The Poets & Quants–24/7 Wall St. Most Affordable Top MBA Programs

Print Email

We at Poets&Quants–24/7 Wall St. have written plenty about the high cost of the MBA degree at the top schools. But what about highly ranked schools where the price tag is more affordable? Though “affordable” may be a relative term — even at its cheapest, an MBA from a full-time program in the United States costs more than the country’s median household income — there are schools where a high-quality graduate business education can be had for about a quarter of what you’d pay to attend Stanford, Columbia, or NYU Stern.

Leading the way among the P&Q–24/7 Wall St. top 50 for most affordable MBA is Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management, where a two-year degree can be had for the low, low price of $65,592. That’s an estimate based on data from the latest rankings by U.S. News & World Report, which put Purdue’s annual tuition at just $19,766 annually and its “cost of living” — room, board, books, and miscellaneous expenses, but not, critically, fees — at a mere $13,030 per year. Who knew West Lafayette, Indiana was so cheap?*

Altogether, Purdue and the next four schools down the list make up a key group: the only five schools out of 50 with a total two-year cost of under $100,000. After the Krannert School, Brigham Young University takes second place, with a total cost of $69,572, but also with a big asterisk: the Marriott School of Business’ annual tuition of $13,450, lowest on record for the top 50, is available only to members of the Mormon church. There are no such restrictions, however, at the next most-affordable MBA programs: the University of Texas-Dallas Jindal School of Management ($89,000), the University of Florida’s Hough Graduate School of Business ($95,620), and the University of Pittsburgh Katz Graduate School of Business ($99,950). (Non-LDS members pay a two-year MBA tuition of $52,240, according to BYU Marriott’s website, bringing its total two-year cost to $94,912 — still third place on the Most Affordable list.)

All these sums, it’s worth noting, are the sticker prices. Scholarship money at these and higher-ranked schools is plentiful, and many of these MBA programs are quite aggressive in offering scholarship discounts on their tuition costs.

Wondering how hard it is to get into these schools? Acceptance rates are fairly high at all four: 49.4% at Purdue, 52.7% at BYU, 35.1% at Texas-Dallas, 18.8% at Florida, and 34.0% at Pittsburgh Katz. That averages out to 38%.

BOILERMAKER BREAKDOWN: WHAT’S UP IN WEST LAFAYETTE?

Taking a closer look at Purdue Krannert, the school is in the midst — or perhaps what it hopes is the tail end — of a long rankings decline. In 1994, Purdue ranked 20th in Businessweek’s ranking; 10 years later, it was still considered a top-25 school, landing 23rd in U.S. News in 2005. Jump ahead to the last five years and the Krannert School is playing a much more mid-tier role in the B-school landscape, hovering on the brink of the U.S. News top 50: 53rd in 2015, 47th in 2016, 50th in 2017, 53rd last year.

Then, off the cliff. In the latest U.S. News ranking released in March, Purdue dropped 21 spots — most of any top-100 school — to land in a five-way tie for 74th. The school likewise dropped 12 places in the latest Businessweek ranking, to 50th, though it has maintained the 38th spot in the P&Q ranking for the last two years. There have been a few bright spots for the MBA program that last fall enrolled 48 full-time students: Krannert climbed to 27th in the latest Financial Times list, up from 36th, and in December it was named the No. 9 school in the world in the inaugural Wall Street Journal ranking — never mind the manifest and manifold shortcomings of that list.

Why the volatility — and why the steep drop-off in the highly influential U.S. News ranking? It probably has something to do with the precipitous decline in applications Purdue Krannert received between 2017 and 2018, from 332 to 231, a drop of 30%. In response, the school upped its acceptance rate more than 12%, from 37.3% in 2017 to 49.4% last fall. Purdue appears to still be concerned about apps: The school has announced that all domestic applicants for fall 2019 will have their fees waived. Deadline to apply is May 1.

WILD SWINGS ALONG THE P&Q RANKING

The Poets&Quants–24/7 Wall St. ranking contains some interesting contrasts vis-a-vis tuition and total cost. Look, for example, at two Texas schools: the Texas A&M Mays Business School in College Station, and, about 180 miles to the north, Texas-Dallas Jindal. Mays is ranked 46th and carries a two-year tuition price tag of $76,606 and an overall cost of $122,682. Jindal, meanwhile, is ranked 45th and has a much lower tuition cost ($57,000) and, therefore, overall cost ($89,000). (Jindal also has the second-lowest cost-of-living estimate, at $32,000 for two years.) The tuition difference is nearly $20,000 and the cost difference is more than $33,000 between two schools with no daylight between them in the ranking. There are aa handful of similar examples across the ranking.

But the fact is, you have to go well down the ranking to get into the realm of anyone’s idea of “affordable.” Only three schools ranked by P&Q in the top 25 find their way into the “bottom” 20 for cost: No. 24 Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business is eighth overall at $116,530; No. 25 Indiana University Kelley School of Business is 16th overall at $137,910; and No. 18 Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business is 20th, at $146,908.

As an astute reader points out below, there’s another noteworthy wrinkle: The Arizona State W.P. Carey MBA, ranked No. 31 by P&Q, might technically be free for some, as the university began offering admission to 100% of applicants in 2015. (Here’s our story from 2015 on Arizona State’s gambit.) However, the program has gone from a tuition-free program to a program that provides scholarships for all — which means there is a price tag on the program. Both the school and U.S. News (see page 2) have detailed cost breakdowns for the Carey MBA. There’s also a discrepancy between the school’s stated two-year tuition ($96,500) and the U.S. News number of $94,396; for the sake of consistency with the rest of our top-50 ranking, we’ve gone with U.S. News.

When we talk about cost, we also are talking about debt. Where are MBA students racking up the most debt — and the least? And where is the percentage of those graduating with debt the lowest?

The lowest average amount of debt per graduate of a top-50 B-school can be found at the University of Wisconsin School of Business: $25,737. (Wisconsin is also where you will find the lowest percentage of grads with debt: 25%.) Texas-Dallas is not far behind, at $28,106, followed by the University of Washington Foster School of Business ($28,968), Arizona State University’s Carey School of Business ($30,217), and the University of Georgia Terry College of Business ($36,603). After Wisconsin, the lowest percentage of grads with debt was at Penn State’s Smeal College of Business (27%).

The highest average debt amount comes at some familiar names: Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business ($115,590), followed by MIT’s Sloan School of Management ($115,139), the University of Virginia Darden School of Business ($106,489), and the University of Michigan Ross School of Business ($104,679). These are the only four above $100K — however it’s important to note that many of the big players — Wharton, Chicago Booth, Columbia, NYU Stern, Northwestern Kellogg, Dartmouth Tuck — did not provide U.S. News with indebtedness data.

The highest percentage of grads with debt was at Indiana University’ Kelley School of Business, at 92% (at an average of $57,079), followed by the University of Rochester’s Simon Business School at 72% ($40,864).