More MBA students are Studying Closer to Home in the Pandemic

For some, localization undermines the cosmopolitan experience of business school

A growing number of working professionals are fleeing the economic downturn and enrolling in business schools to upgrade their credentials. However, unlike in past recessions, many of those flocking to MBA programs this year are staying closer to home in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The trend of localization is problematic for business schools because it undermines the cosmopolitan experience, one of the hallmarks of a top MBA degree. In a globalized world, executives will travel across the world to study together with a diverse cohort of high fliers to gain a global perspective.

However, that diversity is now under threat, at least in the short-term. Last year, two thirds of MBA programs around the world reported a rise in domestic demand, but only half noted an increase in overseas applications, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council.

“The Covid-19 restrictions induced some candidates to choose programs closer to their home,” says Andrea Masini, associate dean for MBA programs at HEC Paris. He reports a 36 percent increase in applications from France in 2020. This led to a “significant” uptick in the number of European students compared to 2019.

He puts this down to a number of international candidates deferring their entrance due to travel constraints. This undermined strong overseas demand, with HEC noting that applications from Africa and Latin America were up by 47 percent and 43 percent, respectively. The challenge now will be to convince these students to take up their place next year. […]

At MIP, the Graduate School of Business of Politecnico di Milano, the dean Federico Frattini says there are enough Italian students to substitute for the school’s overseas exposure. He reports a slight decrease in international applications, but insists that the drop was offset by a 13 percent rise in domestic demand due to coronavirus uncertainty.

“In the last few years, we focused mainly on international candidates. Now, we are back to Italian students. But we hope the situation will be temporary,” says Frattini, noting that students may be keen to return to in-person study when the crisis, which has underscored the need for human connection, abates. […]

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How to Pay for an Online MBA

Budget cuts caused by coronavirus are (sometimes) making corporate sponsorship scarcer, and scholarships can be hard to find. Here’s some tips on how you can pay for your Online MBA. Although the payoff can be huge, studying for an MBA, even an online program, is a long-term investment that requires significant sums of money, time and effort.

With coronavirus roiling the world economy, record numbers of people are applying to business schools to improve their credentials. But many of these students, while by no means poor in most cases, will face a harder time funding their studies during a sharp global recession.

“Funding seems to be a pressing concern for candidates. Indeed, we are receiving more requests about loans than in the past,” says Greta Maiocchi, chief customer management officer at MIP Politecnico di Milano, the Italian business school.

Is employer funding for Online MBA programs drying up?

Traditionally, employers have been more willing to pay for their staff to complete a part-time program, such as an Online MBA, over a full-time degree. That’s because online students continue to work, applying their insights on the job in real-time.

However, employer funding is now drying up because of coronavirus. In a recession, companies will cut costs to shore up their bottom line, though not all organizations.

“Some companies have increased their investment in education despite the pandemic, while others — which used to pay for their employees to do a part-time program — are now slowing down,” says Maiocchi.

Matt Wakeman, director of student financial services at Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University in the US, notices a reduction in the level of corporate sponsorship for students working in the oil and gas sector, which is reeling from the collapse in the price of oil.

It hasn’t been all doom and gloom, though. “Several companies with prominent education programs haven’t scaled back at all; some have actually expanded their benefits,” says Wakeman. “Even during difficult economic times, they understand how beneficial it can be to attracting and retaining employees.”

Online MBA funding: loans and other options

Wakeman says his office has seen an increase in the number of students with questions about funding their education.

He is getting more queries about loans, but for opportunistic reasons. “With federal interest rates at historic lows, even students who are fortunate enough to be in a position to pay for their education out of pocket are considering taking out federal loans,” he says.

Last March, America’s Department of Education set student loan interest rates to zero until the end of September 2021. However, such loans are unavailable to overseas students, who make up a minority of students on most Online MBA programs, which tend to attract people who want to study closer to home.

Even bank loans can be difficult to obtain for international students, usually requiring a domestic citizen to co-sign the loan. For this reason, some business schools have struck partnerships with alternative lenders that provide loans with favorable terms for its students.

MIP, for example, works with Prodigy Finance, a peer-to-peer lender which does not require a co-signer, nor collateral. MIP also works with Germany’s Deutsche Bildung, which offers loans with income-linked repayments over a number of years after graduation.

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Top 10 Online MBA Programs for International Diversity

Despite the potential for technology to tear down the geographical barriers to graduate business education, the proportion of overseas students on many Online MBA programs is slim. The exception is in Europe and especially in the UK market, which dominates rankings of Online MBAs and boasts highly diverse student intakes.

In the US, by far the most students live locally to the campus or elsewhere in the country, but they value the flexibility an Online MBA provides: most students continue to earn while they learn on a part-time basis.

