Top 15 Affordable Conscious MBA Programs

Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs traditionally churn out bottom-line-oriented management types who go on to careers in consulting, private equity, and the like. But in the last decade or so, some business and management schools have shifted gears to create curricula with a focus on triple-bottom-line principles. The best of these programs give graduates a huge boost in finding and creating careers 
that emphasize social impact.

MBA infographic methodologyBut what program should an aspiring social entrepreneur choose?

We love the “Business as UNusual” report on conscious graduate business programs that Net Impact has compiled every year from 2006 to 2014. Yet with nearly 100 schools, it’s still a daunting list — and the latest edition is two years old. Plus, we believe a business degree shouldn’t require you to mortgage your future to exorbitant student loans.

So we’re inaugurating our own list of the best business school programs.

Using Net Impact’s report as a baseline, we added our own filters to compile the top 15 impact-focused business programs in the U.S. today. Each of these options has a strong focus on social and environmental responsibility, and — just as important — each costs less than $110,000 for two years. Browse the list, get inspired, and find the right program for you. Because the future needs MBAs who care more about changing the world than about owning it.

spotlight key

Leeds School of Business MBA 
Boulder, CO //

Boulder is a hub for impact entrepreneurs, especially in the energy and natural foods sectors. The Leeds program draws strength from that community in its optional sustainability focus, and adds a world-class ethics in business component via the university’s Center for Education on Social Responsibility.

Program structure
Full-time or evenings-only for 2 years
Full program cost $49,698  (assumes in-state tuition for year 2)

CU Boulder Leeds

School of Business Administration MBA 
Portland, OR //

The vibrant city of Portland itself is part of the draw to this regionally renowned program. The school’s Center for Global Leadership in Sustainability and optional Social Innovation certificate combine with a program-wide core value of sustainability to offer a thorough immersion in forward-thinking business.

Program structure
Full-time for 21 months
Full program cost $55,848  (out-of-state))

Portland State University

School of Business MBA 
San Diego, CA //

All MBA students in this 40-year-old program at a Catholic university are required to take Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) coursework and engage in community service as part of their studies. Students average 15 days studying internationally during their time in the program.

Program structure Full-time for 22 months
Full program cost $77,280

University of San Diego

Graduate School of International Policy and Management Fisher MBA in Global Impact Management 
Monterey, CA //

This program takes the “international” part of its name seriously: it’s the only MBA program we know that requires competency in a foreign language, and it attracts students from all over the world. Each student completes a real-world capstone project, and can choose from three tracks to focus on, including Social Enterprise and Finance.

Program structure Full-time for 20 months (one year option for those with relevant previous coursework or experience)
Full program cost $76,500*

Middlebury College

*The print version of this story incorrectly listed tuition as $109,200, though the proper number was used for rankings calculations. We regret the error.

MBA in Sustainability 
Keene, NH //

This small, intimate program is also the most affordable on our list. The interdisciplinary curriculum weaves impact and social responsibility throughout the hands-on work that includes case studies, field trips, research, and consulting projects.

Program structure
 In-person and online hybrid; students and faculty meet 10 times each year for two-day intensives.
Full program cost $34,548

Antioch University

Kenan-Flagler Business School MBA 
Chapel Hill, NC //

If you’re looking for the large community and deep pockets of a major research university, this long- established program is for you. The enrichment concentration in Sustainable Enterprise includes 22 electives related to sustainability.

Program structure
 Full-time for 2 years
Full program cost $102,406 (assumes in-state tuition for year 2)

Chapel Hill

Bard MBA in Sustainability
New York City and Annandale-on-Hudson, NY //

This liberal arts school’s New York-based MBA program has only been around since 2012, but already boasts an impressive faculty roster. The program integrates social and environmental themes in all classes, and students work in teams to complete an 8-month professional consultancy with local organizations.

