Even As They Proliferate, Online M.B.A.s Remain Controversial

Though some applaud the flexibility and cost of online M.B.A.s, others say their value is inflated.

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Other WGU students and alumni cite unique benefits of online M.B.A.s. David Neville, who works for Utah's Department of Health, says graduating with minimal debt—he paid $12,000 for his WGU M.B.A.—allowed him to be more flexible in his job hunt. Paying off loans of a traditional M.B.A. would have put him in "financial servitude," he says.

Troy Jenkins says as a frequent traveler and husband and father of two teenage boys, he appreciated the program's flexibility. "[T]he majority of my M.B.A. was done in planes, trains, and automobiles, [and] hotel rooms," he says. Though he understands it would be tough to compete with an M.B.A. from Harvard University, he adds, "In most cases, my M.B.A. from WGU and 20-plus years' experience goes a long way. I had multiple companies coming after me when I received my M.B.A."

[Explore the U.S. News guide to online M.B.A.s.]

It's too early to tell what kind of job prospects will face alumni of the Kenan-Flagler Business School's online MBA@UNC, because the program just launched this fall, says Shelly Gorman, director of career management. Recruiters often express "curiosity" about the program's quality before Gorman tells them the online and residential programs have the same curriculum, faculty, and admissions criteria, she says.

"They [then] view the students as innovators—early adopters, if you will—who are both flexible and mobile," she notes.

But Cohen, the career coach in New York, thinks online M.B.A.s have a very different reputation.

"The standards for admission and matriculation are usually far more relaxed than traditional programs—full-time, executive, and part-time," he says. [T]he vetting that is always assumed from the onset in the [online] admissions process cannot be relied on by prospective employers."

Searching for an online university? See a comprehensive list of online programs.

Corrected on 10/31/11: An earlier version of this article misstated the nature of the M.B.A. offered by Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.