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The Ranks of MBAs in Uniform Are Growing

Schools that offer online programs are drawing military personnel
The Ranks of MBAs in Uniform Are Growing
Illustration by Steph Davidson

Paul Townsend, a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot stationed at the Pentagon, passed over part-time MBA programs at Georgetown University and the University of Maryland when he was looking for schools in 2012. The Air Force Academy graduate knew he would be restationed in the coming years, so he enrolled in the online program at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business and expects to graduate this summer. Soon afterward, he and his family will relocate to Okinawa, Japan, for a three-year tour. “So much has changed,” says Townsend, 36. “Previously, the only folks that played in the online space were for-profit programs, and I didn’t want to do any of those.”

While some top-tier business schools have experimented with making classes available via websites such as Coursera and EdX, just a small minority of highly rated schools offer online MBAs. Two of the best regarded are Kelley and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. Active-duty military personnel and service members making the transition to civilian life have become one of the largest groups of working professionals to enroll in these programs. “The military is a major industry where we see students coming from,” says Susan Cates, executive director of the online MBA program at UNC.