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Is an Online MBA Worth It?

A woman who earned an online MBA holding a tablet and working on a laptop.

Whether or not to pursue an advanced degree such as a Master of Business Administration, or MBA, is a big decision. There are many factors to consider – personal, professional and financial among them – including the realities of a changing U.S. labor market.

Some of the benefits of getting an MBA include:

  • Having a recognized credential that can help you advance professionally
  • Increasing your versatility and stability in the job market
  • Growing your professional network
  • Experiencing a potential salary bump

“The MBA remains the premier degree for business students,” said Dr. Mark F. Hobson, senior associate dean of business at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). “It provides learners with the opportunity to develop knowledge, skills and abilities that employers seek in generalists, specialists, strategists or entrepreneurs.”

The pathway to earning this degree has traditionally meant enrolling full time in a 1- or 2-year MBA program to attend classes on campus. But learners today can opt for the convenience and affordability offered by online MBA programs.

Why the Time Is Right to Get Your MBA Online

Clare Greenlaw and the text Clare Greenlaw“Traditional 2-year MBA programs require a higher investment – of time and money – upfront,” said Clare Greenlaw, MBA, associate dean of SNHU’s MBA program.

By contrast, “high-quality, accredited online MBA programs allow you to reduce that upfront investment and give you the flexibility to work when and where you need – all while providing the same level of rigor as a traditional on campus MBA,” he said.

In other words, on campus and online education formats result in essentially the same degree but serve audiences with distinct needs. The flexibility of online MBA programs is particularly valuable for adults who are managing or balancing some combination of:

  • Personal goals and wellbeing
  • Family commitments
  • Work responsibilities
  • Career ambitions
  • Financial considerations

“The people considering an online MBA typically have established careers and other obligations. They can’t quit their job to go to school full time,” Greenlaw said. Yet they recognize that the quantitative knowledge, problem-solving skills and emotional intelligence that develop as part of pursuing an MBA can open doors for them in the future.

For these motivated learners, an online MBA degree program can be a game-changer. “We have students listen to audio texts during their commute or complete assignments when their children are sleeping,” Hobson said.

And it’s not just individuals who benefit from online learning opportunities – businesses are also seeing the return on investment that can come with online graduate degree work.

“The hard skills required for businesses to succeed are constantly changing with advances in technologies. That means workers today need to access education more frequently than they used to in the past,” said Greenlaw.

As a result, more companies are investing in their employees to ensure their workforce stays current. “An online MBA program is one way to do that, especially because the cost and risk of acquiring a good employee is so much greater than upskilling or reeducating a good current employee. Organizations of various sizes and from various industries send their employees to us for competitive, cost-effective, just-in-time online education and career development at every level,” Greenlaw said.

But Is an Online MBA Taken Seriously?

Online learning continues to make inroads in higher education, with more than 6.6 million students taking distance education courses at degree-granting institutions in fall 2017, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Mark Hobson and the text Mark Hobson.“The COVID-19 pandemic has created a great challenge for traditional on campus higher education,” said Hobson. “Online learning is a ‘new normal’ and an online MBA from an accredited school is usually highly respected by academics and employers. In my opinion, the number of employers that hire and promote people with online MBAs will only increase.”

So, ultimately, does it matter where you get your MBA?

“A traditional Ivy League type of MBA program may have great cachet, especially with certain employers. But it may also cost 10 to 15 times more than an accredited, rigorous online MBA program,” said Hobson. “Plus, you have to be accepted, and not everyone who wants a traditional MBA can meet those standards.”

Alternatively, “our MBA model is very progressive,” Hobson said. “If you have the motivation and are willing to put in the time, effort and work – regardless of your academic or professional background – we’ll teach you the necessary hard skills and human skills to overcome business challenges.”

For employers, meanwhile, “the MBA credential on a person’s resume can reduce some of the uncertainty inherent in the hiring process,” said Greenlaw. That’s because an online MBA degree – whether completed at an Ivy League institution or another school – signals to employers and the public a level of dedication and hard work on the learner’s part in addition to his or her mastery of the interconnectedness of business functions, processes and people.

So, Is It Worth Doing an Online MBA?

It depends, of course, on your goals, priorities and financial situation, among other considerations. But for Benjamin Hulefeld '19MBA, “the answer is unequivocally yes,” he said.

After finishing his undergraduate degree in international affairs and Spanish, Hulefeld “graduated right in time for the 2008 recession,” he said. Although he landed a job with a financial company, he quickly realized that work in the financial sector wasn’t for him. So, Hulefeld moved to the Dominican Republic where he had an opportunity to try his hand at work that was more aligned with his undergraduate studies.

Benjamin Hulefeld and the text Benjamin Hulefeld.During his 10-year sojourn abroad, he worked for an environmental nonprofit and then a healthcare startup before being recruited by Ochsner Health System to do business development work throughout the Caribbean. “My boss at Ochsner told me that if I wanted to rise through the ranks, I needed to have those three letters – MBA – after my name,” he said.

Hulefeld said he was an “unlikely online MBA student,” in part because of a learning disability that made standardized testing difficult and caused him to question his ability to succeed in an online learning environment. When researching potential online MBA programs, it was important for him to find an affordable option at an established nonprofit institution that had a robust academic and student support system. Optional GRE or GMAT scores was another plus.

At age 31, he enrolled part time in SNHU’s online MBA program.

During the two and half years it took for him to complete his online MBA, Hulefeld continued working full time in the Dominican Republic, got married and became a father, lost his own father and also began investigating the prospect of a career working for the U.S. Department of State as a foreign service officer.

“My goal was honestly to get in and get out with a degree,” he said. “But the experience ended up being so much more for me. I became very active in extracurricular groups, especially the Student Advisory Board. That was a tremendous additional and unexpected benefit of my degree – to be part of an engaged learning community.”

In short, he said, “I was able to balance life, work and school – and I learned a lot.” Meanwhile, his program advisor called monthly to check in and make sure he stayed on track to succeed.

“There were times when it wasn’t easy to keep going,” he said. “But the message I got from the faculty, my advisors and fellow students was the same: Education opens doors for you. It can change your life, especially in a competitive job market like we’re seeing now.”

Hulefeld had his MBA degree conferred on November 1, 2019. Within that same month, the State Department offered him a job as a foreign service officer, a position that came with a significant salary bump based on his years of relevant professional experience and on his highest degree earned. He now counts himself among the approximately 13% of U.S. adults who hold an advanced degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“This degree ended up being exactly what I needed at this point in my life,” Hulefeld said.

Sofia Tokar is a freelance copywriter and editor in higher education. Follow her on Twitter @stokar or connect on LinkedIn.

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