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Is an online MBA right for you?

So you want to make the next step in your career, but can’t afford to go back to full-time study? Read this article to understand if an online MBA is your ticket to a career change or promotion.

It’s no secret a Master of Business Administration (MBA) can open doors. The 2018 Corporate Recruiters Survey published by GMAC found 81% of 1066 surveyed employers across 42 countries were planning on hiring MBAs that year. Of those hiring, 75% planned to place their recruits in mid-level positions. Remuneration also tended to improve. The report found, “Around the world, MBA graduates continue to command a premium salary, relative to direct-from-industry hires and bachelor degree hires”. But do online MBAs offer the same edge as traditional face-to-face programs? We’ll consider this by addressing a number of points:

  • The online MBA structure
  • Skill relevance

  • Opportunity cost

  • Return on investment

After reading this article you will be equipped to make a more informed decision. 

The online MBA structure

For this section, we’ll walk through what a good online MBA entails, using Griffith University’s accelerated online program as an example. Although variation between institutions is inevitable, Griffith University’s model focuses on three core values crucial to business practice:

  1. Responsible leadership

  2. Sustainable business practices

  3. An Asia-Pacific perspective

Griffith’s 100% online accelerated MBA takes two years of part-time study to complete. The degree consists of 12 courses, the first four of which make up the Graduate Certificate in Business Administration, followed by eight courses to complete the MBA. Students enrol in one course at a time over a six-week teaching block, meaning they focus solely on one subject area of expertise at a time.

Courses

Sustainability: Adaptive Thinking

Marketing

People

Accounting: Integrated Reporting

Data Analysis

Doing Business Across the Asia-Pacific

Economics

Finance

Innovation for Impact

Leadership: Responsibility and Change

Managerial Problem Solving

Strategy

Online students have access to a dedicated online student portal, which contains all of their course content, readings and assessments. They use a digital learning environment that hosts course materials and facilitates cohort interaction through discussion boards. They network with one another through Microsoft Teams, and can participate in online classrooms through Blackboard Collaborate sessions outside business hours, with minimal impact on their work life. 

Classes are delivered via video chat, allowing students to see and speak with each other, facilitating interactivity and networking. Attendees are expected to contribute their experiences and insights to class discussions. If students ever miss scheduled online classes, it’s possible to catch up later, as they’re all recorded. 

There aren’t any exams, but there are practical, authentic assessments that students can use in relation to their current or future roles. 

There’s no difference in course content or lecturers between Griffith’s on-campus and online programs, and both modes of study provide ample support services, including ‘Smarthinking’. This is a free online tutoring service, providing 24/7 support to Griffith University students to help improve their writing skills, should they need it. 

Accelerated online students will have access to an assigned Student Support Advisor, who acts as a kind of hybrid between a counselor and a tutor. These Advisors aid students in coping with stress and study obligations as well as helping them create strategies to improve their grades. 

Skill relevance

Measuring the importance of the skills an MBA provides comes down to your personal and professional goals. 

  • If you’re a budding entrepreneur looking to ‘start up’, you’ll likely want to bolster skills or knowledge you currently lack but know are important to the success of your venture, such as strategy, people or leadership. 

  • If you’re a marketing manager wanting to understand your audience better, data analysis is just one of the curriculum items that could help. 

  • If you’re a middle manager looking to move into a senior position, managerial problem solving, leadership and strategy skills may be exactly what you need. 

To measure the value of MBA skills to you, start by identifying gaps between skills required for your future career ambitions and those you currently have. If you can map your skill deficit to the learning outcomes of specific MBA courses then, in the absence of other considerations, it’s probably a sound move. 

So let’s say the mode of delivery appeals to you and the skills you stand to develop are applicable to your goals. Is it still the best use of time?

Opportunity cost

How best to spend your time comes down to many things, such as how committed you are to your career, how much time you want; with family; on the weekend; with hobbies or any number of personal pursuits. Let’s begin with your career.

If you already have experience running a business and don’t see any gaps in your knowledge that are impeding progress, the skills from an MBA may not be as valuable. Time spent with online classes could instead be allocated to implementing business improvement initiatives, be they operational, team focused, or strategic. However, perhaps the reason you haven’t implemented some of these business improvement initiatives is because you feel you don’t have the experience, skills or knowledge to make good decisions in fields outside your traditional domain. Studying an MBA part-time and online can give you the confidence and knowledge to immediately start to implement changes at work, therefore increasing the rate of improvement to your business, rather than slowing it down.

Despite the flexibility that studying online offers you, doing an MBA means significant time devoted to study at the cost of other interests and your personal life. This may be the hardest part to analyse, as it depends entirely on your values. Do you have holidays planned, or personal obligations you’d rather fulfill? Do you volunteer anywhere? Do you want to launch that new side business? Only you know the answer.

On the other hand, skills you develop whilst studying an MBA can actually be used to improve your personal life. MBAs are designed to develop rational, calm ways of reasoning that are applicable to many situations, business or otherwise. The course provides ways to solve problems without getting overwhelmed. It also emphasises the importance of effective communication, which can enhance interpersonal relationships. For both professional and personal reasons, MBAs deserve consideration.

Return on investment

In 2018, PostgradAustralia conducted payback period analysis on full-time MBAs in Australia, finding students were generally better off after a period of five years on average.

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The study considered the cost of tuition fees and the opportunity cost of lost earnings while studying, with the prospect of salary increases after graduation. However, since the analysis was looking at offline MBAs, we need to think about how online might be different. On one hand, the accelerated online MBA degree is offered part-time, so for most students, we can ignore the opportunity cost of lost earnings. Better yet, evidence shows that the perception of online MBAs is starting to change (p124).

Professor Guy Forde from the University of Sydney believes ROI is challenging to measure given the diversity of goals within today’s MBA graduates. 

“It is a difficult measure when you are judging the value that someone brings to society by their income,” Forde said. “We have all kinds of candidates – those that want to start their own business, work for a not-for-profit or scientists who want to learn how to commercialise their work. It is hard to measure a pay rise in that sense.”

Forde is correct in saying an ROI is difficult to quantify, but if you do choose to look at these statistics, the evidence still supports a favourable business case for MBAs and postgraduate business education in general. The chart below shows average annual income for Australians employed in the business sector, those with and without a postgraduate degree. While earnings slightly favour those with only a bachelor's degree early on in their career, this quickly changes, with postgraduate qualifications out earning their bachelor degree level counterparts by early-mid career.

Chart

So, is an online MBA right for you?

There’s a lot to consider when assessing if an online MBA is the right degree for you. However, you should now have a better idea of what an online MBA entails, what skills you can acquire, and what the likely rewards are. To summarise the key takeaways:

  • High levels of support exist with a program like the 100% accelerated online MBA at Griffith, so whether you need low or high touch support, there will always be an option tailored to your needs.

  • If you have clear career goals in mind, then your MBA should be focused on those goals. If your priorities are focused on areas that an MBA doesn’t cover, then it may not be the right time to consider the qualification yet.

  • Consider the impacts of an online MBA on your personal and professional commitments. Opportunity costs will need to be considered and traded off before you commit.

  • There’s a favourable business case for those that complete postgraduate business studies, like an online MBA, as you move further into your career.

Whether you choose an online MBA, a traditional face-to-face MBA, or none at all is entirely up to you; your journey is your own. If you can clearly reason why or why it is not the right decision, then regardless of what may come, you’ll have done yourself a service. Good luck!