The answer to this question depends on whom you talk to. It's a mixed bag. Some will say they respect the online degree because the person was motivated and had to manage obtaining the degree with working full time (which is difficult and worthy of respect). Others attach far too much value (IMO) to educational pedigree and are a “bit” snobbish about what school you attended. These folks usually have Ivy League educations themselves, and are not usually the kind of folks you'd enjoy working for anyway if you are asking this question. Plus, they really do not understand what is an online/distance MBA all about.
While I do agree that "50% of what consultancies look to get from an MBA hire is the credibility you gain with clients from having an MBA from a top school. The other 50% of what they are "buying" in hiring an MBA is the network of high-powered business people that you have developed whilst at business school. This is important for winning business for the consultancy further down the road." and that doing an MBA online equals to lower level of interaction and socializing with other students, there is an online MBA program that beats all of that and that is worth considering in every sense. It is the MBA program from Athabasca University (AU) in Canada, the first ever online MBA program in the world (which means they already have a huge reputation plus experience in how to administer it as they are pioneers in that), that is listed among best 3-4 in Canadian Business Magazine and is also on the Finacial Times' list (as only of 3-4 representing Canada) of best MBA programs in the world. The AU MBA program offers a high quality graduate level education that is accessible from virtually anywhere at anytime. Using widely accepted technologies for group work and computer-based learning (Lotus Notes based), the AU online environment lends itself to a high level of interaction between academic staff and students. This is a crucial ingredient of a graduate management education that has powerful relevance to the real world of business. In addition, North American employers really respect when somebody graduates from that program as it is designed and is accessible only for people that spent at least 5 years in the management roles and that DO NOT leave jobs to finish the program. Just imagine how much work, dedication and persistence a student of that program has to have in order to be able to work full time (in management) and than work approx. 25-35 hours per week in the MBA program. Plus they usually have families to juggle... And the program runs for 2.5 - 3 years. It is far easier to leave a job and than enroll in a 1-2 year MBA program and just do that work and nothing else. I do understand that the UK environment has probably different view on an online program, but probably because it has only a vague idea what is an online MBA program and is not used to that mode of education as it is not that common like it is in North America. But the times are changing and online education is coming fast in all its forms and shapes. Institutions that denied this market potential are presently in catch up mode. In Europe it grows slower probably due to shorter distances that students have to travel in order to get in the school. Here are some statistics about online education in the USA where development of online programs is considered to be a critical long-term strategy for many universities (Harvard included) (http://www3.babson.edu/ESHIP/upload/Growing%20by%20Degrees.pdf):
• Sixty-five percent of schools offering graduate face-to-face courses also offer
graduate courses online.
• Sixty-three percent of schools offering undergraduate face-to-face courses also offer
undergraduate courses online.
• Among all schools offering face-to-face Master’s degree programs, 44% also offer
Master’s programs online.
