April 20, 2024

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that meetings, doctor appointments, exercise classes and school can be done virtually.
MBA programs appear to have perfected the process, with The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania announcing in August that it’s launching a 22-month executive $214,800 MBA in May 2023, where 75% of the program will be online.
“The past two and a half years have proven that high-quality academic programs can successfully extend beyond the traditional in-person classroom experience,” Wharton Dean Erika James says in a statement. “By coupling best-in-class virtual instruction with meaningful residential learning opportunities, we can extend the reach of a Wharton MBA education to even more leaders who are poised to grow economies and transform industries across the globe.”
While Wharton is the first of the elite M7 business schools to launch an online executive MBA degree, there are other schools, such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler, Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business and the University of Florida’s Hough Graduate School of Business, which offer virtual MBA programs. Plenty of others have hybrid programs.
It’s no surprise, however, that a top-five program is offering a mostly online program, as a 2021 survey of more than 80 business school deans found that 89% predicted that this would happen in the next three to four years.
“The Wharton School began trialing online courses with Wharton Direct around the year 2000,” says Peter Winicov, senior director of media relations and reputation management at Wharton. After launching Wharton Online in 2012, Wharton has supported more than 3 million learners worldwide in more than 50-plus courses, he says.
What should students consider before hitting the couch and starting a program virtually?
While virtual learning tends to be more scalable and less expensive for MBA programs (though the latter is not the case for Wharton), virtual classes have their downsides: According to a January 2021 MBA Roundtable study, 88% reported more difficulties in community building and 86% said it was harder to keep students engaged during virtual MBA learning.
Greg Hanifee, associate dean of degree operations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, says in-person education continues to be a central pillar of Kellogg’s programming, but their full-time MBA program continues to use virtual programming—especially when highlighting international guest speakers and for asynchronous resources, specific courses and extended faculty engagement.
“For Kellogg, prioritizing in-person education while weaving in virtual components is most critical for the best educational experience,” Hanifee says.
There are also virtual perks.
An online MBA program typically includes plenty of group work, reflecting a student’s ability to manage collaboration remotely with people they’ve never met in-person across different time zones using technology—which is an increasingly important skill, says Deb Adair, executive director of Quality Matters, a quality-assurance organization focused on online courses.
If you do select an online MBA program, make sure it’s from an AACSB-accredited institution, the highest-level accreditation a business school can attain, says Angela Prazza Winters, assistant dean of student services at UIC Business.
The University of Illinois Chicago, an AACSB-accredited institution, launched its online MBA in fall 2021 and it surpassed the traditional MBA in terms of new students starting in fall 2022.
Prazza Winters says one of the big benefits of the online program is that it allows professionals to continue their education without pausing their career.
“Many of our online students are already working and looking forward to professional development and promotion opportunities within their current company,” she says. “Employers are thrilled to retain their valued employees while they are earning their degrees.”
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