Levels of diversity are much higher on Online MBA programs on the European continent, with schools in the UK in particular enrolling the vast majority of their students from overseas. This is the promise of online education, which in theory allows anyone to tune into classes from anywhere in the world.

The reality is that many business schools struggle to do this, because they lack brand recognition overseas with online education still very much in its infancy in some corners of the world. There are exceptions though, and below we’ve ranked the top 10 Online MBAs for international diversity. This diversity can significantly enhance the learning experience of all the students in a program. […]

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Top 10 Online MBA Programs in Europe

North America dominates rankings of the world’s leading full-time MBAs, but Europe has a strong reputation when it comes to digital degrees. The continent is home to a myriad of highly ranked Online MBA programs in several countries from the UK to the Netherlands.

Many of the top digital degrees in Europe are clustered in the UK, which is home to many reputable business schools such as Imperial College in London and Edinburgh Business School in Scotland. But the options for online students span the entire European continent, from Madrid to Milan and Berlin.

A common theme on these courses is innovation, with Online MBAs seen as good preparation for an increasingly digital workplace. Studying online, students can apply what they learn directly into the workplace without delay.

But many of these Online MBAs combine online and offline elements on campus, giving students a chance to sample some of the major European business climates and rich cultures. This helps to form bonds among classes and that translates into a powerful global alumni network. […]

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Employers Warm to Online MBAs in Coronavirus Pandemic

Once seen as second-rate, online education is gaining favor as the corporate world shifts to remote working

The perception among hiring managers that an Online MBA is a second-rate qualification is improving. Historically, companies were skeptical about the early iterations of online learning. Concerns centered on the fact that these degrees often lacked interactivity between participants and teaching faculty.

However, the perception of online programs has certainly evolved in the past few years, according to Julie Neill, assistant director of the Office of Career Services at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “The fact is that graduates receive the same MBA degree and diploma from the institution regardless of the format,” she says. “What does matter greatly, though, is the reputation of the institution which grants the degree and of course, its accreditation.”

Phil Heavilin, executive director of the Career Development Office at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business, agrees. “Indeed, perceptions of quality are closely tied to the program’s institution,” he says. “As more business schools with strong brand reputations, selective admissions and rigorous curriculums launch degrees, the reputation of Online MBA programs will continue to rise.” […]

“The digital transformation imperative for most companies requires the bringing together of technology and management skills,” says Tommaso Agasisti, associate dean for internationalization, quality and services at MIP Politecnico di Milano. “An Online MBA encompasses all of these skills. Therefore, employers perceive the programs as having a great value.”

Coronavirus has forced MIP, like many schools, to invest in career resources to support students who face the difficult task of finding a job during a global economic slump and a pandemic. At most institutions, Online MBA students have access to all the same resources as their counterparts who are studying on campus. This includes individual career coaching, webinars, job postings, networking events and company information sessions.

MIP has added to this roster of support. The Italian school recently hosted a two-day virtual careers fair to connect companies with students. It also created an online portal where companies, students and alumni could access advice, articles and live webinars to help them overcome their current corporate challenges.

Agasisti says: “The support students receive online had, and will continue to be, just as extensive as it would be in person – and, paradoxically, even more.”

He points out that Online MBA students also have distinct advantages, including the chance to have more flexibility in their personal and professional life and the freedom to be unconfined to geographical locations.

“In our hectic world, technology has enhanced our human capability to learn and to engage with each other, and being able to learn online is a privilege that can reap excellent benefits if incorporated into your life effectively,” he says.

At the same time, attending an Online MBA does not mean that you can’t immerse yourself in the community of the school, he concludes. “Online learning is a rich, international experience, and it permits people to break down cultural barriers and to connect from all corners of the world.”

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Top 10 Online MBA Programs for Interactivity

The extent to which Online MBA students interact with each other, their professors and alumni is a key consideration for a prospective candidate. Virtual education has long been criticized for lacking interactivity, but more recently this perception has faded as online courses have improved.

In terms of interactivity, Online MBA technology has been one key driver of this effectiveness leap, with business schools investing heavily in virtual learning environments designed to replicate the quality of classroom discussion on campus. This includes technology such as virtual and augmented reality, with remote students being beamed as holograms to campus in some instances.

Investment in such immersive tools has been increased in the coronavirus pandemic, that forced even campus-based MBAs to innovate and pivot to online instruction. […]

Italy’s Politecnico di Milano School of Management is highly rated for its online interactivity. That is because of its innovative digital platform called “Flexa” that uses artificial intelligence to tailor the learning experience to each student’s educational needs and professional goals. Fittingly, MIP’s Online MBA program focuses on digital transformation and was designed in collaboration with leading technology companies including Amazon and Microsoft.

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Top 10 Online MBA Programs for Salary Growth

Online MBA students tend to be older than full-time candidates and looking for a career acceleration: they enter the programs with relatively high pay and it generally surges higher still on graduation. The increase can be as high as nearly 50 percent after a few years and the actual salary achieved above $200,000 on average.

