Increase Your Earning Potential With an Online MBA from SMU Cox

MBA degree holders from the SMU Cox School of Business stand to make tens of thousands more upon graduation.

A headshot of a female online MBA student in a business suit

This blog post was originally published in May 2019, and was revised in May 2023.

Pursuing an MBA requires an investment of valuable time and resources, which leaves many prospective business school students to ponder: is it worth it?

As long as you’re at a top school, the short answer is: yes, it is. MBA degree holders from the SMU Cox School of Business stand to make tens of thousands more upon graduation. A survey of the Full-Time MBA Class of 2018 revealed, on average, that graduates are already earning 73 percent–or $43,000–more than they did prior to completing their MBA degree.

Today, the decision of whether to pursue an MBA is further compounded due to the availability of both traditional on-campus programs and emerging online MBA programs. A major factor to consider is that the flexibility of an online program can strengthen your return on investment (ROI). An online student is often able to keep a full-time job and don’t have to uproot their lives and families to relocate to a university community that likely has a high cost of living.

This spring, SMU Cox joins the growing list of elite MBAs in welcoming its inaugural online cohort. Like many of the top online business schools, SMU Cox has a range of programs-from part-time professional degrees, to accelerated programs, to specialized master’s-each tailored to meet the needs of each student. The degree conferred by an online MBA is the same degree conferred by its traditional counterpart. Both courses of study are aimed at students seeking rigorous training that will sharpen their skills, redirecting and accelerating their career growth.

When evaluating online programs and the ROI of an MBA, the two most important things to consider are the reputation of the school and the quality of the education. SMU Cox’s Online MBA can be measured by (1) a distance-learning model that provides greater access to educational resources and career support; and (2) a long-standing history of achievement and statistics that support successful MBA outcomes.

SMU’s belief in the advantage of online learning

Postgraduate learning hasn’t always been within reach, but many of the nation’s top business schools are changing that. Schools are now recognizing a growing need for access to high-quality MBA programs, and it’s completely disrupting higher education in a positive way. These online programs consist of students who want to advance or switch their careers, but aren’t able to accommodate a traditional on-campus MBA program.

For prospective students who need or desire flexibility and accessibility, the benefits of online learning are clear: the model consists of remote learning, allowing students to access their education from any location. But “remote” doesn’t amount to isolated locales or a student marooned at a laptop. The advancement of information and communications technology makes online learning feasible and engaging. The SMU Cox Online MBA offers a hands-on, cohort-based program with synchronous lectures that take place in virtual classrooms. They’re face-to-face and held in real time, allowing students and teachers to interact throughout the lesson. Virtual classrooms can easily and quickly be divided into breakout rooms-on the fly spaces created by instructors for group work. The Online MBA program structure is every bit as collaborative and interactive as its brick-and-mortar counterpart; students are highly engaged with their teachers and peers, as well as real world companies, just as they are in traditional educational settings.

The SMU Cox Online MBA was created around the realities of today’s workforce and to meet market needs. We’re in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution-a technological revolution that is fundamentally changing the way we live. Big data, artificial intelligence, and automation-trademarks of the fourth industrial revolution-don’t only impact the technology sector. Across industries and across functions, the pace of technology demands companies find employees with scalable and expandable skill-sets. Every company, big and small, needs champions who have an understanding of what’s going on in the data world and how that affects expectations. What does it mean when a statistician now has access to fifty-million variables instead of 50? What happens when an entire team’s work can be automated?

To stay relevant, schools that have granted degrees for hundreds of years must account for the changes impacting business. Faculty at SMU Cox say that planning the online program reinforced the importance of constant, critical, and careful self-evaluation when structuring curriculum. Bill Dillon, The Herman W. Lay Professor of Marketing and senior associate dean at SMU Cox, describes his marketing course as reflective of the reality that people work in cross-functional teams. Whether teaching in a virtual classroom or a in one of SMU’s Georgian red-brick lecture halls, Dillon’s course content is consistent. He challenges students not only to examine the dynamic between marketing and sales, but to view marketing within analytical frameworks. By understanding what marketing teams can do, and the tools at their disposal, leaders can extract maximum value.

SMU Cox MBA graduate statistics

Insights into the full-time MBA provide tangible takeaways for what students can and should expect from an online MBA. SMU Cox surveyed the Full-Time Two-Year MBA Class of 2018 and found that female MBA grads had a greater ROI, increasing their salary by 78 percent, while male MBA grads increased by 70 percent. Further details regarding the survey results are outlined below.


