Wharton Students Slam Quality of Teaching

by John A. Byrne on

An undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business claims the education he is receiving is “grossly overrated and disgustingly overpriced.” He is also asserting that the quality of teaching in at least half of the core classes at Wharton have been no better than community college.

The student, who maintains he is a junior in Wharton’s undergraduate program, identified himself as Jonathan Kahn, in a series of comments on the website of The Wall Street Journal. His remarks are on a recent interview with Wharton Dean Thomas Robertson timed to the school’s launch last week of a rebranding effort. A spokesperson for Wharton had no comment on the student’s criticism or the ensuing discussion on the Journal’s site.

Kahn’s comments have fueled a lively debate from both supporters and others who take issue with his opinions. Typically, less experienced teachers are put in undergraduate classrooms rather than the flagship MBA program, though Wharton is not known for stellar teaching. A recent analysis by PoetsandQuants of the teaching grades in BusinessWeek’s biennial B-school rankings showed that Wharton faculty have never been in the top 20th percentile of the survey in teaching quality over the 24-year period that BusinessWeek has ranked business schools. The student critic appears an articulate and thoughtful commenter, if an unsatisfied student at Wharton.

CLAIMS THAT ONLY ONE WHARTON PROF WAS BETTER THAN HIS HIGH SCHOOL TEACHERS

“When the Dean of Wharton uses “innovative” to describe Wharton, he is lying,” Kahn told The Wall Street Journal. “I have taken a range of classes from finance to marketing and the entire core that all of us undergraduates are so familiar with, and the basic structure could not be further from innovative. I have taken the supposed best and most enlightening classes inside and outside of Wharton, and have had a single professor better than the average of my high school teachers (and that class was in the College of Arts and Sciences). The basic structure inside the classroom is to get talked at from a Powerpoint that exactly emulates a textbook, and then repeat the answers on an exam in quantitative form with the use of an allowed cheat-sheet. There might be a few problem sets and a group presentation here and there, but nothing else.”

The student went on to write that he would not advise a high school student to come to Wharton. “If a 17-year old had his or her sights set on a consulting or i-banking job and nothing else, I might suggest he or she look into Wharton, though I would not say there’s a clear advantage over Harvard or Princeton. But if he or she wanted to learn more about business inside of the classroom, the best bet would be to go anywhere else, because the quality of at least 50% of my core classes have been no better than community college (and I’ve taken courses at a community college). I don’t discount the value of great student-run organizations and experiences outside of classroom, but that’s not the core of what Wharton does. It does teaching, and it does a very poor job of it.”

Kahn apparently wasn’t the only Wharton student to register that opinion. Another person, under the name Alex Donaldson, wrote that “I was told that my education was expensive and “world-class” because the teachers were better and the classes were innovative and cutting-edge and the rest of the buzzwords. I was duped.
A re-branding won’t change that.”

‘INSTEAD OF BAD MOUTHING A WONDERFUL SCHOOL, TRY TO LEARN SOMETHING THERE’

The comment by Kahn and Donaldson have been challenged by several others. Wrote one person under the name Craig Mundo, “I don’t know if any of what you said is true, including that you are at Wharton. Instead of bad mouthing a wonderful school, try to learn something if you are still there.”

Retorted Kahn: “I would agree with you that it’s supposed to be a wonderful school, but reputation does not matter once you’re in the classroom. It’s not bad-mouthing or false to say that the quality of instruction is worse than courses I’ve taken elsewhere, including community college. I also don’t see the point in attacking me by saying “better people” went there. You don’t even know me, but of course better people have gone there and of course they’ve learned. My point is that a Wharton education is not innovative and the instruction is not of high quality. That doesn’t change because smarter people than I go there.

“As for why I don’t transfer to the college — I want business and I want a Wharton degree. That’s why I’m here. I don’t underestimate the value of a Wharton degree, only a Wharton education. I came here to study business and that hasn’t changed. My point is, and the feeling with a lot of students here, is that you suck it up with the bad classes and the horrible teaching, and you get a degree. It’s sad, but it’s the truth.”

DON’T MISS: BUSINESS SCHOOLS WITH THE BEST MBA TEACHING FACULTY or DARDEN: WHERE GREAT TEACHERS ARE GODS

 

 

  • Anonymous

    Same with INSEAD very disappointing quality. Great article thanks.

