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Kelley Direct celebrates 25 years as original online MBA program from top-tier business school

Jan 29, 2024

Incoming MBA students are introduced to the Kelley Direct program during Kelley on Campus. Photo by Noble Guyon, IU Kelley Scho... Incoming MBA students are introduced to the Kelley Direct program during Kelley on Campus. Photo by Noble Guyon, IU Kelley School of Business

The Kelley Direct Online MBA Program shares with students a simple yet powerful mission statement: “Learn from the best, with the best.” Far from being an aspirational statement, it is a plan and a purpose based on a quarter century of success.

The nation’s No. 1 online MBA program, part of the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, is marking its 25th anniversary in 2024, at a time when other schools are just launching similar degrees.

Kelley Direct is the original online MBA program from a top-tier business school. The program is uniquely designed in how it serves the needs of working professionals.

“Back in 1999, when the world was largely connected through dial-up internet, we shook up the MBA marketplace by becoming the first top-ranked business school to offer an online MBA,” said Ash Soni, dean of the Kelley School and the Sungkyunkwan Professor. “Critical to our success has been our dedication to always look for ways to innovate the ‘what’s next’ in online education.”

“Throughout our history and in an ever increasingly competitive market, we’ve always worked to be the leader in online education,” added Will Geoghegan, chair of Kelley Direct and clinical associate professor of management and entrepreneurship. “We believed then, and still do so today, that an online MBA should be delivered as a first-class preference. Every aspect of our program is designed to emulate the best aspects of an MBA experience, no matter the modality.”

While many business schools partner with external, for-profit vendors who outsource aspects of their online MBA programs — including instruction — all aspects of Kelley Direct are done in-house. All Kelley Direct courses are designed and taught by more than 130 dedicated full-time Kelley faculty.

“We practice what we preach at Kelley, and our students appreciate how our educational model provides them more value and at a lower price,” Geoghegan said. “Their tuition dollars are reinvested back into the program and the academic experience, instead of going to an outside program manager. In short, we can keep our tuition rates lower and our quality higher than other schools.”

The Kelley Direct program enrolled its first group of students in August 1999, employing a “mix of distance learning technologies,” according to an announcement from the school, which added, “While the program is new and innovative, it is founded on the same principles that have guided the school for nearly a century: high quality, rigorous standards and dedicated faculty.”

students listen as an instructor gestures towards a whiteboard Second-year students participate in brainstorming and group work through Kelley On Location, where students take a deep dive into an industry, geographic region or emerging challenge shaping today's business landscape. Photo by Ann Schertz, IU Kelley School of Business

Among the first 45 students were a U.S. Navy legal officer earning his degree from aboard an aircraft carrier, a company’s chief financial officer, a nuclear scientist, an engineer, a construction manager in Alaska and several entrepreneurs.

More than 5,500 learners have graduated since then. Kelley Direct’s current enrollment of 1,400 includes professionals from virtually every field, including law and medicine. About a third of the students already have another graduate degree.

Typically about 90 percent of Kelley Direct students live outside Indiana, hailing from 40 states and 12 countries. About 40 percent of students are looking to move up at their current organizations, while another 40 percent are looking to switch careers. Others are simply seeking the skill set that a Kelley Direct MBA provides to pursue future ventures.

The program was originally delivered online using an IU-developed course management technology that enabled students to access text, audio and video presentations, with online bulletin boards and chat rooms. Today, Kelley professors teach synchronous virtual live classes online coupled with hours of recorded asynchronous content. They use the school’s $10 million Jellison Studios and instructional design team to ensure world-class instruction.

Kelley Direct also remains unique due to its in-person, immersive experiences. They include Kelley On Campus, which involves a live case where students apply what they’re learning in a real-world setting that also benefits a real client; and Kelley On Location, which offers optional global and domestic immersions tailored to the students’ goals. Later this year, the program will introduce Kelley On Innovation, a new immersion opportunity focused on entrepreneurship.

“We offer personal touches more common to full-time, residential programs,” said Sarah Wanger, executive director of Kelley Direct programs. “We are always looking for ways for students to connect with one another and with us, as if they were here on campus, learning in person full time.

“We have seen Kelley Direct alumni develop strong connections and a sense of community among themselves that is different from most other online MBA programs that rely mainly on asynchronous resources and little peer or faculty interaction. For many of our students, this begins through connections made in our residencies, immersion classes, clubs and live classes. We think these are among the most impactful aspects of our program. Prospective students assume that every program offers this kind of tight-knit community and that, frankly, is not the case.”

New MBA graduates throw their caps and gowns in the air after their graduation ceremony Kelley Direct graduates celebrate on the IU Bloomington campus. Photo by Noble Guyon, IU Kelley School of Business

Kelley Direct graduates are part of a larger family of living Kelley alumni who today total more than 130,000 — one of the largest networks of business school alumni in the world. In the fall, the Kelley School launched the Kelley Alumni Network, an online platform that provides access to an alumni directory, job boards, career services and mentoring opportunities. It was designed to facilitate connections among Kelley grads, whether they earned an MBA through Kelley Direct or through another degree program.

U.S. News & World Report became the first news organization to rank online MBA programs in 2013, and Kelley Direct has held its top spot six times since then, including four times in the past five years. Since then, other leading business news outlets began ranking online MBA programs, also ranking Kelley Direct No. 1. They include Fortune and Poets&Quants, which last fall ranked Kelley Direct No. 1 for the third time. Princeton Review also named it the No. 1 program for the sixth time.

QS Quacquarelli Symonds, the world’s leading provider of services, analytics and insight to the global higher education sector, ranked Kelley Direct No. 1 among all programs in the Americas.

“Twenty-five years after we set the standard in online MBA education, we’re still leading the way,” Soni said. “Our faculty and staff are 100 percent invested in creating momentum for our students and continue to push the boundaries of what an online MBA should be. We are very proud of Kelley Direct’s legacy of excellence.”


Kelley School of Business

George Vlahakis

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