Who’s the B-School King of Finance?

by John A. Byrne on Print Print

Wharton's Locust Walk on a recent fall day.

The finance departments of both Cornell University’s Johnson School and the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business tumbled six places today (March 15) in U.S. News & World Report’s new 2011 ranking of the best B-schools for finance. It was the steepest fall of any of the 28 schools on U.S. News’ specialty ranking for finance.

Cornell dropped to 24th from 18th place last year, while Texas fell to 21st from 15th in the finance discipline ranking. Yale’s School of Management also lost ground in finance, down four places to a rank of 17th from 13th in 2010. Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business also fell four spots to 24th from 20th last year.

Wharton, Chicago and New York University retained their No. 1, 2 and 3 places, respectively. No. 4 Stanford slipped ahead of No. 5 Columbia Business School, which had the four spot in 2010. Harvard Business School, according to U.S. News, fell two places to a rank of 9th in finance, from 7th last year.

The U.S. News specialty ranking in finance–released along with the magazine’s overall ratings of the best business schools–is based entirely on a poll of deans and MBA program directors. U.S. News asks B-school administrators to name and rank the finance departments of the schools, even though they are likely to have no direct knowledge of these programs. Respondents then are largely selecting schools on the basis of their overall reputations in a given field–and they will likely name their own schools on the survey even if they don’t deserve to be there (see story on overall rankings biggest winners and losers.)

This flaw was highlighted recently by New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell in a scathing critique of the U.S. News methodology for its overall ranking of colleges.The longer the list, the thinner this data gets–leading to some odd results. The finance ranking points up the problem: Tied for 24th place are two of three business schools–Seattle University in Seattle and St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia–that never make more credible lists of the best business schools.

Nonetheless, the U.S. News poll is a proxy for the general reputation and image of a school in a core teaching area and worth some bragging rights. And of all the disciplines taught at graduate business schools, finance usually reigns supreme. It’s where most schools put the single largest chunk of their resources, from faculty to the courses in the catalog. After all, finance is the language of business, and so even this flawed ranking of the best finance departments at U.S. business schools is worth a look.

The biggest year-over-year winners on the list? Ohio State University’s Fisher School of Business had the largest gain, moving up six places to 17th from 23rd last year. Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School rose three spots to finish 13th, up from 16th a year earlier.

There are five new schools on the list: No. 14 Fordham University in New York, No. 17 Loyola University in Chicago, No. 21 Creighton University in Omaha, No. 24 Seattle University in Seattle, and the No. 24 University of Florida in Gainesville. Two schools dropped off the list from last year: No. 23 Xavier University’s Williams School of Business and No. 25 Loyola Marymount University (see next page for complete rankings and year-over-year comparisons).

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