Growth in Accessibility of AACSB-Accredited Online Degrees

MBA Blog / 8th February 2016

Colin Nelson 

Much has been said regarding management education offered online, including in the archives of our own blog. While it is certainly very much up for debate whether MOOCs will take over instruction of basic classes, or if virtual campuses will come to replace brick-and-mortar, the one thing that no one can deny is that online education is increasing in popularity and availability:

Figure 1. Number of AACSB-Accredited Schools Reporting Fully Online Programs – CLICK HERE!

Note: This table includes data from a controlled set of 497 accredited schools that responded to the AACSB Business School Questionnaire (BSQ) in all five years. Please note that each school may have more than one fully online program at each given level.

In total, 497 AACSB-accredited schools, representing 39 countries and territories worldwide, participated in each of the last five annual BSQ surveys. Figure 1 (above) shows the number of these schools that reported offering one or more of their degree programs, at any level, in a fully online delivery format has grown by nearly 36 per cent over the past five years. Obviously, much of that growth comes at the bachelor’s and specialized master’s levels, while the gains in numbers of MBA programs offered fully online were more modest.

One notable exception to this trend is online doctoral programs. As of this writing, there is only one AACSB-accredited school that offers a fully online doctoral program, namely the University of Liverpool in the UK. (It isn’t shown in Figure 1 above because Liverpool was not part of the controlled set of schools.) There are more AACSB-accredited schools offering blended/hybrid or distance-learning doctoral programs, so it may be that the future will soon bring more doctoral programs offered fully online.

Interestingly, the regional breakdown of which schools offer their programs in the fully online format is far from even. Although AACSB-accredited schools in Northern America made up 83.5 per cent of the controlled set represented here, they consistently made up between 92 to 98 per cent of those who reported offering fully online MBA or specialist master’s programs, and 100 per cent of those offering fully online bachelor’s programs. By contrast, all respondents from Europe, Latin America, and Oceania that reported fully online programs at any level reported offering online MBAs, while the lone Asian school that reported a fully online degree reported a specialized master’s program.

This regional concentration is at least partly a function of greater historical participation in the BSQ in Northern America. However, since the regional concentration of schools offering fully online programs remains several percentage points higher than the regional concentration of BSQ participants in all years, participation is clearly not the only contributing factor.

Given the origins of the Internet itself in the region, for example, schools in Northern America have most likely had the most time and opportunity to develop the virtual infrastructure necessary to make offering fully online programs feasible. Additionally, since fully online education makes geographical location largely a moot point from the perspective of potential students, the location of the offering institution probably matters less than it would for other modes of delivery.

Now, it may be that schools in regions other than Northern America are simply underrepresented in the BSQ thus far. However, the number of BSQ participants outside Northern America has grown steadily over the past seven years, and this will be a trend worth continuing to watch, particularly as our global participation grows larger and larger.


Colin Nelson is Research and Knowledge Services Manager at AACSB International.

AACSB International is an association of more than 1,350 educational institutions, businesses, and organizations, across 84 countries, devoted to advancing quality management education worldwide. Founded in 1916, by a consortium of the most prominent business schools, AACSB’s accreditation and membership represents a timeless tradition focused on excellence in management education. Recognized globally as the highest standard of achievement for business schools, AACSB has granted accreditation to 681 institutions in 45 countries.

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