I’ve received a number of requests recently for an update to a post I wrote back in January 2013, regarding the trend toward greater numbers of AACSB-accredited schools offering fully online degree programs at various levels. It looks like this trend has only continued in the intervening years:
Figure 1. Number of AACSB-Accredited Schools Reporting Fully Online Programs, by Level
Notes: This chart includes data from a controlled set of 521 accredited schools that responded to the AACSB Business School Questionnaire (BSQ) in all five years. Each school may have more than one fully online program at each level.
Five hundred and twenty-one AACSB-accredited schools, representing 36 countries and territories worldwide, participated in each of the last five annual BSQ surveys. Figure 1 above shows that the proportion of this set of schools that reported offering one or more of their degree programs, at any level, in a fully online delivery format has grown from 25 to 37 percent over the past five years.
While fully online programs at the Masters-Generalist (MBA) level saw the highest rise in absolute number of schools offering them, the percentage gains in the numbers of specialized master’s and especially bachelor’s degree programs offered fully online were significantly more robust (more than 67 and 80 percent increases, respectively, versus 44 percent for the general business master’s programs). In my earlier post, programs at the Masters-Generalist (MBA) level were the primary driver for the increase in schools with fully online programs at any level, so this new data may indicate a shift in focus, at least within this controlled set.
Online doctoral programs remain the notable exception to this trend. None of the schools in the controlled set reported offering a fully online doctoral program. In fact, as of this writing, only one AACSB-accredited school has ever reported a fully online doctoral program on the BSQ, namely the Management School of the University of Liverpool (not a member of the controlled set), which offers a fully online DBA program.
It is also worth noting that the growth in the number of AACSB-accredited schools offering such programs remains almost entirely driven by schools based in the U.S.:
Table 1. Schools Offering Fully Online Programs by Country/Territory
Notes: This table includes data from a controlled set of 521 accredited schools that responded to the AACSB Business School Questionnaire (BSQ) in all five years, and N equals the total number of schools from each country/territory in the set. There were three Chinese schools outside of Hong Kong in the controlled set, but none of them reported fully online programs. Each school may have more than one fully online program at each level.
Although American schools make up about 79 percent of the schools in the total controlled set, they consistently make up 94–95 percent of the schools reporting fully online programs at any level. So why are accredited schools in other countries not showing similar levels of growth in this increasingly popular delivery mode?
For one thing, although the BSQ does not collect data on blended/hybrid programs, we know anecdotally that programs providing some online or asynchronous content are growing in number. It may be that more schools outside the U.S. are opting for blended/hybrid programs versus fully online delivery. Another reason may be that, from the student perspective, the physical location of the school offering fully online programs does not matter as much as the quality of the programs themselves. Nevertheless, as fully online delivery continues to grow in popularity, it will be interesting to see if more schools from all over the world begin to pioneer new programs in cyberspace.