern reinforces the idea that online programs support working professionals better than on-site, traditional lecture halls.
How Graduate School Went Digital
Distance learning isn’t a new phenomenon. In fact, it’s been tested for decades. The University of London offered the first long-distance program in 1858, where students and instructors exchanged assignments via mail. It sometimes took months to complete a single correspondence, but for many students, it was their only way to attend college. Then, in 1960, the intranet was formed, a system of linked computer terminals that progressed into a multi-university platform. With the advent of the internet, the modern-day web-based classroom gradually emerged.
In 1994, Canadian-based Athabasca University introduced the world’s first online MBA program—which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
Online Learning Levels the Playing Field
It’s hard to imagine how the earliest long-distance learners would react to seeing an online classroom today. From virtual labs to online student forums, video lectures, and eTexts, the technological landscape is constantly evolving. But they were right about one thing: Distance learning makes higher education accessible to almost everyone.
The MBA for executives at Athabasca University is asynchronous, which means students don’t need to log on for a specific date or time. Instead, they work at their own pace. This flexibility allows students to engage with their work when it’s convenient—whether they’re commuting on the train or sitting at a desk.
Asynchronous scheduling also allows students from all industries and backgrounds to participate, even if they’re required to travel for work or have outside obligations. Individuals in the armed forces, for example, can pursue their career ambitions while being stationed overseas. Likewise, business professionals in consulting, product purchasing, management, and other industries that are location-specific can also benefit from online learning. They won’t need to leave the worksite to earn a degree.
This arrangement is ideal for students who want to be near their family, too. Many students need to relocate or spend time away from their family while they attend an MBA program. But if you take courses online, you can study from home without missing out on important family milestones.
Online classes offer the best of both worlds: scheduling flexibility and a structured curriculum that encourages accountability and progress. It invites students to learn and develop their skills with minimal disruptions to their day-to-day life.
Online learning also provides a more equitable classroom for students. In an online platform, all voices are equally heard—regardless of a person’s age, ethnicity, physical ability, or gender. Numerous studies indicate women are less likely to speak up in group settings compared to men—and when they do contribute to conversations, they’re likely to be interrupted. One study shows that women on school boards have equal speaking opportunities only when they make up 80% of the total board members.
In an online forum, however, people can express themselves and receive the same level of respect and attention that’s paid to their peers. This democratic approach facilitates exchanging ideas freely—and grants everyone opportunities to learn from perspectives that differ from their own.
You might also discover that online classrooms are more productive and nuanced than a typical academic discussion. When students and instructors communicate in a written format, they tend to be more reflective. They have time to research and refine their approach before they’re expected to respond.
The cost of getting an MBA on a traditional campus varies dramatically between programs. But it’s easy to spend $100,000 ($130,966.75 CAD) to $200,000 ($261,933.51 CAD) when you’re earning a graduate degree. Between paying for the tuition, board, travel, and textbooks, attending a full-time MBA program on campus comes with an eye-watering price tag. The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, for example, costs $144,600 ($189,370.21 CAD) in tuition. An MBA at D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University costs about $88,000 ($115,246.05 CAD).
An online MBA, on the other hand, costs a fraction of this amount. The tuition at Athabasca University, for example, costs between $34,099.85 ($44,584.00 CAD) and $37,374.15 ($48,865.00 CAD) in 2019, depending on the route of entry and how you choose to tailor your MBA program. The tuition is also the same between Canadian and International students (minus a one-time $400 fee applied to students living outside of Canada).
MBA programs can be made even more affordable when you partner with an employer. According to data from the U.S. News and World Report, about 34% of MBA students receive some form of financial assistance from their employer for the duration of their study. Why do companies want to pay for their employees to earn a degree? MBA students learn about topics that directly impact their work and apply that knowledge to their organization. An employee with professional insight adds value to the business overall.
What’s the ROI for an Online MBA?
You might have concerns about balancing coursework against the time you already spend on the clock. Why go back to school when you already have a job? The answer is simple: Money.
Students who earn an MBA can see a salary increase of around 22.2% after graduation, according to the U.S. News and World Report. The average salary for someone three months after completing an MBA program is $96,974 ($127,001.23 CAD)—far above the U.S. national median. The projected earning potential for online MBA candidates is also comparable to conventional programs; at Athabasca University, the average MBA graduate earns $111,720 ($146,313.21 CAD).
New Career Opportunities
An MBA can also empower you to advance to a higher-level position. Hiring managers look at the online degree and see all the skills required to earn one—like critical thinking, data analysis, financial fluency, time management, high-level problem-solving, and the ability to work independently. Online MBA courses require students to perform research, gather data, and frame problems within a larger, real-world context. Lessons often center around the students’ current work experiences, which means participants connect theory into practice. By gaining firsthand experience, MBA graduates develop skills that are immediately applicable to employers today.
So, if a company is looking to fill a leadership position, an MBA will probably be listed as a job requirement—and graduates boost their competitive edge by earning the degree. With an MBA, you can even explore new career opportunities outside your current industry. An advanced degree can illuminate career paths in product management, brand marketing management, management consulting, finance, and health services management—just to name a few examples.
Evaluating Options for an Online Education
Going back to school is a big decision, and it can feel a little intimidating to narrow your search with so many programs to choose from. You’ll also want to make sure the institution you choose has a proven history for effective online education, is accredited, and produces successful graduates. Before you make a decision, read reviews from former and current students. Most universities are also happy to provide additional information about their specific curriculum and faculty.
An MBA is a lucrative way to learn new skills and advance your career. If you’re weighing the benefits of attending graduate school, an online MBA program can be the most flexible, accessible, and affordable option, and it still offers the high-caliber learning experience that your career demands.