• Among all schools offering face-to-face Business degree programs, 56% also offer
It only depends how fast a school/university adapts to the e-learning scene and what methods will be used there. When one says "online" there are different variations, ranging from having lectures/books/videos/audio tapes mailed to you and than having to submit assignments online (very primitive in my view), to doing postponed discussions according to participants availability (which is somewhat better, but still not perfect), to (what Athabasca is doing) real-time online discussions and projects done by people that are in different time zones, and that also have to do residential and weekend programs at Fortune 500 companies, as a part of MBA degree requirement. Online learning is actually (if it is done the right way) much harder to do in many ways as (in addition to already mentioned need to juggle full time work and family with full time MBA studies) a student needs to learn how to interact with a colleague(s) who is 5000 miles away and to do a project + to produce a result which will be satisfactory. That situation perfectly relates to what happens now in the real word in the global market where teams are dispersed geographically and projects are done on huge distances. How will students from a classroom-based MBA do a global project when everybody else is sitting in the same room? It will of course all be done as a simulation, but Athabasca students really do projects in global terms. Just imagine a student that is in Russia working as a manager for an oil company (he is an American by the way), another one is working as a bank manager in Malta, another working as an environmentalist in Ghana, another as a Major in Canadian Forces stationed on a ship in Singapore, and another as a top executive of Canadian company that makes satellites and who travels constantly all around the world. They all manage to get together (in real terms) and discuss (in real time) their project and do it. They come together using Lotus Notes, using e-mail, using phones/mobiles, faxes, MSN even... or sometimes they manage to meet in the same room... just like in the real business world. In the process they make a bond that is not available if you meet in the classroom, pretend to do an important project and after that go to a pub, as they really did a project (and got an A) in much harder way (from a distance) and using a variety of modes of communication (which means they had to go over established and already known ways of doing class projects). Students that come from Athabasca University's MBA program go that extra mile to get their MBA designation, and for that reason are recognized as people that will go an extra mile in whatever they do in their chosen professions. Their courses demand each student’s involvement as opposed to five talkative students carrying a class discussion, and believe it or not, you have more socialization online, versus on ground, due to the fact you are constantly e-mailing your professor and your classmates or you are constantly involved in discussions through Lotus Notes. For somebody who went both through classic in-class education and online education, this is very understandable, but the others really need to try an online course in order to understand it. I think the perception is improving especially as more leadership staff take them and find they’re not easy, they’re rigorous.
It is also worth noting that Athabasca’s MBA students occasionally meet doing some weekend programs and that their residential part of the program is one of the most interesting among all MBA programs that exist. Every year the AU organizes a trip to a different country (Germany, Mexico, UK...) and chooses top companies in those countries which MBA students visit and where they do projects and meet with executive/senior management of those companies. In 2004 they visited Daimler/Chrysler, Deutsche Bank, BASF, Schott Glass in Germany. They also spent whole day together, shared meals and made interesting cultural trips. This past summer they were guests of Cranfield's MBA program and visited top ranking companies in the UK.
IMO, this MBA program has much better and more contemporary conception than classical MBA programs have and is adjusted to the way of how business is done today. Who says that one cannot “bond” with fellow students/professionals/colleagues if one does something online or from a distance? Today we have ways on how to make that communication happen and how to have it in more than just in satisfactory terms. What we really need to take a look at and understand is the level of determination those distance MBA learners have and how they are able to do the program and still stay on their full time jobs at the same time and climb the ladder in the company as well. Online degree programs serve the needs of a highly mobile workforce and it is strange that consulting world here in the UK does not recognize that. Many recruiters and HR managers recognize that as of a much better quality than traditional way of studying for an MBA in the classroom. They also recognize that students in the online MBA program require more discipline to complete courses, Online education’s appeal in the workplace reflects the fact that it’s “a natural extension of today’s work environment,” says Richard Coffey, director of manufacturing, functional and employee development training for the Boeing Co.’s learning, training and development unit, because “it mimics how we work.” (HR Magazine, January 2006 edition). Online education offers employers increasing hiring and retention, cost savings, a more knowledgeable workforce, customized programs, and convenience, and smart employers recognize that.
From the HR Magazine: “While online education often carried a stigma in the past, a majority of college and university leaders now believe that the quality of online courses is equal or superior to face-to-face instruction. Employers attach higher value to online education, too. According to a 2005 survey of 107 employers by New York-based Vault Inc., an online publisher of career advice and employment information, 85 percent believe that online degrees are more acceptable today than just five years ago. Boeing’s Coffey believes that online learning is “every bit as challenging as traditional [learning], sometimes more demanding.”
Still, some online programs are better than others. If a school is accredited through a recognized agency, this ensures that the quality of education meets at least mandatory standards. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation provides a searchable database of schools and programs that have accreditation through agencies recognized by the council or the U.S. Department of Education for example. John Rhone, who earned an MBA and PhD from the University of Phoenix, argues his online coursework was harder than his undergrad years at the University of Tampa.
