Free MBA Programs
There is pushback in the U.S. to the high cost of college. Many people today still feel that there is value to a college education, but there are also many people in this country whose lives have been destroyed under the heavy load of student debt. Not every graduate is able to find employment in their field, yet they still have student loan debt payments. They are unable to marry, have families and buy homes. This new reality is making people examine alternatives to the costs of traditional college degree programs, such as MBAs.
One promising alternative that has been developing over the past 10 years is the emergence of MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses. Major universities have begun to offer these courses that are often free and only require payment of a fee to receive a certificate of completion. At the major universities, MOOCs are taught by the same faculty that is teaching their traditional course offerings. This is an interesting prospect to help students receive the advantages of an MBA program without the cost.
MOOCs are only one alternative to a free or relatively free MBA program. The following examines the current options for students who desire or need to find an MBA program that does not force them into crippling debt.
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What Are the Options for Free or Relatively Free MBAs?
There are pros and cons to each of the options for a free or very inexpensive MBA. The list is ordered by the perceived value to prospective employers of each option.
Free MBA Option #1 – Full-Ride Scholarship at a Traditional MBA Program
The reason a full-ride scholarship to a traditional MBA program is the best option is that you end up with a real MBA, not a certificate as you would receive if you attended a MOOC. According to anecdotal evidence, employers are beginning to see more applicants who are presenting certificates that prove they received the same training that students would receive if they attended a traditional MBA program. The question is, “Will the employers accept the MOOC MBA certifications as readily as the traditional MBA?” Usually, the answer in the job market is, “It depends upon need.” If there are too many applicants and not enough jobs, employers are going to likely be more swayed by the traditional MBA. If there aren’t enough candidates with MBA training, employers are more likely to look at the candidates who have MOOC certifications.
A full-ride scholarship means a scholarship that takes care of your tuition, school fees, books, and living expenses. Thus, a full-ride scholarship is indeed a free MBA. One suggestion is that you look for a full-ride scholarship that does not limit the monetary amount. This would allow you to attend a top business school in the country for your MBA. Employers value graduates of the top MBA programs in the country more highly than graduates from less well-known programs. U.S. News and World Report has a list of the top business schools in the country, ranked by the rates of employment by graduates, program selectivity, and the program’s reputation.
One note that applies to every MBA option on the list is that students need to consider the specialization that they pursue with their MBA. Students who pick MBA programs that provide them coursework in specializations that are highly prized and in demand in the job market will fare better than those who simply pursue a general MBA. Currently, highly-prized specializations within MBA programs include technology with an emphasis on data analysis, finance, entrepreneurship, marketing, and healthcare management. The caveat with the latter specialization is that candidates might be better served to pursue a more specialized Master’s in Healthcare Administration or Healthcare Management than an MBA if that is their goal.
Top MBA Universities Offering Full-Ride Scholarships
- Rice University
- University of Notre Dame
- Vanderbilt University
- Washington University, St. Louis
- University of Michigan
- Stanford University
- Arizona State University
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- University of Florida
- University of Chicago
- University of Minnesota
- Indiana University
- University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
- Texas A&M University
- Emory University
- University of Virginia
- Carnegie Mellon University
- Brigham Young University
- Dartmouth College
- Cornell University
- University of Texas, Austin
- University of California, Los Angeles
- Southern Methodist University
- Georgetown University
- Yale University
- Columbia University
- New York University, Stern
- University of Missouri, Kansas
Full-Ride MBA Scholarship Sources
- Forte Fellows Program – Supplies scholarships to women pursuing MBAs.
- The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management – Full-ride scholarships for minority students pursuing MBAs.
- National Black MBA Association Graduate Scholarship Program – For minority students.
Free MBA Option #2 – Employer-Paid MBAs
There are employers who will pay for the cost of an employee’s MBA. You will need to carefully examine any contract you have to sign in order to receive the funds and ensure that you are willing to comply with the agreement. Also, you will need to determine if your employer is going to reimburse the cost of tuition after you pass the course or if they will pay for tuition when it is due.
