Stanford’s Graduate School of Business edged out Harvard Business School to gain first place honors in the 2011 U.S. News & World Report ranking out today (March 15). The two premier schools were in a dead tie in the ranking last year.
The top ten saw only slight changes. The big news already reported due to a sneak preview: Yale University’s School of Management cracked into the magazine’s top ten by tying New York University’s Stern School for tenth place. Yale was 11th last year, while NYU was ninth. Wharton, No. 5 in 2010, moved up two places to grab a tie with MIT Sloan School at number three.
Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management dropped one spot to fifth place, to fall into a tie with its long-time rival, the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, which also had been ranked fifth in 2010 by U.S. News.
The U.S. News ranking has come under heavy criticism of late from none other than bestselling author and New Yorker staffer writer Malcolm Gladwell who recently attacked the magazine’s methodology. His conclusion: the ranking is largely the result of completely arbitrary judgments made by the magazine and have little if anything to do with the quality of the schools or the programs they offer. Nonetheless, the U.S. News ranking–while not as influential as either BusinessWeek or The Financial Times–does carry considerable weight among the general public. (One other note: As a marketing ploy, U.S. News claims this is a 2012 ranking to give it greater shelf life. It is based on 2010 data and released in 2011 which is why we label it a 2011 ranking.)
U.S. News said it surveyed more than 430 accredited master’s programs in business to come up with its ranking. Typically, the magazine ranks 100 schools. This year, it has 111 schools that are ranked. The magazine only ranks U.S.-based schools, unlike BusinessWeek, The Financial Times, or The Economist which publish global rankings, either combined or separate.
The magazine ranks U.S. schools every year, using a vast amount of information and data. The methodology takes into account its own survey of B-school deans and MBA directors (25% of the score), corporate recruiters (15%), starting salaries and bonuses (14%), employment rates at and three months after graduation (7% to 14%, respectively), student GMATs (about 16%), undergrad GPAs (about 8%), and the percentage of applicants who are accepted to a school (a little over 1%).
How does U.S. News decide how much to weight each of these factors? Robert Morse, director of data research for U.S. News, once told a reporter that the weights are based on “our accumulated judgment.” Explains Morse: ” Our rankings aren’t social science in the sense that we’re not doing peer-reviewed rankings; we’re not submitting our conclusions and our weighting system to a group of academics and letting them decide if they are right or wrong. We do meet regularly with academic experts about the relative importance of the factors that we use.”
So how did Stanford edge ahead of Harvard this year and break through last year’s tie? According to U.S. News, Stanford bested its East Coast rival on the “recruiter assessment” survey (gaining a 4.6 out of 5.0 score vs. Harvard’s 4.5), on its acceptance rate of applicants (6.8% vs. Harvard’s 11.2%, on average starting salary and bonus ($131,949 vs. $131,759), on average undergraduate GPAs (3.69 vs. 3.67) and average GMAT scores of incoming students (728 vs. 724), and on 2010 graduates employed three months after graduation (92.4% vs. 90.1%. There is only a significant difference in one of these measures–the percentage of applicants accepted–which can easily be attributed to Stanford’s much smaller intake of students and the allure of California, factors that have nothing to do with the quality of one institution over another.
Harvard, meantime, bested Stanford in only one of the metrics used by U.S. News to rank business schools: percentage of MBAs employed at graduation (78.6% vs. Stanford’s 75.8%). The two schools had identical “peer assessment” scores of 4.8 out of 5.0. All told, the differences between the two titans of graduate business education was two index points–Stanford was awarded 100 points and Harvard was awarded 98 points. By the time you reach the last school in U.S. News’ top ten, which is Yale University’s School of Management, the index score falls to 81, the peer assessment score drops to 4.1, and the recruiter assessment score hits 4.0 (see the next page for a full table of the data used by U.S. News to rank schools).