One silver lining to the Great Recession has been a major rebound in start-up businesses, which had been in sharp decline since 2005-06, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Where professionals once depended on corporations to provide stability for decades — including healthcare, 401k’s, stock options, etc. — the Great Recession upended the traditional relationship between employer and employee. For many workers, especially younger, more skeptical generations, this has signaled a new movement toward professional self-reliance. The logic is simple enough: if you’re going to lose your job, at least have some agency in the matter; and if most businesses are destined to fail anyway — they are — why not fail doing something you’re personally invested in?
Of course, one route to entrepreneurship is simply trial-and-error. For some, this works well enough, but it’s not necessarily the most efficient use of time. Many would-be business owners are turning toward graduate programs to build fundamentals and hone skills; and, perhaps unsurprisingly, MBAs have become among the most popular online degrees, allowing students a flexible, affordable alternative to on-campus education. Independent-minded entrepreneurs, in particular, can thrive in the online setting. Below are our top 10 programs.
- Affordability (1/3): the estimated out-of-state (if applicable) tuition per credit hour for the program.
- Flexibility-Enhancing Components (1/3): the number and quality of flexibility-enhancing components, including specializations, concentrations, emphases, the ability to accelerate or decelerate degrees, lenient transfer policies, life experience credits, among others.
- Academic Prestige (1/3): the relative academic prestige of the parent institution, as derived from measures including the average class size, the number of faculty members with terminal degrees, and the competitiveness of admissions.
1. Ball State University
Founded in 1918, Ball State University is located Muncie, Indiana; the Princeton Review and US News rank it among the top schools in the region. Total enrollment stands at 21,000, which includes students from 48 states, 43 countries, and each of Indiana’s 92 counties. The school’s 14:1 student-to-faculty ratio helps to foster a vibrant, collaborative learning community while also delivering personalized, one-on-one instruction; nearly half of all classes have less than 20 students. Additional resources include immersive learning programs with real-world application, personal advising, academic support, 24/7 tech support, and career planning.
Ball State’s online MBA in Entrepreneurship – one of 19 online masters offered by the university — consists of 30 credits (8 core courses, 3 concentration courses). General requirements include Statistics and Quantitative Methods, Accounting and Decision Making, Information Systems, and Entrepreneurial Leadership; after which students take classes in Entrepreneurial Innovation and the Discovery of Opportunity, Entrepreneurial Planning and Feasibility, Entrepreneurial Strategy. As one of the top entrepreneurship programs in the country, routinely ranked in top-15 by US News, the curriculum emphasizes hands-on, experiential learning and an evidence-based approach. All courses are designed for maximum flexibility, and students can choose a hybrid delivery path to include some traditional on-campus work. The program is accredited by the AACSB.
- Tuition Per Credit: $590
2. Benedictine University
Benedictine University is a private Roman Catholic university in Lisle, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, with additional campuses in Naperville, Springfield, Arizona, abroad, and online. Both Forbes and U.S. News have ranked it among the best colleges in the country — including recognition for business — and The Chronicle of Higher Education reported the university as the second-fastest growing campus in the country among private nonprofit doctoral universities 2003-2013. With a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio, classes are kept small and intimate to promote individualized learning; over 70% of classes have fewer than 20 students, and almost none have more than 50. As a Catholic school, the university places a special emphasis on Christian values in all of its programs.
Benedictine’s online MBA in Entrepreneurship and Managing Innovation consists of 64 quarter credits (though up to half of these can be waived through a generous transfer policy). Alternatively, students can complete an accelerated track in just one year, taking two courses per session. Core requirements include management classes in Finance, Marketing, Strategy, and Projects, among others; from there, students in the concentration take Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation in Business, and Financing New Ventures. In a 2014 survey, 95% of Benedictine MBA alumni said the program prepared them for their current positions, including at companies like Amazon, Allstate Insurance, Disney, Boeing, and BAE Systems. Applicants should have earned at least a 3.0 undergraduate GPA (2.5-2.9 GPAs will be considered for conditional admission), and GMAT scores are not required.
- Tuition Per Credit: $550
3. William Howard Taft University
Headquartered in Denver and founded in 1976, William Howard Taft University specializes in continuing education and distance education (it is accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council). All programs are designed for maximum flexibility and affordable tuition to accommodate adult learners, full-time professionals, and anyone with busy or non-traditional schedules. Any students with previous academic credits may qualify for transfer.
