Princeton Review’s Shameful MBA Ranking

by John A. Byrne on

For eight years now, the Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine have been publishing rankings of the top business schools for entrepreneurship. Today, for the third year in a row, Babson College’s MBA program is at the top of the list. The rest of the top five? Chicago’s Booth School of Business, Michigan’s Ross School, Brigham Young’s Marriott School, and the University of Arizona’s Eller School of Management.

If you’re wondering where Harvard, MIT, Berkeley and Wharton are, they didn’t make the top 25. There’s the Acton School of Business in Texas which is ranked 11th by Princeton Review and Entrepreneur. And there’s the University of Southern Florida’s Business School which is ranked 25th. But no Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, or Wharton.

WHERE IN THE WORLD IS HARVARD?

Harvard has an entire building filled with faculty and students devoted to entrepreneurship called the Arthur Rock Center, named after the HBS alum who invested in both Apple and Intel. Harvard boasts 35 faculty members who teach entrepreneurship, the second largest faculty group at the school. All first-year MBAs at Harvard have a required course in entrepreneurship and can choose from nearly two dozen second-year electives on the topic, one of the richest elective offerings in entrepreneurship in the world. Though only 3% to 4% of Harvard grads launch companies right out of school, about half of Harvard MBAs end up as entrepreneurs 15 years out. Even more surprisingly, Harvard alums compose nearly 25% of the entire venture capital industry. But Harvard fails to make the Princeton Review list. A Princeton Review spokesman says it is because Harvard refused to participate in its surveys.

If you’re curious as to where Stanford’s Graduate School of Business is ranked, it is several places behind schools in Tucson, Arizona, Provo, Utah, and Houston, Texas. That’s right, the school that is in the middle of Silicon Valley, the world’s entrepreneurial hotbed that every emerging nation is trying to duplicate, is merely number eight. That’s despite the fact that 10% of Stanford MBAs launch companies at graduation. Number eight behind the University of Arizona and Brigham Young.

In fact, only half the schools in Princeton Review’s top ten even make the top ten list of best entrepreneurial programs put out by U.S. News & World Report, which bases its ranking on a survey of deans and MBA directors.

Improbable, right? Indeed. The most important thing to understand about any ranking is that the methodology determines the result. It’s not about which program is best or which program is right for you and your career needs. It’s about the quality and the integrity of the methodology and whether you even agree it makes any sense.

THE BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN U.S. NEWS AND PRINCETON REVIEW.

It’s interesting to examine the differences between the U.S. News list and the Princeton Review list. The most fascinating difference? U.S. News can’t even cleanly rank the top 25 schools in entrepreneurships because the results are so close. In fact, the magazine has five schools tied for the rank of 16th, three MBA programs tied for 21th, and two-way ties for 7th, 12th, 14th, and 24th. To its credit, what U.S. News is conceding is that there is no meaningful statistical difference among these schools so it would be unfair to rank them separately. Princeton Review and Entrepreneur have no qualms about this. Each of its 25 schools have a single rank. Is it because their results have statistical relevance? We doubt it. But, of course, you won’t know because Princeton Review doesn’t disclose overall index numbers or much else.

U.S. News Ranking & School Princeton Review/Entrepreneur Rank
1.   Babson College 1
2.   Stanford 8
3.   MIT (Sloan) NR
4.   Harvard NR
5.   Pennsylvania (Wharton) NR
6.   Indiana (Kelley) NR
7.   Berkeley (Haas) NR
7.   Southern Cal (Marshall) 14
9.   Texas-Austin (McCombs) 9
10.   Arizona (Eller) 5
11.   Northwestern (Kellogg) 16
12.   Michigan (Ross) 3
12.   UNC (Kenan-Flagler) 20
14.   Columbia NR
14.   Chicago (Booth) 2
16.   Santa Clara (Leavey) NR
16.   Syracuse (Whitman) 21
16.   UCLA (Anderson) NR
16.   Virginia (Darden) 7
16.   Washington (Foster) 17
21.   NYU (Stern) NR
21.   Rice (Jones) 6
21.   St. Louis (Cook) NR
24.   DePaul (Kellstadt) NR
24.   Gonzaga (Spokane, WA) NR

DATA: U.S. News, Princeton Review. NR means not ranked.

To understand exactly what the Princeton Review is ranking, you should be able to turn to a story that describes in detail the methodology being used to drive the result. Unfortunately, there is little if any insight into how the clever people at Princeton Review are cranking out these wacky results.

In fact, these rankings violate every journalistic principle. Readers are given only a vague notion of what considerations were made in creating the ranking—not how these various components are weighed. Most of the underlying data used to rank the schools is hidden from readers. Just as bad, readers are not told which schools chose not to cooperate largely because they believe the ranking is either inconsequential or, worse, intellectually dishonest.

WHEN ‘TRADITION’ IS AN EXCUSE.

What does the Princeton Review have to say for itself? “The methodology published on the site is as much as we make available,” says David Soto, director of content development for the Princeton Review. “We never have released the weightings.”

Why? “Tradition,” he flatly replies.

Soto says he has worked on this list for four years and can’t divulge the weights applied to the data provided to the Review by the schools. He says there is “near equal” weight applied to the three categories considered: “academics and requirements,” “students and faculty,” and “outside the classroom.”

Let’s take that last one. Here’s how Entrepreneurship describes this peculiar category: “Schools were asked whether they have partnerships with other schools that allow access to their entrepreneurship program, and how many officially recognized clubs and organizations they offer for entrepreneurship students. They were also asked how many non-curriculum-based activities and competitions they offer in the area of entrepreneurship, as well as how many officially sponsored mentorship programs they have for entrepreneurship students. They also were surveyed about their entrepreneurial scholarship offerings.”

Not very enlightening. So if a school has more clubs than another school, it is one of the best entrepreneurship programs in the U.S. If they’ve done a few partnerships with other schools, that is a measure of quality? If they have scholarship money to toss around, that makes them a great school?

Nonsense. Princeton Review and Entrepreneurship should be ashamed of themselves for publishing such trash.

Commentary by John A. Byrne, editor-in-chief of Poets&Quants and is the former executive editor of BusinessWeek and the former editor-in-chief of BusinessWeek.com. He created BusinessWeek’s MBA rankings in 1988.

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  • Ronald

    Very thoughtful, yet harsh, criticism

  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/jbyrne/ John A. Byrne

    Ron,
    Sorry for the harshness of the piece. It does make me angry to think that a lot of people can use this ranking to make one of the most important and costly decisions in their lives–and be entirely mislead as a result.
    Best,
    John

  • Adrian

    Anyone thinking Princeton Review is a serious publication just needs to remember that they’re best known for their rankings of the Top Party Schools.

  • d

    I bought the Princeton Review 1012 GMAT Questions Book and in my opinion it is representative of Princeton Review as an organization. The book has so many typos. All Princeton Review had to do was assemble a team to go through and do ever single problem in the book. If Princeton Review didn’t even have the common sense to do this, I really question the quality of Princeton Review.

  • Peter

    John, I usually love your articles. However, in this one, in my opinion, you have gone too far in your criticism. Most of all, about Harvard, it would have been more clean to start your paragraph by saying that Harvard is not in the list because Harvard has refused to answer the Princeton form (you do that but very late in the article). As it is written now, it seems that Harvard is not there because it is very low ranked and that it is Princeton’s fault because Princeton didn’t consider all the stuff you say about Harvard.
    Why do you defend Harvard so deeply when Harvard is not ranked because it didn’t want to be ranked?

  • Louis

    Princeton Review sucks

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