For those who work full time but want a change, an MBA provides a path to start over. And, at SMU Cox, moving to a new career proved lucrative. Of the Full-Time 2018 graduating class, roughly 71 percent were career-changers, with an average pre MBA salary of $58,000. Upon graduating, students received an average starting salary of $102,000-a 75 percent increase, compared to 70 percent for graduates who returned to the same career.

Among this group, when female MBA graduates changed careers, their annual salary increase after graduation was 10 percent higher than their female counterparts who did not swap careers, while male MBA graduates saw the same average salary increase, regardless of whether they changed careers. Interestingly, 79 percent of all female graduates changed careers after obtaining their MBA, and only 67 percent of male graduates were career-changers.

Regardless of gender, the majority of all career-changers moved to the finance industry.

Top industries

Consulting professionals made the most, with salaries ballooning from $65,000 to $141,000-an over two-fold increase. Finance professionals increased their salaries by 71 percent, going from $59,000 to $101,000 per year. MBA graduates in the fields of technology and manufacturing reported salary increases of respectively 72 percent and 85 percent. Energy professionals had a 67 percent increase and real estate salaries increased by 31 percent, although the newly increased pay was within reach of top salaries from other industries.

Diverse backgrounds

A core benefit of the MBA is that, regardless of background, students can pivot into their desired career. In the 2018 Full-Time MBA cohort, 57 percent of students graduated with a bachelor’s between 2006-2012 and 43 percent between 2013-2016. While 41 percent of the 2018 Full-Time MBA cohort studied business for their undergraduate degree, the other 59 percent represented a range of diverse majors, from liberal arts to engineering.

The Full-Time MBA increased higher base salaries of those with a bachelor’s degree in business by $40,000 per year. For those with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts Full-Time MBA graduates saw an increase of $72,500, going from $40,000 annually to $112,500. The core curriculum prepares students to make a leap at any stage in their career.

Closing the gender gap

Another way to look at ROI is to evaluate the impact it has on the gender gap. Though 30 percent of the 2018 graduates at Cox were women and 70 percent were men, the post-MBA salary for female grads was actually $10,000 higher than it was for male grads. The pay gap between men and women does not have one single cause, but MBA graduates earn more, and more men hold MBAs than do women.

What is driving these outcomes?

SMU Cox has a long-standing history of success. In addition to being practitioners and industry leaders, the renowned SMU Cox faculty blend industry insights with academic research. And, importantly, the online program will be taught by the same faculty. Graduates of the online program will also enjoy the full benefits of the school’s international 40,000 person-wide alumni network. The online and traditional programs work together, and the development of the online program has even helped inform the curriculum of the traditional program.

Most importantly, though, is that SMU Cox believes in enabling MBA students to transition into a profitable and fulfilling career. For Full-Time MBA graduates, this means completing an internship that will pivot and accelerate their earning potential. For Online MBA graduates, this opportunity comes from experiential learning as a core pillar of their program and extensively woven into the curriculum.

With the Online MBA built on three foundational pillars: leadership, analytics, and experiential learning, students are prepared to be critical and forward thinkers. An emphasis on leadership reinforces innovation and collaboration. Analytics is at the center of today’s data-driven world, and at SMU Cox, students learn to gain insights from data and clearly communicate their findings. A model of experiential learning gives students hands-on, real-world access to SMU Cox’s corporate partners. The practice of merging learning with experience provides the framework for students to keep building on their skills and knowledge, even after the program ends.

SMU Cox’s MBA graduates have such positive outcomes because companies want employees who add value by anticipating needs and responding to challenges proactively rather than reactively. SMU Cox’s Online MBA prepares graduates to work with a comprehensive knowledge of what’s happening in their sector and what new opportunities exist to drive business. This is reflected in the salaries of SMU Cox’s 2018 Full-Time MBA graduates who – upon re-entering the workforce – experienced a 73 percent overall higher salary.

ROI and beyond: The absolute value of an online MBA at SMU Cox

An online MBA is an investment in yourself and your career. The investment is cost-effective through increasing graduates’ skills, expanding their networks, and promoting job mobility. It helps you earn more by increasing your value to employers. The relationships you make and the skills you learn will serve you throughout your MBA career.

Data from the Full-Time MBA Class of 2018 demonstrates the value of an SMU Cox MBA. The Cox Online MBA program benefits from the established reputation, alumni network, corporate partners and resources of SMU Cox. But as a leading and innovative program, SMU Cox has used the opportunity of creating an online program as a way to collaborate between the traditional and cutting-edge.

As the fourth industrial revolution progresses, it’s becoming clearer that companies require versatile and specially-trained employees. Universities with online MBA programs are poised to fill this need. The Online MBA at SMU Cox showcases the kind of synergy possible between 20th and 21st century education, and how that synergy drives the potential for career growth and meaningful change.