Taft’s online MBA in Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management is specifically aimed at students interested in starting or purchasing a small business, as well as individuals interested in consulting for entrepreneurs. Consisting of 36 quarter credits, core requirements include Entrepreneurship, Managerial Perspectives, Marketing Management, Financing the Business Venture, Managerial Accounting, and Business Research. From there, students can customize their degree through choosing from a wide range of electives like Valuing a Small Business or Professional Practice, Franchising and Licensing, Commercial Leasing, and Value Investing. To demonstrate mastery of the material, all students must either complete a capstone project or develop a business plan to graduate. Students opting for the accelerated track can complete the degree in as little as one year; all students have up to 5 years.
- Tuition Per Credit: $225
4. The University of Massachusetts Amherst
Founded in 1863, The University of Massachusetts Amherst is a public research university with a total enrollment of approximately 30,000, including students from 48 states and over 60 countries. Ranked among the top 30 public universities nationwide, UMass Amherst students is part of the Five Colleges consortium, which gives students access to courses at Amherst College, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith. The school’s 18:1 student-to-faculty promotes a vibrant, collaborative educational atmosphere, and over half of classes consist of fewer than 20 students. Of the university’s 250,000 alumni worldwide, graduates include Jack Welch, NASA astronaut Catherine Coleman, Bill Paxton, Richard Gere, Greg Landry, Jeff Corwin, and winners of the Nobel and Pulitzer.
Amherst’s online MBA in Entrepreneurship, ranked 11th in the country by US News, consists of 39 credits. Core requirements include Strategic Information Management, Business Data Analysis & Statistical Methods, Leadership & Organizational Behavior, Business Law, Finance & Managerial Accounting, and Corporate Finance, among others. From there, students in the entrepreneurship concentration have 9 elective credits in classes like Web Analytics & SEO, Social Media Strategy, Leadership & Beyond, Negotiations Theory & Practice, Customer Relationship Management, and Rethinking E-commerce. With entry dates throughout the year, the program is designed to accommodate adult learners and full-time professionals. Applicants should have at least 3-5 years of work experience and must submit GMAT scores.
- Tuition Per Credit: $825
5. Aspen University
Founded in 1987, Aspen University specializes in distance education, offering associates, bachelors, masters, doctorates, and certificates in a wide variety of fields, including counseling, computer science, nursing, information systems, education, technology, business, project management, and criminal justice. All programs are designed for maximum flexibility to accommodate the schedules of adult learners and full-time professionals. For master’s programs, Aspen offers up to 18 transfer credits and up to 25% of total masters credits for prior work/life experience. It nationally accredited by the Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).
Aspen’s online MBA in Entrepreneurship consists of 36 credits (12 courses). Requirements include Management, Business Ethics, eBusiness, Quantitative Analysis, Business, Managerial Economics, Sales Force Management, Innovative Finance and Venture Capital, and Customers, Markets, and Technology. All students must also complete a capstone to graduate. Courses deliver in accelerated 10-week blocks, and students can expect to spend between 5-15 hours per course every week. In addition to a dynamic learning platform, which includes group discussion boards, all students have access to an enrollment advisor, tech support, and more.
- Tuition Per Credit: $325
6. Colorado Technical University
Colorado Technical University, founded in 1965, is located in Colorado Springs, with a satellite campus in Denver. Student enrollment is about 20,000 – many of whom are online – and there are over 70,000 alumni worldwide. Offering undergraduate, graduate, and pre-professional programs, all CTU tracks emphasize a career-oriented, practical curriculum. M.U.S.E. (My Unique Student Experience), the school’s unique distance learning technology, allows students to customize their preferred delivery method. For its innovation on online education, CTU has been rated “Best of the Best” in the Education and Academia category of the Computerworld Honors Program.
CTU’s online MBA in Entrepreneurship was named a Tier One program by CEO Magazine and is ranked highly by US News. Totaling 48 quarter credits, core requirements include Strategic Management in Dynamic Environments, Managerial Marketing, Strategic Human Capital Management, Managerial Decision-Making, Leadership and Ethical Decision-Making, and Managerial Finance, among others. Concentration requirements are Integrated Marketing for Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurial Strategy, Entrepreneurship & Intrapreneurship, and a Business Planning capstone. (Students with previous undergraduate business credits or a 500 GMAT score may waive foundational credits.) Courses are designed for maximum flexibility, and new entry dates every month allows adult learners and working professionals to plan according to their schedules. The curriculum follows AACSB standards and is accredited by Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).
