Methodology for Fortune’s online MBA ranking

BY Lance LambertApril 06, 2022, 3:04 PM
Artistic depiction of a graduation cap
Martin Laksman

The pre-pandemic world of higher education is never coming back. While some students were eager to return to the classroom, others realized during the pandemic that an online format fits their lifestyle best. Simply put: The pandemic was an accelerant for online education.

That explosion in online education during the pandemic is why Fortune released its first-ever ranking of online MBA programs in 2021. Now we’re out with our 2022 list.

To help guide the next generation of business leaders, Fortune found online MBA programs that not only see their graduates land good jobs, but also have a track record of placing alumni into the highest echelons of the Fortune 500.

In all, 108 programs completed our questionnaire. That information, along with data we collected from companies and executives, makes up the core of our ranking. Our final ranking is made up of three components: Program Score, Fortune 1000 Score, and Brand Score.

The combined enrollment of the 108 online MBA programs on our list is up 9% over the past two years. During that same period, overall U.S. college enrollment fell 5%, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Program Score (62.5%)

In order to be ranked, Fortune required online MBA programs to complete a 32-question form. From that questionnaire, we calculated the Program Score. Getting an MBA isn’t just about learning management style or decision trees, it’s also an opportunity to build a network that will last for decades. Much of that network comes from fellow MBA classmates. That’s why Fortune measured the academic strength of incoming students (a.k.a. your peers). We did this by factoring the average undergraduate GPA and acceptance rate of incoming students into the Program Score.

Sure, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was incredibly successful after dropping out of Stanford’s MBA program. But for the vast majority of students, you’ll want to complete the program. That’s why Fortune added one-year retention rate and graduation rate (within at least three years of program enrollment) into the Program Score.

Finally, we factored in student body size. Simply put: Demand matters. If schools aren’t successful, they won’t be able to continue to attract and graduate top students year in and year out. Not to mention, a larger student body also means a larger alumni network.

Fortune 1000 Score (17.5%)

Alumni networks matter. And who better to have in your school’s alumni network than CEOs? That’s why Fortune looked at the number of each school’s MBA alumni who are executives (C-suite only) at Fortune 1000 companies. This includes everyone from CEOs to CFOs to CIOs. The more Fortune 1000 C-level placement, the higher the school’s Fortune 1000 Score.

A school’s score includes Fortune 1000 C-level executives who graduated with an MBA degree from the school (regardless of the type of MBA program). Why? Fortune believes that the business school offering the online MBA also matters. As online education continues its upward trajectory, we foresee more powerhouse business schools creating or expanding online offerings.

(Note: The Fortune 1000 are the 1,000 largest U.S. publicly traded companies ranked by revenues, as compiled by Fortune.)

Brand Score (20%)

Fortune partnered with Ipsos to survey thousands of business professionals and hiring managers to get their thoughts on specific B-schools. This metric looks at business school brands, not just their online programs. After all, when hiring managers look at your résumé, they’re going to associate an MBA with their opinion of the school—not necessarily that specific online MBA program. Fortune sought to measure that reality.

Ipsos deployed a survey methodology similar to the one it would use if a consumer brands company asked it to evaluate the company’s brand strength. For this research, Ipsos interviewed a total of 2,500 professionals. These professionals work in a corporate role, have attended college and/or an institution of higher education, and know at least two of the schools in our selection. Ipsos completed the fieldwork in March 2021. The total length of the interview was 13 minutes. The results yielded a 95% confidence interval, which gives us a maximum ±1.96% margin of error. This analysis was done on a regional basis. The exception being the nation’s top 20 business schools (according to U.S. News & World Report’s latest ranking), which we also measured on a national basis.

The final score produced is a business school’s Attitudinal Equity (AE) measurement. That tells us, according to Ipsos, “how much a group of people want to recruit from the university. It is the university’s share of mind.” (For more on Attitudinal Equity scores, go here.)

Programs that would like to participate next year, please email lance.lambert@fortune.com. Send us your name, title, and appropriate contacts.