Online MBA candidates can typically hold down a full-time job while they study part-time, so they do not incur the opportunity cost of not working like their counterparts on full-time campus programs do. So online students keep earning even while learning, applying what they learn directly into the workplace, working towards a promotion.

Finance and banking are the most popular industries pursued after an Online MBA — sectors known to compensate their employees handsomely.

The best Online MBAs for salary growth are often those that are ranked highest by rankings publications like the Financial Times and US News & World Report. This reflects these publications’ rankings methodologies—which tend to prioritize salary increase—but may also raise the esteem of an institution in the eyes of corporate recruiters.

In some cases, Online MBA students also may have access to all the same career services as their counterparts on campus do. This coaching from industry experts can help with securing well-paid jobs. And as Online MBAs are cheaper than residential courses, the absolute return on investment from digital degrees can be far higher too. […]

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How Online MBAs Forge Real-Life Networks

Students are finding that virtual networks can be just as valuable as the real deal

Forging face-to-face networks with students and faculty has long been a big draw to campus-based MBAs. But coronavirus-mandated travel curbs and campus closures are forcing students to embrace virtual learning.

That has long been admired for its flexibility and has been considered more environmentally friendly. But students are finding that virtual networks can be just as valuable as the real deal. A confluence of advances in technology and changing cultural and working norms are boosting the appeal of Online MBAs.

The travel clampdown caused by coronavirus and closure of campuses has made online networking more important than ever. “Now that everything is virtual, networking is an even more vital part of not just the job search, but also to keeping a cadre of allies and advocates ready and willing to bat for you,” says Stephanie Gray, associate director of Graduate Career Services at Indiana University Kelley School of Business.

She says that, with the cancellation of large in-person events such as conferences, students are having to rely more on one-on-one networking, which may be a welcome change for introverts. […]

There are downsides though. Antonella Maria Moretto, associate dean for open programs at MIP Politecnico di Milano in Italy, says that relationships struck in person tend to be stronger and longer lasting because they are more personal. “I am not sure that remote networking is effective as a personal chat to develop these relationships in the long term,” she says.

She believes that virtual networking is simply different, not better or worse than the campus experience. “The coronavirus obliged business schools to start using remote networking,” says Moretto. “After this crisis period, I think we need to learn how to blend together face-to-face with remote networking as these two methods are complementary.” […]

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Online MBA Students Thrive in the Era of Remote Work

Digital degrees can help students collaborate with and lead teams remotely, boosting their employability

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of digital skills in the era of remote work. Online MBAs reflect this new working paradigm and prepare participants for collaborating with and leading teams remotely. “Online collaboration is a vital skill,” says Amy Foster, director of the Online MBA program at North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, which was launched in 2011. “Our students become extremely proficient at collaborating online, often working with peers across geographic boundaries and timezones,” she says. “These skills are increasingly required to conduct business around the world and are valued by employers.”

Demand for the course is high at a time of heightened economic uncertainty and an acceleration of digital working patterns and project-based work. “Part of the increased appeal is an acceptance and realization that remote work is likely to continue beyond the pandemic,” says Foster. “Virtual collaboration in the classroom mimics what is required in the workplace.” […]

Tommaso Agasisti, associate dean for internationalization, quality and services at MIP Politecnico di Milano in Italy, emphasizes the soft skills as well as hard technical abilities. “Online MBA students will become experts in dealing with intense situations, and will master skills such as empathy, resilience and knowing how to motivate and manage teams in person and remotely,” he says. “Ultimately, Online MBA students will learn a huge amount about how to develop dynamic communication skills for an ever changing world.”

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Top 10 Most Affordable Online MBA Programs

Most prospective students choose an Online MBA for the flexibility, but cost is a big factor in their choice. With lower overheads like campus teaching facilities and smaller class sizes curbing the cost of faculty, Online MBAs tend to be just a fraction of the price of their full-time counterparts on campus.

There are wide variations in the price of Online MBA programs. Some schools price them close to the cost of their full-time courses, arguing that this reflects the cost of putting on a high quality course. Prospective students will need to balance cost with quality, and that is what this list seeks to do by presenting the top 10 affordable online programs. While the below aren’t the cheapest Online MBA programs around, they are the most affordable, high-quality programs out there.

Online MBAs have risen to prominence in the coronavirus pandemic, which accelerated uptake after years of slow adoption. Covid-19 forced business schools to invest in upgrading their digital learning environments, which is good news for Online MBA students.

Milan’s MIP puts on the two-year International Flex MBA that is digitally delivered and was designed by a whole host of top companies including Microsoft and Vodafone. The course has core MBA modules in strategy, accounting and the like but its real focus is on digital transformation and features guest lectures from leaders managing digital companies like Amazon.

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