Executive MBA Programs That Won't Break the Bank

Last Updated May 18, 2011 2:08 PM EDT

Reprinted from PoetsandQuants.com
Executive MBA programs can be pretty costly. At the very top of the luxury brands is the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School program in San Francisco with a breath-taking price tag of $172,200. Most of the highly ranked executive versions of the MBA are all well above six figures.

Are there any reasonably priced EMBA experiences out there?

You bet. We found nearly 50 business schools in the U.S. that offer executive MBAs for less than $50,000 in total tuition. They may not have the cache of a Columbia Business School, Chicago Booth or Northwestern Kellogg, but then many of these programs cost only a third or less of the big brand EMBA experiences. You'll get similar course material in all the business basics for a fraction of the cost of a Wharton or a Columbia.

MBAs at Bargain Basement Prices
Imagine earning an MBA for a flat $10,000. It's possible at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, in a 24-month program with a class size of 50 students with average work experience of nine years. The catch? It's a defense-focused degree available only to officers and senior civilians in the Navy.

So the least expensive EMBA in the world is a bit of an amomaly. But then there is Ohio University's program in Athens, Ohio, at a mere $29,000 in total tuitionâ€"just one-sixth the cost of that Wharton program. Or want something even more reasonable? Try Benedictine College's $22,200 EMBA program, a fast track, 12-month experience in Atchison, Kansas.

How can these schools offer quality EMBAs at such low costs? "We're trying to grow the program right now," explains Edward Yost, director of executive graduate education at Ohio University. "We also live in a pretty depressed area in Southeast Ohio. It's not the most lucrative economy in the world so there is a need to serve our public and the community's economic development needs." At a time when most schools hike their MBA tuition by 3% to 6% annually, Ohio's EMBA pricetag has remained the same for the past three years.

These bargains are not confined to the hinterlands. There are also programs under $50,000 in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. Consider Baruch College's $48,000 program, Lake Forest's $44,720 program, or San Francisco State's $42,480 EMBA degreeâ€"all remarkable deals in high-priced locales.

The Downside of No-Frills Programs
Many of these executive programs are relatively new so the alumni network is somewhat sparse. The under-$50K schools with the largest alums are Lake Forest, which has graduated 7,700 EMBAs, St. Mary's in Moraga, California, which has graduated 4,000 EMBAs, and Brigham Young, which has turned out more than 1,600 grads.

Obviously, there are sacrifices here. It's the difference between flying coach and first class. Not only do you not get the prestige of a big brand, you're likely to sit in classrooms with students and professors who won't be as consistently interesting and high caliber. If there's a stayover night, you're not going to be put up at the swanky Hotel Le Meridian in San Francisco's financial districtâ€"an inclusive part of Wharton's pricey program. And you're also not going to be given gourmet meals which are often a part of an upscale, big brand executive MBA.

But you'll be saving a heck of a lot of money. And interestingly enough, some of these schools are highly ranked and highly admired, even though they have figured out a way to deliver a top quality program at a low cost. Two good examples: Purdue University's Krannert School of Management, highly ranked for its full-time MBA program, has an executive version for $42,000. Brigham Young University's Marriott School of Management, also highly for its full-time MBA program, has a $45,000 EMBA, with a weekend option in Salt Lake City and a weeknight option in Provo.

You'd expect a no-frills program for just $45,000, right? So what do you get? Surprisingly, a lot. It includes the cost of books, breakfast and lunch every day during two residency weeks, and, remarkably, an international trip for which BYU even picks up the round-trip airfare. This year's contingent of EMBAs went to places as far afield as India, Greece, and Turkey.

So how can the 24-month program be so inexpensive? Says Debbie Auxier, program coordinator, "We're not spending money on lodging every other week or meals before or after class. What we serve we call them snacks. And we don't buy computers for them. We use our own professors to teach the program so we don't have to pay outsiders." No wonder, the school has half a dozen students are commuting from California, Oregon, Nevada and Idaho.