Employers That Pay for Your MBA Program
- The Boston Consulting Group
- Chevron – Pays 80 percent of tuition
- Robert W. Baird & Co.
Free MBA Option #3 – MOOC Programs
As explained above, taking a bunch of MOOCs will not provide you with a piece of paper that states you have an MBA. But, you can take MOOCs that are the equivalent of an entire MBA program. Most MOOCs will allow you to pay for a certificate that shows you passed the course. Again, whether an employer will hire someone with the equivalent knowledge and learning that has MOOC certifications versus someone with a traditional MBA is going to be based upon the need of the employer and the potential candidate pool for the job. It is for this reason that your elective coursework should provide you with the skills in order to have a specialization that is in demand by employers.
Sites that will have available MOOCs and/or collections of MBA coursework include edX, Coursera.org, Open Education Consortium, and OpenCourseWare. There are entire MBA programs available and other sources where one must cobble together all the courses you will need. An interesting article by OnlineCourseReport explains how to cobble together all of the required courses from Wharton School of Business, the most highly-rated business school in the country. That leaves just finding the best elective coursework to provide you with an in-demand MBA specialization.
The nice thing is that 10 years after the advent of MOOCs, many top universities are offering coursework through MOOCs that are taught by their regular faculty.
One thing that you need to realize is that you will need more independence and determination in order to complete a MOOC than if you were taking the course on campus. If you are someone who has difficulty completing homework for in-person classes, you are not going to be a good candidate to complete the coursework required for an entire MBA through a MOOC. In fact, only 10 percent of students who begin a MOOC successfully finish the course.
Some of the Better MOOC Sources
These particular MOOC sources were chosen because they contained coursework from some of the top universities in the nation:
- Blackboard Open Education
- Carnegie Mellon University – Open Learning Initiative
- Canvas Network
- Class Central – Class Central is a great search engine and review site that provides a gateway to the best MOOCs.
- Kennesaw State University MOOC
- MIT Open Courseware
- Stanford University
- Yale Open Courses
Other Free MBA Alternatives
University of the People
This is another “free” MBA alternative. It has some very high-powered backing, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Many on the board of directors are from top-ranked universities throughout the country. The stated mission is to provide quality education to those who may be locked out by prohibitive costs.
UoP has an MBA program with a certification fee at the end of each course of $200. Even those modest fees can be waived by scholarships that are provided by UoP. Students are allowed to work either full-time or part-time on their program. Full-time students will complete the program in 15 months.
The concern that this writer and veteran educator has with the program is that the professors are “volunteers” who only receive such a small stipend for their required efforts per week that it amounts to about $3 to $4 an hour. It does not make sense why a program with such a powerful foundation behind it would not pay for faculty. One has to wonder how much effort your “professor” will provide each week in order to give feedback for your efforts. It is for this reason that I would recommend the Wharton MOOC system described in the OnlineCourseReport article or something similar because your instructors are fully paid faculty at the Wharton School of Business. They won’t cut corners.
Smartly is an entirely free, unaccredited MBA program by the same people responsible for Rosetta Stone language learning programs. There are no lectures to view. One must interactively do all of the coursework online. It is one of the most selective programs of higher education in the nation, only selecting 7 percent of applicants to its program. Students have an average GMAT score of over 700 and have impressive business resumes. The program can be completed in just nine months. Smartly will receive revenue from headhunting fees by employers of its graduates, which currently number around 2,000.
Overall, the best advice is to have great grades, GMAT scores, work history, and demonstrated leadership qualities to land a full-ride scholarship at one of the top MBA programs in the nation. Then, one can count on the likelihood of employment, even in a down economy. Barring that, there is also the smaller possibility of gaining employment at one of the companies that will provide you with a full-ride scholarship. If neither of these is an option, anyone can work their way through MOOCs and pay for certifications that will provide the equivalent knowledge that someone with the MBA degree paper hanging on their wall possesses. The difference is that you cannot depend upon employers finding comfort in those certificates and hiring you. Employment for someone with a MOOC MBA-equivalent certification is going to be dependent upon the job market and the specializations that the candidate possesses.
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