The Best Ways to Reduce the Cost of an Online MBA

From business school scholarships to corporate funding, there are plenty of ways to pay for an Online MBA

The difficult financial outlook, with inflation soaring around the world and the danger of a severe global recession increasing, will have sharpened minds on the costs of an Online MBA. While these degrees can lead to big jumps in salary for those who enroll in them, they can also be expensive.

Traditionally, employers have been willing to fund these degrees because online students work part-time and keep generating value for the organization. And so far, business schools say that the threat of a looming economic downturn has not killed that major perk for employees. 

That is because employers are using tuition fee assistance as a way to hold on to their star performers in a tight labor market with high rates of employment and attrition.

“As the job market remains strong, many employers are looking for ways to not only attract top talent but retain them as well. We are seeing more students in our Online MBA program receiving an increasing amount of financial support from their employer,” says Kate Eaton, assistant dean of MBA programs in the W. P. Carey School of Business, Arizona State University.

She says it is important to note, however, that this varies greatly and will often depend on the employee’s length of time with the company and may also include a stipulation of continuous employment attached. This means that staff who receive funding for an MBA are required to stay with the company for a predetermined period of time, or have to pay back some or all of the tuition fees.

Immense benefits to corporate sponsorship

With that said, there are still immense benefits to corporate sponsorship — for both the employee and their employer. “From the employee perspective, a key benefit is the lowered cost of tuition. However, corporate sponsorship also signals an investment in the employee’s growth and promotes loyalty. The student also gets the experience of being able to take what they are learning and apply it to their work from day one,” says Eaton.

“From the employer perspective, supporting corporate sponsorship is critical to talent and professional development,” she adds. “If a company invests in the education of its workforce, they will have a workforce that is more effective, more efficient and more likely to stay with the company.”

At Vlerick Business School in Belgium, the number of Online MBA participants sponsored by their company has remained relatively stable, despite the macroeconomic headwinds. But some online candidates will turn down offers of sponsorship to preserve their career mobility.

“Compared to our Executive MBA participants, more Online MBA participants pay for their studies themselves because they want complete flexibility – not only in terms of study format but also where this takes them career-wise,” says Yolanda Habets, head of MBA programs at Vlerick.

But she still says that corporate sponsorship can be a win-win for both the company and the Online MBA participant, as it increases the employee’s commitment to applying their new skill sets to the job and sharing their learnings with the broader organization.

Tips for securing tuition fee assistance

So how can candidates secure funding from their employers for an Online MBA? “Talk first to your supervisor or your company’s HR representative to gain an understanding of what is currently available. Share your career goals and the ways you plan to apply the knowledge you’ll gain from an MBA in your role and how it will support the company,” says Eaton, at the W. P. Carey School.

“If your organization doesn’t offer any sponsorship opportunities, suggest they start,” she suggests. “Programs to support employees can take many shapes, and it is even possible for companies to partner with an institution for little to no financial investment. For example, employees from our partner organizations receive application fee waivers and scholarships.”

But students should also recognize that while full sponsorship is still available at some firms, it is likely that the employee will have to shoulder some of the cost of the Online MBA themselves. “Therefore, the MBA should be viewed as an investment — typically an investment that will return in dividends,” Eaton adds.

Where Online MBAs are concerned, tuition fees can differ quite a bit, depending on the business school. “If you are concerned about the financial aspect, it might be tempting to just go for the lowest tuition fee,” says Habets at Vlerick. "However, make sure the program includes the elements that are important to you, such as dedicated sessions with faculty instead of pre-recorded content.” 

Scholarships up the ante

It also pays to explore all scholarship options, she adds. The talent wars are not just between companies — it also exists between Online MBA programs, which are offering financial aid to the best and brightest applicants to their courses. 

“The more competitive an applicant is in the admissions process, the more likely they are to receive scholarship awards,” says Tad Brinkerhoff, assistant dean for master’s programs at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. “Outstanding communication skills, strong professional experience, leadership, and demonstrated academic prowess all increase the chance for scholarship funding.”

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