Employers are more critical of online, for-profit schools than of online programs offered by nonprofit schools, according to Remillard. A client once told him that an online MBA from a large for-profit school was "just like an advanced high school degree."
But despite their lack of enthusiasm for online MBA programs, hiring managers understand that online courses from top programs, such as Harvard Business School, are credible, according to Remillard. "If Harvard puts this on, it's probably a high-quality program," he says.
Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, former president of George Washington University and a consultant at the executive recruiting firm Korn/Ferry International, agrees that schools' reputations matter. Still, an online MBA degree is better than no MBA, Trachtenberg says, particularly in government and military roles, where hiring managers care more about applicants having a master's degree—"They need to check a box"—than they do about the subject of the degree or where it is obtained.
[Read about how introverts may find refuge in online MBA programs.]
Ida Byrd-Hill started an online MBA at the for-profit Kaplan University but then transferred to an online executive MBA program at Strayer University, also a for-profit, because Kaplan wasn't rigorous enough for her.
Not only are Strayer's courses harder than her undergraduate classes were at University of Michigan—Ann Arbor, but Hill also thinks online MBAs can be tougher than in-person courses. "On-campus students have the luxury of verbal discussion and debate. Online, the discussion and debate is written, meaning each discussion question is a mini essay," she says.
But that doesn't mean that online MBA programs get the respect that Hill thinks they deserve. "I do not believe online MBAs are valued in the world yet," says Hill, president of Uplift, a nonprofit in Detroit that tries to motivate urban residents to transform their neighborhoods.
However much corporate America focuses on invention, it is slow to accept innovation, according to Hill. "As the corporate world embraces Web conferencing as the norm, and a person can attend any school around the world without leaving [his or her] home," she says, "I believe the online MBA will be valuable within the next 20 years—just not today."
Trying to fund your online education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for Online Education center.