BY Sydney LakeMarch 01, 2022, 3:42 PM
Purdue Pete pumps up the crowd during the college basketball game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Purdue Boilermakers, as seen in January 2022. (Photo by Michael Allio—Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)
During the past few years, higher education institutions have been steadily increasing online offerings—which only grew more during the COVID-19 pandemic when professionals and students were forced to work from home. In fact, there are more than 100 schools included on Fortune’s ranking of the best online MBA programs.
Purdue University, which Fortune ranks as having one of the best business schools in the U.S., was right ahead of the curve when it launched its online MBA program in January 2020. Hosted in the Krannert School of Management, Purdue’s online MBA program is smaller than others, with about 225 students currently enrolled.
“Our program is small, so that means students get more attention,” Dilip Chhajed, Krannert’s associate dean of online programs and strategic innovations, tells Fortune. But MBA students can network with students in Purdue’s other master’s programs since they’re allowed to take classes outside of the program—and even earn two degrees at once. “The universe of possible students to network with is large,” he adds.
Purdue isn’t the only school that recently added an online MBA option. The University of California at Berkeley, which Fortune ranks as the No. 12 program in the country, in August 2021 announced a flex MBA program in which courses will be offered both online and on campus, and Howard University (ranked No. 30) launched an online part-time MBA program and online executive MBA program. Overall, 30% of online MBA programs reported an increase in applications in the Graduate Management Admission Council’s 2021 Application Trends Survey.
With so many online MBA programs to choose from, what makes Purdue’s online MBA program stand out?
1. The program is STEM-focused
Purdue set out to make its MBA focused on “technology and innovation that will be ideal for students with a STEM background or any student seeking career-changing opportunities with high-tech companies,” David Hummels, dean of the Krannert School, said in the formal announcement of the program.
Many students—about 50%—come to Purdue’s online MBA program with a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) background, Chhajed says. These students tend to engage with the program in two ways: they use it as an opportunity to enhance their STEM skills to enhance their chance of earning a leadership role at their current job; or they gravitate toward additional elective courses focused on business to strengthen those skills, he adds.
“Certainly we want a variety of students,” Chhajed says. “So even though the program might appeal a lot to those who have a STEM background, there’s also [plenty] of them who don’t have a STEM background.”
Purdue’s online program has four specializations—mostly STEM-focused. Students can choose to specialize in business analytics; innovation and technology commercialization; global supply chain management; or leadership, negotiation, and change management.
Jacqueline Kennedy, an online MBA student at Purdue who started the program in January 2021, earned her bachelor’s degree from Purdue in biomedical engineering in December 2020—so the STEM focus was attractive to her as she was looking at online MBA programs.
“For someone with a STEM background, that is nice to see that the program also has strong STEM roots,” she tells Fortune.
2. It’s 100% remote
Some online MBA programs require students to visit campus, but Purdue does not. Purdue’s 100% online MBA program allows students to live and learn from where they are—another reason Kennedy liked the program.
Having just graduated from Purdue, Kennedy was ready to start working full-time. She always knew, though, that she wanted to have degrees in both engineering and business, so she chose to continue her education by earning an MBA directly after undergrad. With no obligation to come to campus, Kennedy was able to start working as a validation engineer at a pharma company in Bloomington, Indiana.
“With Purdue, I was able to talk with the administration and prove to them that I am capable, I am motivated, I am hardworking. It was really the administration that drew me in,” Kennedy says. “They were all so kind and welcoming, even though I kind-of knew that I was an unusual candidate.”
Online MBA students at Purdue on average have about six to seven years of work experience, Chhajed says, and there’s a pretty “limited number” of younger students.
While Purdue’s program is completely online, Chhajed says the school hopes to eventually offer residency programs in which students can visit campus—but those were delayed due to challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The school is also working to schedule in-person networking events in major cities across the U.S., he adds.
3. Classes are asynchronous
Purdue offers its online MBA courses in an asynchronous format, meaning that all lectures are pre-recorded. At the beginning of each week, students have access to the lectures that they can watch and use to study on their own time.
Every course, however, does include two live sessions per week for students who wish to join and discuss class materials. Live sessions might include group discussions or visits from guest speakers, Chhajed says.
“We know not everybody can come to these synchronous sessions, but that’s why they’re doing the online MBA,” he says.
On a week-to-week basis, Kennedy will typically start by watching the lecture first, then complete the readings and homework for the course. She joins the live sessions when she’s able to do so.
“I’ve found that the flexible schedule allows me to still focus on my current career and get that business background that I was desiring,” Kennedy says.
4. It’s considered a ‘high-engagement’ program
Although classes are 100% remote and asynchronous, Purdue prides itself in having an online MBA program with high engagement. One way that Purdue achieves this is through the use of success coaches who monitor the progress of online MBA students.
Success coaches keep an eye on students to ensure they’re attending lectures, completing their work, and engaging in discussions. If the success coach finds that a student is falling behind, they’ll reach out to the student to help connect them with faculty or set up other accommodations.
Purdue wants to see this level of commitment and engagement right from the start. Kennedy suggests showing that you’re hard-working and highly-motivated during the application process.
“As long as your resume and your application are polished, the interviews are a really big component of the application,” she says. “If someone is upbeat and that they have purpose in pursuing the program, I think that will greatly help their chances of getting in.”
See how the schools you’re considering landed in Fortune’s rankings of the best business analytics programs, data science programs, and part-time, executive, full-time, and online MBA programs.