Executive MBAs for under $50,000? Yes, they exist.

May 16, 2011, 4:36 PM UTC

) — Executive MBA programs can be pretty costly. The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School program in San Francisco sits at the very top of the luxury brands, with a breath-taking price tag of $172,200. Most of the highly ranked executive versions of the MBA are all well above six figures.

Are there any reasonably priced executive MBA experiences out there?

You bet. We found nearly 50 business schools in the U.S. that offer executive MBAs for less than $50,000 in total tuition. They may not have the cachet of a Columbia Business School, Chicago Booth or Northwestern Kellogg, but then many of these programs cost only a third or less than the big brand exec MBAs. You’ll take similar courses in all the business basics for a fraction of the cost.

Imagine earning an MBA for a flat $10,000. It’s possible at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, in a 24-month program with a class size of 50 students with an average work experience of nine years.

The catch? It’s a defense-focused degree available only to officers and senior civilians in the Navy.

So the least expensive executive MBA in the world is a bit of an anomaly. But then there is Ohio University’s program in Athens, Ohio, at a mere $29,000 in total tuition — just one-sixth the cost of Wharton’s San Francisco program.

Or want something even more reasonable? Try Benedictine College’s $22,200 program, a fast track, 12-month experience in Atchison, Kansas.

How can these schools offer executive MBA programs at such low costs?

“We’re trying to grow the program right now,” says Edward Yost, director of executive graduate education at Ohio University. “We also live in a pretty depressed area in Southeast Ohio. It’s not the most lucrative economy in the world, so there is a need to serve our public and the community’s economic development needs.”

At a time when most schools hike their MBA tuition by 3% to 6% every year, Ohio’s price tag has stayed the same for the past three years.

These bargains are not confined to the hinterlands. There are also programs under $50,000 in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. Consider Baruch College’s $48,000 program, Lake Forest’s $44,720 program, or San Francisco State’s $42,480 executive MBA degree — all remarkable deals in high-priced locales.

Many of these executive programs are relatively new, so their alumni networks are somewhat sparse. The under-$50K schools with the largest alumni networks are Lake Forest, which has graduated 7,700 exec MBAs; St. Mary’s in Moraga, California, which has graduated 4,000; and Brigham Young, which has turned out more than 1,600 grads.

Obviously, there are sacrifices here. It’s the difference between flying coach and first class. Not only do you not get the prestige of a big brand, you’re likely to sit in classrooms with professors who are not among the leading lights of business school academia. If there’s a stay over night, you’re not going to be put up at the swanky Hotel Le Meridien in San Francisco’s financial district — an inclusive part of Wharton’s pricey program. And you’re also not going to be given gourmet meals, which are often a part of an upscale, big brand executive MBA program.

But you’ll be saving a heck of a lot of money. And some of these schools are highly ranked and admired. Two good examples: Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management, highly ranked for its full-time MBA program, has an executive version for $42,000. Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Management, also highly regarded for its full-time MBA program, has a $45,000 executive MBA, with a weekend option in Salt Lake City and a weeknight option in Provo.

What do you get for $45,000 at Brigham Young? A lot, actually. It includes the cost of books, breakfast and lunch every day during two residency weeks, and, remarkably, an international trip for which BYU even picks up the round-trip airfare. This year’s contingent of executive MBAs went to places as far afield as India, Greece, and Turkey.

So how can the 24-month program be so inexpensive? Says Debbie Auxier, program coordinator at Brigham Young’s executive MBA program, “We’re not spending money on lodging every other week or meals before or after class. What we serve, we call them snacks. And we don’t buy computers for them. We use our own professors to teach the program so we don’t have to pay outsiders.”

No wonder, the school has half a dozen students commuting from California, Oregon, Nevada and Idaho.

Some of these bargains tend to be specialized. Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management, for instance, has a one-year program in health care for clinical professionals and physicians that meets one evening every week and one weekend each month. The cost? Just $46,336. In a world of upper six-figure programs, these are absolute steals.

Here’s our list of executive MBA programs that are among the best values out there:

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