Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Yet Another Ranking of B-Schools?

Yet another elaborate ranking of business schools? Like all others, does this provide the most comprehensive and useful assessment of business schools around the world? Or with the growing numbers that claim ranking authority, do they confuse prospects, professors and alumni all concerned about the value of MBA degrees? Do they help or undermine prospects' efforts to decide whether they should pursue an MBA and where they should attend?

The Economist magazine recently announced its latest rankings in a publication called ("Which MBA?"). (See www.economist.com/whichmba.) Its rankings are not new. The magazine has been at it for nine years. This year, however, they may rankle those who care about lists and rankings, because of the substantial shifts among schools in its top 10 and top 25.

As with many who dare to provide top 10 or top 50 lists, criteria matter. The magazine altered criteria significantly enough to produce a demonstrative change in its rankings. Critics will ask: Do business schools change that much from year to year to alter rankings that much? Or supporters will respond: Should criteria change whenever appropriate to ensure that business schools are emphasizing the right objectives or serving the most useful purpose?

CFN addressed concern, apprehension and usefulness in rankings in a May, 2009, blog (,http://consortiumfinancenetwork.blogspot.com/2009/05/rankings-take-peek-but-be-cautious.html) and provided guidelines on how to use them or when to ignore them. Numerous publications (BusinessWeek, USNews, WSJ, et. al.) produce their lists with fanfare and contribute to confusion and panic about which schools are tops and which schools are lagging.

Still, rankings proliferate, and those who read, study and perhaps care about them have gotten used to, say, a Dartmouth being no. 1, no. 5, or no. 11. All depends on who ranks and when. Eighteen months later, the advice is probably essentially the same. Take a peek at the rankings, but don't get obsessed by them.

Notwithstanding The Economist's latest rankings (where Consortium schools Dartmouth and Cal-Berkeley rank no. 2 and 3, respectively, on a global stage), it makes sense to review criteria. It focuses less on GMAT scores of entering students and evaluates schools based on the job they do to get students employed and get them into high-paying, meaningful positions (meaning, MBA-level jobs, where they use MBA-learned skills and are on a rapid MBA-influenced pace). It gives this a 55% weighting.

It also tries to measure the extent to which alumni networks can help spur an MBA graduate's career. Some b-school alumni become indifferent to or removed from their b-school experiences for many reasons. The Economist's criteria measure the efforts b-schools make to reach out and manage alumni networks for the benefit of students. The criteria suggest schools should spur alumni to want to turn back and assist recent graduates.

GMAT scores and a school's ability to attact smart students are acknowledged, but not weighted significantly. Starting compensation is weighted more heavily, although it understands that schools (especially international schools) that attract older, experienced students will likely produce graduates with higher starting salaries.

Business schools, of course, do teach courses, offer classroom instruction, promote inquiry, sharen knowledge in many business disciplines and sponsor invaluable research. The Economist understands how all that contributes to a high-quality graduate. But it is unapologetic when it says that these factors count less in its rankings. Hence, the prospect assessing a school based on the quality and depth of research in finance, accounting or operations or the experience of faculty wouldn't pay much attention to these rankings. And The Economist even says so.

As with many rankings, the familiar schools appear in "Which MBA?", even if the order or rank is different from list to list. Consortium schools fare well in this ranking and in many others. Sometimes there is no pattern in rankings from list to list.

In The Economist's sub-categories, Dartmouth, Cal-Berkeley, USC and Virginia are top-10 schools in helping students transition to new, different careers. Cal-Berkeley and USC are top-5 schools in presenting networking opportunities to graduates.

If actual order of rank is not obsessed over, rankings can be useful. They provide information or highlight schools that might not otherwise be known or might deserve more attention. If obsessed over, they detract from the major objectives of going to b-school or the experiences and knowledge that can be attained from attending.

Tracy Williams

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