Program structure In-person and online hybrid; students and faculty meet 10 times each year for four-day intensives
Full program cost $67,432 (2 years)

Bard College

MBA in Design Strategy
San Francisco, CA //

An MBA from an art school? It makes sense when you think about the innovations required to rethink business as usual. But you don’t need an art background to thrive in this program; just an interest in using design techniques (such as user-centered research, prototyping, critique, and iteration) to make a business impact.

Program structure In-person and online hybrid; students and faculty meet 10 times each year for four-day intensives
Full program cost $94,680 (2 years)

California College of the Arts

Lorry I Lokey Graduate School of Busines MBA
Oakland, CA //

The whole business school at this former women’s college is devoted to diversity, sustainability, and social responsibility, with a big nod toward social justice. Bonus: all required business courses are offered in late afternoon or evening time slots at least once during each academic year to accommodate working professionals.

Program structure Full-time for 2 years
Full program cost $65,340

Mills College

Bren School of Environmental Science and Management Master of Environmental Science and Management
Santa Barbara, CA //

This is the only program on our list that doesn’t confer an MBA; instead, the interdisciplinary MESM is a good option for students interested in more scientific and technical grounding. The core curriculum, including a year-long group capstone project, focuses on developing solutions to real-world problems.

Program structure Full-time for 2 years
Full program cost $39,582 (assumes in-state tuition for year 2)

Santa Barbara

MBA in Managing for Sustainability
Brattleboro, VT //

This intimate program is all about sustainability. Housed in a small liberal arts college (300 undergraduates, 150 total graduate students), it offers a deep dive into sustainable ideas and practices via a two-year low-residency approach.

Program structure In-person and online hybrid; students and faculty meet 11 times each year for three-day intensives
Full program cost $45,900 (2 years)

Marlboro College

Boston, San Francisco, London, Dubai and Shanghai //

This truly global school offers its hands-on program at 5 different campuses worldwide (Boston, San Francisco, London, Dubai, and Shanghai). Students can complete the one-year intensive all at one campus, or choose to rotate to one or two others for twelve weeks toward the end of the program. Sustainability is one of six possible specializations MBA students can choose.

Program structure Full-time for 12 months
Full program cost $69,800* (any home campus)

Hult University


*The print version of this story incorrectly listed tuition as $41,300, which is the cost of the Global One-Year Masters program at Hult, not the MBA. We regret the error. 

Global Social & Sustainable Enterprise MBA
Fort Collins, CO //

As the name suggests, this 16-month program housed in a large university features a strong focus on international business. The program includes a team-based, 8- to 12-week summer field intensive, often in developing countries.

Program structure Full-time for 16 months
Full program cost $52,008 (assumes out-of-state tuition)

Colorado State University

MBA in Sustainable Management
San Francisco, CA //

Another impact MBA pioneer fully devoted to graduate-level sustainability degrees, Presidio offers students experiential learning opportunities and a systems-focused approach in every course. With a close-knit alumni network in the heart of the tech sector, you don’t just get a degree — you join a community.

Program structure In-person and online hybrid; students and faculty meet 10 times each year for four-day intensives
Full program cost $65,5208 (2 years)


MBA in Sustainable Systems
Bainbridge Island, WA //

The original sustainable MBA program is still one of the best. We love that the whole school is devoted to sustainable business; that commitment shines through with Pinchot’s top ranks on all aspects of the curriculum, with a special emphasis on leader- ship and personal development. Tuition is relatively affordable, thanks in part to its low-residency option aimed at working adults.

Program structure In-person and online hybrid; students and faculty meet nine times each year for four-day intensives
Full program cost $58,200 (2 years)


This article appeared in Issue 7 | May/June 2016

Issue 7 features exciting interviews and profiles all focusing on youth and Millennials including: Sweetgreen; Radha and Miki Agrawal; Nisolo; a spotlight on the higher education system including a look at the student debt crisis and the top 15 sustainable MBA programs; and our inspiring cover story — Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez of one of the most exciting food companies in the nation, Back to the Roots.

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