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BY Meghan MalasMay 20, 2022, 3:51 PM
Guests and students participate in an announcement ceremony for Julie Sullivan, incoming president of Santa Clara University, as seen in March 2022, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Photo by Dai Sugano—MediaNews Group/The Mercury News/Getty Images)
The pandemic ushered in a surge of enrollment in online MBA programs in the U.S. Even as COVID-19-related policies at universities have subsided, these programs remain popular for their flexibility, relative affordability, and ability to allow professionals to apply what they learn in class in real time.
Among the 108 business schools that participated in Fortune’s ranking of the best online MBA programs in 2022, 65 programs saw an increase in enrollment compared with before the pandemic. Moreover, 21 of these online MBA programs had more-than doubled the number of students enrolled in the 2021-2022 academic year compared with the 2018-2019 academic year. Sustained interest in online graduate business degrees indicates that these types of programs aren’t just popular because of the pandemic.
“Whether it be the flexibility of asynchronous classes, trying to balance work and family life with educational goals, or just a preference for the online modality, most students choose an online program for a reason,” says Adam Wilson, director of online programs at the University of Tennessee at Martin.
What else helps to explain the growing interest in pursuing an MBA online, and which programs grew the most? Below are the five fastest-growing online MBA programs based on enrollment at the time data was submitted for Fortune‘s ranking in 2021 versus 2022.
1. Santa Clara University (Leavey)
Fortune online MBA program rank: No. 20
Santa Clara University (Leavey)’s online MBA program had 68 students enrolled in its online MBA program prior to the pandemic. In 2022, the program had grown to 283 students.
Leavey’s online MBA curriculum is especially geared toward students who are seeking knowledge and skills to advance in in-demand fields—like Big Tech or at innovative startups, says Nydia MacGregor, senior assistant dean of graduate business programs at the Leavey School of Business.
The program originally launched in 2018 and was designed to mirror Leavey’s in-person MBA program; it offers the same curriculum, faculty, career management team, and alumni network. Officials at Leavey expect that the pandemic-fueled bump in online MBA enrollment is here to stay, but don’t anticipate continued year-over-year growth that’s so exponential.
When the online MBA program first launched, online programs were still an experiment in some students’ eyes, MacGregor explains. “This is just no longer true, high-quality online education is sought after and valued.”
2. University of Maine
Fortune online MBA program rank: No. 35
The online MBA program at the University of Maine had 97 students enrolled in the 2019 academic year and that number grew to 402 in 2022.
The online MBA program, which launched in 2019, already had a core of very strong and engaged MBA faculty in place during its development, says Norm O’Reilly, dean of the University of Maine Graduate School of Business.
The online program launched just before pandemic from its foundational programs at the University of Maine and University of Southern Maine, and it is the first degree program to be offered at the university’s graduate school of business.
“Offered online, in-person and in a flexible format—it was a program of choice for many during the pandemic,” O’Reilly says. “As we come out of the COVID-19 period, we expect our enrollments to flatten.”
3. University of North Carolina–Wilmington Cameron School of Business
Fortune online MBA program rank: No. 71
In 2019, the University of North Carolina-Wilmington’s online MBA program enrolled 152 students. In 2022, enrollment had increased to 623 students. To keep up with the influx of students, UNC–Wilmington has hired more than a dozen new faculty members.
“The program is designed to be high-quality, flexible, and affordable—and these are the very qualities that adult learners desire,” says Robert Burrus, dean of UNC–Wilmington’s Cameron School of Business. “We anticipate our programs will continue to grow into the future, but not at the same pace.”
4. The University of Tennessee–Martin
Fortune online MBA program rank: No. 68
Enrollment in the online MBA program at the University of Tennessee–Martin jumped to 305 students in 2022, up from the 114 students enrolled in 2019. The school cites multiple reasons for the increase in interest in its online MBA program: high-quality faculty, the reduction of required credit hours from 36 to 30, expanded concentration options, and the ability to work alongside other students from all over the world.
“All things considered; we anticipate the enrollment growth of our MBA program to continue and are committed to continuous improvement in all aspects of the program,” says Ahmad Tootoonchi, dean of the College of Business and Global Affairs at the University of Tennessee–Martin.
5. Louisiana State University–Baton Rouge (Ourso)
Fortune online MBA program rank: No. 58
Enrollment in Louisiana State University’s online MBA degree program went from 251 to 561 between 2019 and 2022.
“As students pivoted to online learning opportunities, our program benefited from more convenience and flexibility in an MBA experience,” says Dana Charles Hart, director of the Flores MBA program at Louisiana State University’s Ourso College of Business. “Our numbers have leveled a bit in the last three months, but we anticipate further growth in our online offerings.”
As enrollment has climbed, LSU plans to also expand some program offerings. The school’s online MBA program will resume its global immersion travel experiences for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic; online MBA students will travel to Latin America in October 2022. A professional speaker series, meant to further engage students will also launch this year.
See how the schools you’re considering landed in Fortune’s rankings of the best master’s in public health programs, business analytics programs, data science programs, and part-time, executive, full-time, and online MBA programs.