New rumors about the declining value of the MBA seem to pop up every month. Lately, it seems so many people are dragging themselves through b-school that even top-tier degrees are punching below their weight on the job market. It's scary stuff, if taken to heart.

But whether the stories are true or not, the old adage about distinguishing yourself from the rest of the pack has never been more apropos. For several years now, colleges and universities have been developing programs to help graduates do just that, and now joint Online MBA degree enrollment is growing more robust by the year.

It can be helpful to step back from the frenzy once in a while and take a serious, sober look at the expected versus actual value of trends like this, though. If students go the extra mile and earn a joint online MBA, can it really give them enough of an edge to justify the added cost in both time and capital?

Joint/Dual MBA Online Programs: The Basics

Here's a primer on the joint online MBA idea, for anyone who's unfamiliar. Rather than focusing a graduate education on b-school basics like accounting, management, economics, business strategy, marketing, finance and the rest, the MBA curriculum is supplemented with a substantial amount of specialized work in another field. Health care, education and law are among the most popular degree hybrids, but it seems that each year brings another new option to the table.

Clearly, dual online MBA degrees have an upside. They take less time and cost less money than earning each degree separately, and come with the added benefit of helping tighten students' career focus and strengthen their professional credentials. It's understandable that this obvious upside continues to lure students in, but there are a few drawbacks that might not be so easy to spot.

For one, even though joint online MBA degrees constitute a smaller investment of money and time than earning each degree individually, they are often more expensive and time-intensive than earning either degree by itself. Also, unless dual online MBA students feel certain that they'll enter a career field that matches their degree, the extra credential may come off to employers as a sign of indecisiveness — or send up red flags of over qualification, which can be even worse.

Joint Online MBA Options

Understanding the options on offer can be a powerful asset in the decision-making process. Here are a few types of dual online MBA programs currently on the market and a short description of each:

Some joint MBA programs may contain the added convenience of hybridized study plans that contain online MBA classes, for students trying to balance a full-time career with continued education.

The Verdict on Joint and Dual Online MBAs

Figuring out whether any individual actually needs a dual online MBA is, like most things, a case-by-case matter — if the goal is a career educating teachers at the collegiate level, for example, an MBA probably isn't necessary on top of a master's in education. Similarly, a career in financial sector management probably doesn't require a master's level education in public policy on top of the traditional MBA.

The best course of action for students considering a joint online MBA program might be to speak with advisors, alumni and current students about their professional ambitions and determine from there whether a dual degree would strengthen or dilute the potency of your business education. After all, it would scarcely be a mark of wisdom in a business leader to over invest in a potentially under-performing return.

Also, don't overlook the value of an industry-specific career internship as a way to add distinction to a resume. Spending one's time wisely in a traditional MBA program can be the best investment of all.