Colleges Add Online MBAs for Working Students

A growing number of schools are adopting online master of business administration (MBA) programs geared toward working professionals.
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Published on March 15, 2024
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  • A growing number of colleges across the country are adopting online master of business administration (MBA) programs geared toward working professionals.
  • Online MBA programs can allow students to work toward their degree while staying in the workforce.
  • An online MBA typically runs at a lesser cost than a traditional, full-time MBA.
  • In addition to being flexible and accessible, those programs can also complement a student's career with relevant skills in real time.

More schools are adding online master of business administration (MBA) degrees geared toward working professionals, adding to a growing nationwide trend.

Kean University in New Jersey and Northwestern College in Iowa both recently announced plans to launch online MBA programs in fall 2024. Those schools come from vastly different parts of the higher education landscape: Kean University a mid-sized public university on the East Coast and Northwestern College a small private college in the Midwest.

Both schools emphasized flexibility for working professionals in announcing the online MBA programs. Northwestern College's program is "geared toward young professionals who have 2-10 years of work experience," and the Kean University program will provide "working professionals and recent graduates a fast track to achieving an advanced degree."

The MBA has long been the gold standard for graduate business education, featuring broad instruction on leadership and often including specialized concentrations in high-demand areas like business analytics or supply chain management.

The traditional program format features full-time, in-person classes — but with the COVID-19 pandemic and an increasing demand for online education, a growing number of schools are adopting online programs.

Online MBA programs often feature asynchronous classes and are typically designed to allow students to work toward their degree while maintaining their full-time jobs. An online MBA program comes with benefits in addition to flexibility: Tuition for part-time, online MBAs tends to be less than in-person, full- or part-time MBAs.

But flexibility and accessibility aren't the only benefits of an online MBA. Those programs can also serve to boost students' careers in real time.

Online MBAs Complement Professional Students' Work

Ralf Wilhelms, a professor at the Lake Superior State University Lukenda School of Business, told BestColleges that online MBA programs can build off students' existing careers and make work part of the educational experience.

Lake Superior State is set to debut its own online MBA program, also aimed at working professionals, later this year. The program will feature asynchronous learning, as well as opportunities for collaboration and networking with fellow cohort members.

Allowing students to work toward their degree while staying in their careers is a learning experience in and of itself, Wilhelms said.

"One of the more effective ways of educating students for the workforce is internships, simulations, and so on," Wilhelms said in an interview.

In crafting Lake Superior State's online MBA program, Wilhelms said faculty sought a way to build a custom experience around students' careers.

"We want to continue to have them work, and the education part will tie in with their work through simulations, through specific tasks or applications of concepts that they now have to apply at their work," Wilhelms said.

That means the program will provide real-time value to students. Wilhelms noted that MBA students come from a wide variety of professions and backgrounds. Someone with an engineering degree who wants to move into a leadership role, for instance, might need to learn about management and human resources.

Wilhelms also hopes that online MBA programs, with live feedback from working professionals and tailored toward their individual careers, will help higher education and employers synchronize around key skills.

Wilhelms noted that there has been a stark misalignment in the country between higher education and employers.

Previous Gallup research showed that an overwhelming majority of college chief academic officers believe that their institutions are very or somewhat effective at preparing students for the workforce — compared with only a small percentage of business leaders.

That study, and the need for employer-relevant skills, helped shape Lake Superior State's workplace-tailored MBA program, Wilhelms said.

Colleges Across the Country Roll Out Online MBAs

Lake Superior State, Kean University, and Northwestern College join a growing number of schools adding flexible, online options geared toward working professionals.

Washington University in St. Louis (WashU) plans to debut a new Flex MBA program with hybrid learning options for students in fall 2024, with WashU Olin Business School Vice Dean Andrew Knight saying in a release earlier this year that "demand for flexible part-time graduate degree programs has skyrocketed in recent years."

A host of other schools across the country are offering similar flexibility-focused programs. Texas A&M's Mays Business School is also planning to launch its own Flex Online MBA program in 2024.

While a number of major public and private institutions have embraced flexibility-oriented online programs, those programs are increasingly rolling out at regional schools like Northwestern College and Kean University.

North Dakota State University (NDSU) announced plans for an online MBA format later this year, with NDSU College of Business Dean Kathryn Birkeland saying that the program "will empower professionals to elevate their careers while accommodating their busy schedules."

The University of Jamestown, also in North Dakota, likewise plans to launch an online MBA program this year featuring microcredentials that students will be able to apply to their careers in real time.