  • Starling

    In marketing people re-brand to fix gaps. I read some of older Businessweek’s B-school rankings and came across Wharton students’ assessment for teaching. Surprisingly for a highly ranked BSchool, Wharton scored a ‘C’ for teaching, one of the weakest performing areas. This raises some eyebrows. Interestingly, in a letter to the editor, a student from lower ranked UNC Kenan Flagler pointed out that good teaching is a key learning experience and one does expect better from Wharton. The student highlighted that though UNC is lower ranked, he is very happy with its teaching (Score:A).
     As the best BSchool for teaching, I respect Darden’s teaching excellence so much more.

  • http://www.mbaapply.com/ Alex Chu

    Keep in mind that at the faculty level, Wharton is one of the world’s leading RESEARCH institutions for business and whose reputation isn’t solely based just on the success of its students. As such, it tends to attract academics who are renowned leaders in their areas of research, and as such who are even less motivated to teach students than perhaps professors at other b-schools. Also, I don’t know how the faculty-student culture is at other b-schools, but at Wharton there has always been a bit of tension between faculty and students: the undergrads have a reputation for being cut throat sociopaths who would murder their mother for a better grade, and the MBAs on the other extreme as completely checked out who don’t care a bit about academics (and are there to socialize and recruit for jobs). When you have a culture where the faculty feel this way about students and conversely students believing that the faculty only care about their research (and don’t care about teaching quality), you will get a bit of tension between both groups. Again, I don’t think this is unique to Wharton, but whether it’s more of a problem at Wharton than other schools, I don’t know. That doesn’t excuse the poor teaching at times (and as an alum myself of the MBA program, I can attest to the fact that the teaching quality was mixed, although there were some amazing teachers nonetheless), but just wanted to say that it cuts both ways.

  • Anon

    There is no Jonathan Kahn at Wharton – that name doesn’t exist in the student directory. Stop navel-gazing and start fact-checking. This website is a joke.

  • John F. Kennedy

    Perhaps maybe he used a pseudonym on the site.  That’s not unheard of right, “Anon”?

  • JohnAByrne

    The student claims he is using his middle name and not his first name in the comment section of The Wall Street Journal. The school was asked for comment and did not use the opportunity to state that the commenter was not a Wharton student. Truth is, this is not all that surprising because as I point out in the story, undergraduates often get the least experienced teachers at schools where the emphasis is on the full-time MBA program which tends to get much greater scrutiny and in executive programming where you can’t get away with putting a weak teacher in a classroom. Also, the pressure on young instructors to publish research that wins the respect of peers is considerable and that does take away from teaching quality.

  • Matt C

    Most undergrads don’t realize that at major universities professors are not hired to focus on teaching but rather contribute to ground breaking research for the university.  I lost count of the number of times classes were cancelled in undergrad bschool due to professors having to devote time to research initiatives.  It’s unfortunate for those students who are seemingly under the impression that they are their top priority.  Another problem is that at the undergrad level most classes do not require heavy skills in teaching the basic courses rather than the specialized electives that are more predominant in MBA programs.   
    Wharton has seemed to of broken off from Penn and become its own entity, whereas other M7 programs seem to foster inclusiveness of the bschool.  I’m speaking as an outsider who did not attend Wharton UG, so correct me if I’m wrong, but other top programs seem to be doing a better job at this. 

  • Life

    To be fair, I don’t think people go to business school for academics but to further their career. Maybe I am not thinking the right way but faculty is the least important factor in my business school decision.

  • JohnAByrne

    You’re absolutely right. The three highest motivations for attending business school are 1) increased job opportunities, 2) increased salary potential, and 3) to gain business knowledge, skills and abilities. Indeed, among the top 12 motivations there is no indication that people go merely for the academics or for the professors, though it’s clear that you gain business knowledge from the profs as well as your classmates. See the study here: http://poetsandquants.com/2012/03/13/slight-decline-in-interest-for-mba-programs/

  • Srikanth Naidu

    I am a current MBA student at Wharton. I have to say barring a few idiosyncrasies of few Profs I find the teaching world class and fun. For ex: Prof.Percival manages introduce theatrics in a very dry subject like corporate finance. Another factor is very subjective. Some students certain things in their classes : if they do not see it they tend to generalize just as I am doing. If this feedback is statistically tested for prevalence at Wharton and say, Harvard : we can draw some meaningful conclusions. My 2 pesos!

  • JohnAByrne

    Thanks for weighing in on this. As I pointed out in the article, undergrads in big programs do get the weakest teaching because schools generally favor the full-time MBA program and executive courses by putting their best in those classrooms.

