2011 Economist Ranking of the Best B-Schools

by John A. Byrne on

Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. Photo by John A. Byrne

Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business displaced the University of Chicago’s Booth School to capture first place in the 2011 ranking of full-time MBA programs by The Economist today (Oct. 13). Switzerland-based IMD came in third, while the University of Virginia’s Darden School moved into fourth place just ahead of No. 5 Harvard Business School.

Darden gained seven spots this year, rising from an 11th place finish last year. Columbia and London Business School also were among the biggest winners in the top 15. Columbia gained five spots to rise to seventh place from 12th, while London jumped six places to finish at No. 13th.

The biggest losers in The Economist’s top 30? The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business incredulously fell seven spots to a rank of 15th, while Britain’s Cranfield School of Management plunged eight places to a rank of 23.


Even more oddly, there were many head-scratching results that raise significant issues about the credibility of The Economist’s methodology. The University of Queensland in Australia, for example, jumped 35 places in a single year to rank 46th from 81st last year. The Economist failed to write a single word explaining how a school could so aggressively change its position in 12 months time, but it did acknowledge that rankings are controversial. “To compare a one-year Danish programme with a cohort of 50 students with a two-year American one with 1,000 is tricky. Some would say futile,” the magazine said in an accompanying article.

City University’s Cass School of Business in London rose 16 places (see table on next page), while the Mannheim School of Business plummeted 16 spots. Melbourne, Vanderbilt, Texas, and the University of Hong Kong all rose a dozen places in the ranking. Melbourne Business School Acting Dean Paul Dainty was quick to issue a news release on the school’s climb. “This is an important survey because a key measure is student satisfaction with MBA programs, and this confirms  we’re getting the learning experience and environment right,” Professor Dainty said in a statement.


The most wild swings occurred in the latter half of the top 100 schools. Henley Business School, for instance, fell 40 spots to a rank of 57th from 17th last year. At least three schools that failed to even make the 2010 Economist ranking showed up out of nowhere at surprisingly high ranks: No. 51 Ohio State, No. 52 Maryland, and No. 64 McGill. At the very least, those showings would mean that the schools would have had to respectively move up by 37, 49, and 50 places in a single year. Even more astonishingly, last year’s No. 61 institution, Manchester Business School, and No. 51, the University of Monaco, completely vanished from this year’s ranking.

Such dramatic changes in a ranking suggest that there is little, if any, statistical significance between one school’s rank over another. The Economist, however, fails to publish the index numbers behind its numerical ranking that would reveal how close the actual results are. The roller-coaster nature of The Economist’s ranking is at least consistent from year to year because the 2010 ranking showed vast changes in the standings of many schools as well (see The Economist’s Roller Coaster MBA Ranking).

Of the five major MBA rankings, many B-school deans privately express major reservations about the rankings published by both The Economist and The Financial Times because of the lack of transparency in those lists along with questionable methodology. The compensation data used by The Economist, moreover, is a year old, for the Class of 2010. Though few business school deans have positive things to say about rankings in general, they will often quietly acknowledge that they pay most attention to the annual list published by U.S. News & World Report and the biennial ranking by Bloomberg BusinessWeek.


The Economist, explaining why Tuck finished first, noted that virtually all Tuck’s students found work within three months of graduating. “Its MBAs could expect a basic salary of $107,000, a 65% increase on their pre-degree earnings,” the magazine said. “Tuck students also graded the quality of their alumni the best in the world—an important consideration given the often-repeated claim that who you meet on an MBA program is just as important as what you learn.”

The Economist’s methodology, which ranks U.S. and non-U.S. schools in one global ranking, is focused on four categories: opening new career opportunities (35%); personal development/educational experience (35%); increasing salary (20%); and the potential to network (10%). “The figures we collate are a mixture of hard data, such as salary and faculty qualifications, and the subjective marks given by the school’s students, such as a rating of their school’s facilities,” The Economist said.

This year, The Economist unexplainably gave 13 different schools, including the University of Arizona’s Eller School and Case Western Reserve’s Weatherhead School, a rank of 101.

The Economist said that the return on investment for an MBA degree has significantly declined in the past five years, especially if it is granted by a school that is not in the top 15 of its ranking. “Data taken from The Economist’s latest ranking of full-time MBA programs show that an MBA from a mid-ranking school is no longer the investment it once was,” the magazine reported. ” In 2010 the average tuition fee charged by American institutions ranked within our top 100, but outside of the top 15, was $81,911 for the full two years. The average basic salary of those schools’ freshly-minted MBAs was $81,178 a year. Five years ago tuition at the same cohort of schools was nearly $22,000 cheaper—$60,247—while the average salary, $78,442, was barely less than today’s. This price rise comes at a time when enrollment is falling; for American mid-level schools it is down 20% over the decade.”

(See next page for the top 50 schools and how they changed in rank from 2010)

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  • Skeptical this time

    CBoston, HSW do lose admitted applicants to Booth and INSEAD. They probably win aggregate, but I’ve seen it happen enough times.

  • HBSguest

    @Skeptical this time: Yes, HSW do lose admits to schools like Darden, Booth and INSEAD, but usually there is 1) a very compelling personal reason to choose that location (e.g. a brother that lives in Chicago is suddenly diagnosed with a major illness; a candidate decides they want to live in Virginia for the rest of their lives and rightfully figure that Darden has the best geographic location for their long-term goals), or, more commonly, there is a huge scholarship component involved. I went to HBS and was also accepted and offered a significant scholarship at a slightly lower-tier (but still top 10) school — not a full ride, but large enough to make me do a double-take. My decision to turn down the scholarship and choose HBS is due to the fact that I honestly believed then (and continue to believe today) that the case method is the absolute best learning format for me. (I know that sounds like b.s., but some of us out there genuinely believe this and choose HBS over S/W for that reason!)(it ain’t just b.s. for the essays)….But these examples of HSW getting turned down are few and far between.

    The scholarship component only solidifies CBoston’s point: even the *schools themselves* realize that certain candidates are probably going to get into a HSW and so they roll out a proverbial red carpet to have a fighting chance to try to win those people over.

    All else being equal though (geographic neutrality, equal financial aid, no strong family/personal/professional “tie” to a school), I have to agree with CBoston that few people admitted to HSW would choose another school (if they really love Tuck so much, then why did they even bother applying to HSW in the first place?), and I feel that the Economist is doing what all of these publications do: create “controversy” to get traffic and attention.

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