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Online vs. Traditional MBAs: What’s the Difference?

Online vs. Traditional MBAs: What’s the Difference?

Are online degrees accepted for MBA programs? Rating online MBA programs against traditional programs may be getting easier, experts say, because a growing group of people-from college officials to employers-think they're on a par with each other.

By Kristina Cowan | PayScale Contributing Writer

Distance learning is on the up and up. Not only are a record number of students engaging in higher education online-more and more college officials think distance learning is as good as or better than traditional classroom learning, according to a recent study.

In fall 2005, nearly 3.2 million students took at least one online course, up from 2.3 million the year before, says “Making the Grade: Online Education in the United States, 2006,” published by The Sloan Consortium. The study, based on responses from more than 2,200 colleges and universities, shows 62 percent of chief academic officers rating learning outcomes from online education as “the same or superior to those in face-to-face” learning. In 2003, 57 percent of the academic leaders felt that way.

But are online degrees, and particularly those earned through online MBA programs, worth the same as traditional degrees?

Yes, many experts say: there’s no difference. According to some proponents, online distance learning is more rigorous than classroom learning, and draws more disciplined students.

Experts see the uptick in online distance education as a good thing, especially for busy working professionals who want advanced degrees but don’t have time or money to leave their jobs and families for traditional classrooms.

“A lot of traditional schools require students to take a year or two off. But a lot of adult learners can’t break from everything to go back to school,” explained Dr. Rebecca Sidler, faculty chair of the MBA program at Walden University’s School of Management. Founded in 1970, Walden is a distance-learning institution that offers doctorates and master’s degree programs in a variety of disciplines, including education, management, and psychology, among others.

Dr. Diana G. Oblinger, vice president of Educause, a nonprofit group focused on advancing higher education through technology, said online MBA programs have limitless possibilities.

“You have the ability to bring in experts that you’d not be able to bring into a classroom. You’d be able to integrate people from around the world,” Oblinger said. “Online MBA programs have begun to do some very creative things because space and time aren’t limiting the programs. If I wanted to bring someone in from China, they’re not going to be up at 2 a.m. talking to me, but you can record the information and distribute it to people and have an online discussion.” Do Employers Accept Online MBA Programs?

While distance education has been scrutinized in the past, experts say it’s more widely embraced nowadays, including among employers.

“There is no unique difference for an online grad versus a fixed facility grad for similar degrees,” said Michael P. Lambert, executive director of the Distance Education and Training Council, a nationally recognized accrediting agency for online institutions. “There is no difference where they will end up working or [what they’ll end up] earning because they learned it online.”

Chris Consorte, who teaches both online and traditional MBA students, agreed.

“In my experience there’s no difference in salaries. I find it depends on the person. A very aggressive student usually leverages his or her degree and finds a job making more and more money,” explained Consorte, who teaches at Iona College, Mercy College and Long Island University, all in New York state. Pluses and Minuses of Distance Learning

Though online distance learning is enjoying broader support, there are some drawbacks.

The Sloan study cites barriers to the widespread adoption of online distance learning. Topping the list is the concern that “students need more discipline to succeed in online courses”-64 percent of all institutions see it as a significant hurdle. The number-two concern is the extra time and effort that online faculty spend; 32 percent of schools think this is a problem.

Other disadvantages include lack of face-to-face feedback and in-person activities with peers, and loneliness, according to DETC’s Lambert, who also said, “The few drawbacks are more than offset by the convenience features.”

Experts say benefits of online distance learning include savings on time and money-no commuting, gas money or parking fees are required. And some students just function better online.

“Online there’s anonymity, you can interact and participate, and you can be whoever you want to be. For some people it’s a more comfortable environment for them to study in,” said Walden’s Sidler.

Another plus is the increased earning power an MBA brings. According to 2007 statistics from the Graduate Management Admission Council, a nonprofit group that owns the GMAT, MBA graduates who have gotten job offers typically earn 58 percent more than before they got their degrees.

PayScale data show the median salary for individuals with MBA degrees is $78,782.

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