When Evan Smith was choosing which business school to attend for his MBA, his decision was largely based on the quality of the teaching. He had been a Teach for America instructor at a New Orleans High School and an administrator for the Washington, D.C., school district. “I knew I was going to be incredibly picky about the quality of the teaching,” he says, explaining why he chose the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.
Smith hasn’t been disappointed. The second-year student, who earned his undergraduate degree in history and urban studies at the University of Pennsylvania, says: “The professors here take the craft of teaching very, very seriously. I would be shocked if there was any other business school that put as much focus on teaching.”
Of the 22 professors he has so far experienced, Smith would place 18 of them in “tier one,” the equivalent of getting an A grade, three in “tier two,” and only one in “tier three.”
BASED ON SURVEY DATA OVER 24 YEARS, NO SCHOOL IS BETTER AT TEACHING MBAS THAN DARDEN
But don’t take Smith’s word for it. A new analysis by Poets&Quants of student satisfaction data gathered over a 24-year period shows that no business school in the world has consistently put exceptional teachers before MBA students than the Darden School.
Every other year, since 1988, BusinessWeek has surveyed the graduating MBAs at the nation’s top business schools. The satisfaction surveys ask graduates to rate the quality of teaching on several dimensions: the ability of a professor to clearly and compellingly teach his or her subject as well as the accessibility of the faculty to students, among others. Then, the magazine uses those scores to hand out its own grades, giving an A or an A+ to the schools in the top 20th percentile with the highest scores.
Only one school of all those surveyed over that 24-year span have scored in the top 20th percentile of teaching grades from graduating MBAs: the Darden School. It is an extraordinary feat achieved through the ups and downs of economic cycles, ever rising expectations, and changing student attitudes.
OUR STUDY ON EXCEPTIONAL TEACHING IS BASED ON BUSINESSWEEK’S SATISFACTION SURVEYS OF 83,099 GRADUATES SINCE 1988
All told, some 83,099 graduates have responded to the surveys since 1988. While the magazine’s rankings in any given year can be subject to some unexplainable changes and potential gaming by graduates eager to rank their alma maters highly, the accumulative findings are both powerful and highly credible.
Schools that have meet this test multiple times are a rare and special breed. At the vast majority of business schools, scholarly research is typically given far more weight in recruitment and promotion decisions than teaching ability. As a result, the quality of teaching at many business schools is often inconsistent. Many MBA students often are surprised to find themselves stuck with mediocre teachers at some of the most elite and prestigious schools.
The slick marketing brochures and websites often tout the teaching quality of their professors. More often than not, however, few schools deliver on the promise of their promotional rhetoric. So schools that have consistently been in the top 20% percentile in teaching quality–as judged by the graduates who sat in a school’s classrooms for two years–are a world apart.
‘THE SOCIAL GOOD AT DARDEN IS TEACHING,’ SAYS SENIOR ASSOCIATE DEAN JAMES FREELAND
At the University of Virginia’s business school, (see “Darden: Where Great Teachers Are Gods”), superior teaching has long been a core part of the school’s culture. “The biggest difference is that the social good at Darden is teaching,” says James R. Freeland, senior associate dean for faculty and research. “When you walk down the halls and see the faculty talking, there’s a good chance they’re talking about teaching. At most other schools, the social good is about research. So if you walk down the halls there, you’ll see faculty talking about their research. Teaching here is a public good. We care about it deeply.”