Compare Online, On-Ground Top Business Schools

Some fare better than others at translating their programs to distance education.

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Many highly ranked business schools also offer a top online MBA, but not always.
Many highly ranked business schools also offer a top online MBA, but not always.

Nearly one in four of the country's most highly ranked business schools are also awarding master's degrees to students who will never set foot in a traditional classroom.

This finding comes from comparing the U.S. News 2014 Best Online Graduate Business Programs rankings, published Wednesday, with the 2014 Best Business Schools rankings of full-time MBA programs. 

According to U.S. News data, top-performing schools with full-time MBA programs tend to have higher-ranking online degree programs as well. The top four online business programs are housed in the four highest ranked traditional business schools that award distance education degrees. 

But the correlation is not perfect. For example, the online programs at Auburn University and University of San Diego far exceed expectations by being ranked No. 12 and No. 14, respectively, despite being ranked No. 75 and No. 99, respectively, in the rankings of full-time, on-ground programs. In contrast, DePaul University, George Washington University, Louisiana State University—Baton Rouge and Oklahoma State University are the only four online business programs ranked lower than the corresponding on-ground programs. 

The Best Online Business Programs rankings can be a valuable resource for prospective students. Although advertisements for online education often emphasize the prestige of their parent academic institutions, potential employers can often detect the differences between a degree from a traditional program or an online program on a resume or job application. 

The Best Online Business Programs ranking methodology measures whether a distance education program is truly delivering on its institution's promise by evaluating whether each online program has a critical mass of tenured Ph.D. faculty teaching courses and offers academic and career support services that are the accepted standard for campus-based, traditional programs. 

And since U.S. News published its inaugural numeric rankings of online degree programs in 2013, schools have been promoting their U.S. News Best Online Business Programs rank in their outreach and benefiting from visibility on usnews.com. School officials can now also access their institution's and their peers' historic and current Best Online Programs rankings and data via U.S. News Academic Insights

The differences in ranking performance between the traditional and online business programs are also because the two serve very different groups of students, and as a result, are evaluated differently by U.S. News, which is evident in the two rankings' methodologies

Furthermore, the rankings of full-time, traditional programs only assess MBA curriculum programs at regionally accredited institutions that have program-level accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. The Best Online Business Programs rankings, on the other hand, do not require programs to have that business accreditation to be ranked and assess program-level data from all master's level business degrees – including MBAs – at regionally accredited schools. 

The table below shows all 23 graduate schools within the top 100 of the U.S. News 2014 Best Business Schools full-time programs rankings that also have fully online master's in business degrees ranked by U.S. News.

Business school (name) (state) 2014 Best Business Schools (full-time) rank 2014 Best Online Business Programs rank
Indiana University—Bloomington (Kelley) 22 1
Arizona State University (Carey) 30 2
University of Florida (Hough) 36 3
University of Texas—Dallas 37 4
Boston University 40 8
Pennsylvania State University——University Park 49 17
University of Massachusetts—Amherst (Isenberg) 51 27
George Washington University (DC) 56 64
Temple University (Fox) (PA) 58 9
University of Alabama (Manderson) 58 12
University of Connecticut 58 23
Louisiana State University—Baton Rouge 61 RNP*
Northeastern University (MA) 61 51
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey—New Brunswick and Newark 61 27
Auburn University (AL) 75 12
Syracuse University (Whitman) (NY) 79 39
North Carolina State University (Jenkins) 88 36
Oklahoma State University (Spears) 88 91
Thunderbird School of Global Management (AZ) 88 51
DePaul University (Kellstadt) (IL) 93 RNP
University of Tulsa (Collins) 93 143
Pepperdine University (Graziadio) (CA) 96 73
University of San Diego 99 14

*RNP denotes an institution that is ranked in the bottom one-fourth of all business schools or online business programs. U.S. News calculates a rank for the school but has decided not to publish it.