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Challenges of Delivering “One MBA” in Different Formats

Many institutions offer different formats for their MBA delivery, thinking that will provide the best opportunity to capture most prospective students. Often, they attempt to sell these different delivery models as “one MBA,” not wanting the market to think it is choosing among different products that must be considered separately. In this post, we explore how the preferences of Part-Time MBA (PTMBA) prospects shift by delivery format of interest—fully face-to-face, hybrid, or online, the latter of which is exploding in popularity.

The Data

Throughout this year, we have asked nearly 500 prospects how important certain program attributes were to them when choosing PTMBA programs. As you will see, the “one MBA” proposition becomes difficult to market to everyone, as prospects favoring different delivery models also prioritize different programmatic attributes.

Out of 12 attributes tested, the following are the top five in importance by delivery model preference. Please note that only those who expressed an interest in a single delivery model are included below.

Let’s focus on the similarities first. “Strong academic reputation” and “strong curriculum” are in the top 5 for all students, though notably these attributes are less important to those seeking online delivery than they are for those seeking some-to-all of their delivery face-to-face. Based on our knowledge of these markets, this is not surprising. However, these attributes are typically not the bases for prospective students choosing one program or another, as it is difficult to truly differentiate.

“Convenient location” makes sense as important to those taking classes face-to-face and not to those seeking online delivery. What this underscores, however, is the importance of ensuring the market knows how convenient your program is. We are continually surprised when we survey prospective students who have considered a program but do not know about its multiple campuses and/or hybrid delivery model!

“Strong employer relationships” are also valued greatly by those seeking face-to-face classes but drops out of the top 5 for those who are not. This signals the importance to local students that their degree be highly respected within their market. You don’t have to be the strongest academic program in a market to have the best employer relationships.

“Specialty area offered” and “low net cost” creep up in importance as the delivery model becomes more online-focused. For “specialty area offered,” with the increasing number of online options available, students can easily choose the exact one that will shine best in their industry of interest. Though there are MBA programs with Finance concentrations everywhere, students can now choose the one with the concentration in, say, Investment Management, their subarea of focus.

The rise of “low net cost” is also a function of increased competition driving down price. Students expect their experience to be less expensive since they are not taking up space in a physical classroom. Of course, we know that delivering programs online can actually be more expensive than face-to-face – and students should potentially be paying for the convenience of online learning – but it may take some convincing for the market to understand that!


For those of you with the “one MBA” proposition, the challenges for you are clear. How can you market one program delivered multiple ways, when what the prospects are seeking from each way is so different? Understanding how your particular prospects are valuing their attributes, which may differ from above in your local market, is essential to getting it right. As a starting point, you should be thinking about the fact that you have three different markets you’re attracting and three different products you’re selling them with three different value propositions. From your first marketing touchpoint through to your last recruitment email, you should be doing your best to segment your prospects into each of these markets and have your communications messaging address the varied important attributes to their purchasing decisions.

As always, if you have any questions about these data or how to survey your market to learn this important information, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We conduct surveys regularly to better understand local and regional markets and can help you determine how well positioned your programs are in your markets, and what would increase their appeal among prospects.