“I am a traditionalist,” Rhone said, “but the online education is so much harder than a traditional education. The only thing about the online education is it’s convenient for you.”
I found an interesting story at http://danielsmbaonline.blogspot.com/ about how far dedication of an online MBA student can go – a woman in an online MBA program was recently chased out of New Orleans to Houston by hurricane Katrina, and then again out of Houston by hurricane Rita, but was still determined to submit her answers for a quiz that was due, and she did that by leaving them on the voice mail of the course administrator as her online connection was lost (and her home as well probably). If she was a student in a classroom based MBA program, her course would have probably been cancelled in that case and she would have gotten some time off of school. Of course, she could have taken a pass, but she chose to do her work anyway.
I believe that it will (very soon) come a day when employers here in the UK will also accept an online learning as equal or maybe more useful both for employee and employer, and that it all comes to what is a student’s preferred learning style. It is sad that it has not come to that as of yet, but it would be really stupid (in today’s global economy and times of advanced technology) not to be able to recognize that especially in the business world and when we talk about business degrees. “Our perception is that an online education from a reputable college or university is as valuable as the degree offered on-ground," says Alan Fisher, manager of corporate extended education at Intel, which pays for employees to earn MBAs through various Web-based programs. "We don't differentiate between the two." “I work with people all the time whom I rarely meet face-to-face," says Intel's Fisher. "That is the real world of business today, and anybody who says online MBAs don't work is just fooling themselves." Like it or not - in a knowledge-based economy, distributed teams is the name of the game. Fueling the boom in Internet-based management education are corporations hungry for better-trained executives. General Motors pays for its employees to earn an MBA through an Internet-based school launched two years ago by the New York Institute of Technology and Cardean University. Ingersoll-Rand has a deal with Indiana to customize an online MBA program for its employees. Capella offers tuition discounts to Fortune 500 companies like Boeing, Johnson & Johnson, and Wells Fargo for putting the school on "preferred provider" lists. Online MBAs serve "a real market need," says Trace Urdan, an analyst with Robert W. Baird's equity research unit. "It's a win-win for companies and employees."
According to Forbes, “Online study doesn't mean a second-rate degree when it comes to earning an M.B.A.” Interacting on and managing distributed teams will be a critical skill in the more and more knowledge-based economy, and I feel this is one area where online students have an edge. Pursuing an MBA online requires discipline, more time, the ability to work in groups and strong writing ability - skills that many employers prize because much high-level work is now done collaboratively via the Internet.
The ability to schedule learning around life rather than life around learning is a great advantage. Online study allows you to sit at home in your PJs while waxing brilliant about price-to-earnings ratios, but you lose the ability to slouch in the back of the class if you're unprepared. The online courses are more rigorous than the classroom courses. You can't hide, in an online class you have to make a significant contribution to the posts. When communicating online, you have more time to consider your response, but you've got to post to the class bulletin board. An online MBA program isn't for younger, non-working professionals who plan to spend as much time at the student union as the library. You have to be able to work on your own. If you need the enforced discipline of attending class to plow through the material in a timely fashion, you'd probably be lost in an online program. So, whoever is ready for working full time and for being an MBA student at the same time, go for it. But, you have to be aware that it is much harder than giving the full time work up and going away for a year to mingle with fellow MBA students in the same classroom. It is not for everyone and not for every kind of program. MBA programs for sure can be done that way.
A word of caution - many of the online MBA programs are well-regarded and offer a way for busy people to get advanced education without having to sidetrack a career for a year or two. But, as in many growing fields, cautions abound. Concerns about "diploma mills," or substandard institutions without proper accreditation that offer degrees with little or no serious work, are growing. On the other hand, the classic – classroom-based institutions have the same problem, so a lot of research is necessary when one needs to eneter any kind of educational program, not just an online MBA. IMO, Athabasca’s MBA program is that best that exists and you can check it out at http://www.mba.athabascau.ca/