  • Anonymous

    The classroom environment at Wharton is substandard, and that’s perfectly fine.  Even for good professors and classes, students do not do readings for class discussions.  But class participation often doesn’t matter since it’s not weighed heavily in the grading.  Problem sets and exams do matter, so it’s a better use of time to focus there.  One possible fix is putting a higher emphasis on class participation.  However,,the professor must actually be fair in grading that class participation.  The head of the management department places a heavy emphasis on grade participation, but students who come late, skip readings, or miss class altogether still get higher participation marks for when they do speak up if they can show their business intelligence.  Rating students on how smart a prof thinks a student is, aside from doing classwork, is a poor teaching standard.  There isn’t a strong system for incentivizing a strong classroom environment even with our “best” profs and classes.  That’s fine:  the school is more about world-class opportunities and experiences.  I can learn the basics from class and dive into subject areas I’m really interested in on my own in and outside of class.  But ultimately it’s much more valuable to me to have the freedom to take advantage of the opportunities that exist in this incredible environment outside the classroom.  It’s a key point of differentiation when comparing Wharton with Harvard and Booth.

  • http://twitter.com/hypnotoedtennis Empty Tennis

    Actually, I think Wharton ‘s undergraduate program would be considered the “flagship” program – it’s universally acknowledged as the top undergraduate business school program (unlike the MBA program) and the school itself was founded as an undergraduate institute in 1881 before adding an MBA program in the early 1900s.

    Also, the official name of the school is “The Wharton School”, not “The Wharton School of Business”.

  • Juanmanuel

    i want to throw in my two cents which I think is relevant: i went to Harvard undergrad where I left knowing NO professor. Ec 10 was a class with 1000+ people, most of my teachers were grad students who knew just a little more than I did about the topics, and the bureaucracy felt huge. There was very little in terms of counseling. I felt like a frigging number, and in retrospect it was partly my fault for not trying to change this situation. I expected everything to be handed to me on a silver platter.

    Now I am older and wiser and if I had to do it over again, I would have been more aggressive in visiting/engaging professors during office hours, and taking charge of my education. I would have tried to take smaller classes rather than just easy ones, take part in research projects, get to know my TAs better. That is my advice to someone feeling like a number. Scream and shout, but in a polite yet persistent way and you will be heard. So take advanced courses where there are fewer students, talk over ideas with profs in office hours for paper topics, try to get involved in the relevant clubs, and something that works– get a group/club to invite the professor and his/her wife/husband/partner to dinner! …

  • Juanmanuel

    Just one more story which is hard to believe but absolutely true: at Harvard undergrad graduation, I got 5 invitations to bring my family, but only 3 lunch invitations! I had to pay for the other 2! after spending all that money, they charged for the other 2 graduation lunch coupons! ..hahahah…pettiness to the very end…not to mention the horrendously expensive graduation week activities

    i graduated a while back…i hope at least the lunch ticket thing has changed!

  • Anon

     I feel the same way about my alma mater (Carnegie Mellon) as Mr. Khan does about Wharton.

  • Nikhil

    There is nothing wrong in assigning better grades to a student if the Prof thinks student is smart.Class participation is definitely important,but over a long term,class participation is just one element of the “student” assessment.If 2 students are good enough to score 4/4, then university should award 4/4 to the smarter of the two & 3.9 to the other.A basketball team needs tall players.It is no different with business,business needs smart people & universities should highlight such students through a flexible & well rounded grading system instead of one merely focused on acads.

  • paramia

    I disagree

  • Life

    I went to the Ivy in NJ, which though not as undergraduate focus as the NH one prides itself on small classes and getting to know your profs, but to be honest most of the undergraduates there did not care about that. I think with the exception of the few people who wanted to go to academia everybody was ver uninterested in their prof relations

  • kessas

    I don’t know what that guy is doing there. No no not because of the quality but because of his view about education. You get to such schools not because you was a pet for your high school teachers and as a result you got good grades, but because you were able to motivate yourself through your high school years, and achieve high marks at school because of that. Yes I studied at my local community college, wen to flag business school in the nation and I went to Online University. And I can tell you, Online was the most challenging university. But at my business university the courses was as you said, but they do it because they think that you gonna work hard for your self and you will quicker transfer to professional world, where no one will be behind your back to tell you you have to read more or study harder. These schools should be only for the kids who already knows what they want from life,

  • kessas

    50 years ago, only 4 percent of people had degrees. The rest started working right after high school. At the end of their career, the ones who did technical jobs, were so much advanced and knew about various things, that today kid with Master of Science in Mechanical engineering even couldn’t match him. The only difference is today MSME guy is more rounded in various other things, such as geography, theater or playing soccer.

  • Rookie

    I disagree with your disagreement!

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