Some of these bargains tend to be specialized. Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management, for instance, has a one-year program in health care for clinical professionals and physicians that meets one evening each week and one weekend each month. The cost? Just $46,336. In a world of high six-figure programs, these are absolute steals.

Here's our list of EMBA programs that are among the best values out there:

School Tuition Class Size Average Work Exp. (years) Pgm. Length (months) Total Alumni
Naval Postgraduate SchoolMonterey, CA $10,000 50 9 24 400
Benedictine College Atchison, KS $22,200 15 5 12 400
Ohio University Athens, OH $29,000 25 3 18 125
University of New Orleans New Orleans, LA $29,500 48 5 17 429
West Virginia University Morgantown, WV $30,432 22 2 24 830
University of Arkansas Little Rock, AK $32,500 12 5 18 196
DePaul University Chicago, IL $33,600 27 3 20 195
University of New MexicoAlbuquerque, NM $34,560 64 5 25 650
Wichita State University Wichita, KS $35,075 25 5 20 130
Bowling Green State Bowling Green, OH $36,000 20 5 18 600
University of TennesseeChattanooga, TN $36,000 16 3 16 166
Kent State University Kent, OH $37,000 30 5 19 1,150
University of Idaho Moscow, ID $37,000 14 5 22 26
University of Tampa Tampa, FL $39,600 28 5 24 97
Binghamton University/SUNYBinghamton, New York $39,800 17 6 21 248
University at Buffalo Buffalo, New York $40,000 30 5 22 30
University of Florida Gainesville, FL $40,000 40 8 20 359
Northern Illinois University De Kalb, IL $40,500 34 5 21 881
University of Hawaii Honolulu, HI $40,986 44 5 22 380
University of Toledo Toledo, OH $41,000 11 3 15 292
Purdue University CalumetHammond, IN $41,000 23 5 18 300
Boise State University Boise, ID $41,000 18 8 21 42
Purdue University West Lafayette, IN $42,000 52 3 36 244
Florida International Miami, FL $42,000 51 5 20 150
University of Nebraska Omaha, NE $42,000 19 6 18 533
University of Nevada Las Vegas, NV $42,000 18 7 18 123
University of South Florida Tampa, FL $42,500 24 5 21 1,043
San Francisco State San Francisco, CA $42,480 16 5 23 250
University of Central Florida Orlando, FL $44,000 23 5 20 335
Cleveland State University Cleveland, OH $44,500 17 10 19 1,050
Lake Forest Lake Forest, IL $44,720 120 4 22 7,700
Mercer University Atlanta, GA $44,775 15 7 16 389
University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL $45,000 24 5 18 700
Brigham Young University Provo, UT $45,000 67 5 24 1,628
San Diego State San Diego, CA $45,888 39 8 22 535
Virginia Commonwealth Richmond, VA $46,000 46 6 20 715
Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN $46,336 25 5 13 25
University of New HampshireDurham, NH $46,730 15 7 19 672
Baruch College/CUNY New York, NY $48,000 30 5 34 869
University of Colorado Denver, CO $48,000 26 6 24 602
St. Mary's College Moraga, CA $48,600 22 5 18 4,000
Auburn University Auburn, AL $48,840 55 8 21 379
Jacksonville University Jacksonville, FL $49,000 23 10 16 750
Bradley University Peoria, IL $49,600 19 7 15 127
University of Maryland Adelphi, MD $49,602 14 5 21 310
University of New Haven New Haven, CT $49,840 17 10 21 1,600
Marquette University Milwaukee, WI $49,900 13 5 17 282
Rockhurst University Kansas City, MO $49,900 20 7 21 811
Source: Executive MBA Council

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    John Byrne is the editor-in-chief of PoetsandQuants.com and PoetsandQuantsforExecs.com. A former editor-in-chief of BusinessWeek.com and Fast Company magazine, Byrne also is the author or co-author of eight books on business, including two national bestsellers. Follow him on Twitter.