- Tuition Per Credit: $325
7. Brandman University
Brandman University operates 25 campuses in California and Washington, plus an extensive online learning center. Specializing in adult education, the university offers over 50 undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs in business, arts and sciences, health, and education. As a leader in innovative teaching, many Brandman programs follow the iDEAL curriculum model (Instructional Design for Engaged Adult Learning), which combines flexible, tailored online instruction with real-world learning to give students a balanced and career-oriented experience. The university is accredited by the WSCUC Senior College and University Commission.
Brandman’s online MBA in Entrepreneurship consists of 36-48 credits, depending upon students undergraduate background. (Many students are able to waive foundational courses.) Core requirements include Finance Management, Human Resource Systems, Marketing Management, Organizational Dynamics, Organization Development and Change, Leadership and Innovation, and a capstone in Business Strategy and Competitive Advantage. From there, students in the concentration take four additional classes: Entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurial Finance, Seminar in Marketing Research, and Seminar in New Product Development. Designed to train students in the ins-and-outs of starting and running their own business, experienced instructors cover idea generation, assessment, formal business plan writing, financing, resource procurement and management, start-up requirements, and exit strategies, among other essentials. Applicants with a 3.0 undergraduate GPA do not need to submit GMAT scores.
- Tuition Per Credit: $620
8. Penn State World Campus
As the university’s online education center — and a leader in distance education — the Penn State World Campus launched in 1998 and today enrolls students from 50 states, over 60 countries, and 7 continents. Over 120 online undergraduate and graduate degrees are offered, in addition to a variety of professional certificate programs, students have access to a full range of services, including orientation, academic advising, career counseling, tech support, tutorials, and library services. All courses are designed to accommodate non-traditional schedules, and each curriculum is career-oriented to meet the latest industry trends, which seems to have paid off: according to a survey, the Wall Street Journal reported that PSU graduates are ranked #1 by recruiters for professional preparedness.
PSU’s online MBA in Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship consists of 48 credits, accredited by the AACSB. Core requirements include Team Performance, Leadership Communications, Marketing in a Global Environment, Managing Supply Chains in Global Markets, Managing in the Digital Economy, and Ethical and Responsible Business Leadership. The concentration includes classes in Business Modeling and New Venture Creation, Corporate Innovation Strategies and Entrepreneurial Methods, and Emerging Trends, Technology, and Corporate Innovation. All students also attend a 5-day residency at the start of the program, which includes keynote speakers and workshops on student advising services, career management, stress management, alumni relations and networking, and more. Applicants must submit undergraduate transcripts and GMAT scores.
- Tuition Per Credit: $1,185
9. Southern New Hampshire University
Founded in 1932 as the New Hampshire School of Accounting and Secretarial Science, SNHU has become one of the worldwide leaders in distance learning, with over 70,000 students enrolled online; US News ranks it 1st in the country for innovation. Of the 200+ programs offered, all are career-focused and designed for working professionals and adult learners. Further, SNHU instructors are experts in their respective fields and well-adapted to the school’s unique online approach. The school’s 15:1 student-to-faculty ratio helps to foster an intimate, collaborative learning community, and over half of classes have fewer than 20 students. None have more than 50. Resources include personalized academic advising, a writing center, career services, 24/7 tech support, and library services.
Designed for aspiring entrepreneurs, current business owners, and corporate executives, SNHU’s MBA in Entrepreneurship is accredited by both NEASC and ACBSP. Courses include Business Law, Financial Reporting and Analysis, Human Behavior in Organizations, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Government Impact on Business, Operations Management and Technology, and more. (Students with undergraduate coursework can waive foundational classes.) All students must also complete a capstone. Flexible courses deliver in accelerated 10-week blocks, and students can complete the degree in as little as 15 months. Alumni of the program can be found working at Fidelity Investments, U.S. Departments of Defense and Armed Forces, State Street Corp., IBM, AT&T, Verizon, United Healthcare, Boston Scientific, Pfizer, Oracle, and more.
- Tuition Per Credit: $627