How do Employers View Online MBA Degrees?

Evidence suggests early skepticism is fading with career progression and salary increases common for graduates of the best programs

According to the Graduate Management Admission Council’s 2021 Corporate Recruiters Survey, only a third of companies valued graduates from Online MBA programs the same as those completing full-time courses, suggesting that the limitations of online education have not been fully addressed.

Even as demand for Online MBA programs continues to grow, these courses have long been dogged by perceptions among some employers, perhaps outdated, that online education is inferior. The pandemic has helped to change attitudes, however, though the GMAC survey shows that not every company is convinced.

Among the highest ranked courses, administrators are adamant that students will ultimately see benefit in terms of the impact on their career progression and salary. At London’s Imperial College Business School, the graduating cohort enjoy an average salary increase of 30 percent shortly after completing their Online MBA.

“Employers are keen to target and connect with talent from top ranked online MBA programs, where students have gained sought-after skills and professional experience during their studies,” says Gemma Robertson, director of employer relations at Imperial’s business school.

Among the most recent graduating cohort, more than three quarters of students changed roles within the first four months of completing the Imperial program, and almost half the cohort successfully change company. A further 15 percent changed industries, with the majority of the class working in finance and technology.

Robertson says the fact that Online MBA students are studying while working enables them to apply their learning immediately in the workplace. She adds: “Our students enhance their digital leadership and virtual communication skills throughout their MBA by leading on projects where their team members are located across the globe.”

Erika Ortu, career development center manager at Milan's MIP Politecnico di Milano Graduate School of Business, agrees: "Digital roles are facing a significant growth and today’s more requested competences are digital and analytical as well as soft skills. Furthermore, we are noticing bright signs of recovery in the European job market, that is evidenced by a positive employment trend for our recent graduates." 

Coronavirus has changed perceptions

GMAC found that more than 20 percent of prospective students it surveyed were more likely to consider online learning because of coronavirus. The growth in demand for digital education has spurred several academic institutions to bring forward their plans to launch Online MBA degrees.

Since 2017, ESMT Berlin in Germany has been investing heavily in educational technologies in response to a growing number of requests from businesses seeking online and blended education. That a number of Online MBA students are having their tuition fees paid by their employer suggests a high degree of busines confidence in the online format.

Rebecca Loades, director of career accelerator programs at ESMT, says completing an Online MBA shows that one is focused and driven. “Should a student decide to change role or company, wise recruiters will see that succeeding in an online program demonstrates ability to be organized, able to priorities competing tasks, and to juggle multiple projects.”

It helps that, at many business schools, online students have access to the same faculty who teach on in-class, full-time MBA programs. “The value of an Online MBA is the value of an MBA, Loades says.”

This means that all career events, alumni, club and other extracurricular activities are open for Online MBA students. Taking part in these events gives students the opportunity to meet with potential employers and connect with business leaders from across different sectors. “Our alumni network will also help them build their professional network on a local and international level,” says Loades.

Nina Canfield, director of employee relations and graduate career services at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business in the US, says employers fall along a continuum when considering online degrees — from skeptical to enthusiastic.  

“During the infancy of online programs, they often failed to attract competitive students and deliver learning experiences that created the level of competency employers were seeking,” she says. “So online education got a bad reputation in early days, and some employers still carry that perception.”

Online MBA programs are getting more competitive

But the fact that more top schools launched Online programs with competitive admissions and academic rigor has bolstered employers’ confidence that they can access a pool of talented professionals who possess the expertise and relevant work experience they are seeking.

In addition, the best Online MBA programs include dedicated graduate career services that cater to learners looking to enhance their online presence, build a strong personal brand, and work with a coach throughout their time in the program via digital communications.

At Kelley, this includes access to online resources for practicing job interviews and professional networking, along with job boards and careers fairs.

“The benefit of an online MBA is that you get the best of both worlds — a robust academic experience and life-long relationships with peers as you would find within a full-time program, plus the flexibility of learning in an online environment,” says Will Geoghegan, interim chair of Kelley’s Online MBA course.

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