How MBAs Grade The Top B-Schools

by John A. Byrne on

Among The Economist’s top 25 MBA programs, which business schools have the best curriculum, faculty, culture, career center and facilities? And which have the worst?

To rank the world’s best business schools, The Economist collects a wealth of data to help answer those questions, including the satisfaction levels of students and recent graduates who are asked to grade their schools on various dimensions. The Economist says a total of 18,712 students and graduates participated in the spring of 2012, although these grades reflect the views of three years worth of polling results, weighted 50% this year, 30% last, and 20% in 2010.

While student surveys account for only 20% of The Economist’s total ranking, they do shed some insight into each school’s relative strengths and weaknesses. Of course, in each case expectations play a role in how a student or graduate ultimately grades his or her school on any issue.

GRADE INFLATION FROM STUDENTS AS LIKELY AS IT IS FROM THE PROFS

And respondents, knowing that these grades will ultimately be used to rank their schools, may also encourage grade inflation. “One could assert that students are being overly generous with their ratings (a la grade inflation), but one could also just as easily assume that these schools work very hard to keep their students happy,” says Matt Turner, a PhD market researcher at the University of Texas‘ McCombs School of Business, who closely tracks rankings.

So while the grades for the top 25 schools are generally high across the board, they still give users a glimpse of potential problem areas at these highly ranked institutions. In general, what the numbers show (see table on following page) is that students believe these top schools are doing a pretty good job–even after accounting for grade inflation from rankings conscious respondents.

The results are clustered closely together with numerous ties among schools. For the top 25 business schools, the highest single score on a scale of one to five, with five being the best, is 4.9, a solid A grade on an old report card. The lowest score, on the other hand, is 3.2, the equivalent of a D-. Mostly, the differences among the schools are slight and often statistically insignificant.

Graduates were least generous when it came to grading each school’s career center efforts. Obivously, that’s where the rubber hits the road. It’s the reason almost everyone gets an MBA: to land a better job with more upward mobility and higher pay. Graduates were most generous when it came to grading the quality of their school’s culture and their own classmates. Those scores tended to be among the highest awarded.

One other rather interesting trend when you look at the grades for The Economist’s top 50 schools: U.S. institutions tend to get far better grades than non-U.S. schools. Of the 15 highest scores awarded among the top 50, only two were given to non-U.S. schools: City University’s Cass School for the quality of its MBA program and Cranfield for the quality of its facilities. Of the 14 lowest scores among the top 50, 11 were given to non-U.S. business schools. Our conclusion: U.S. schools have a far better understanding of how to deliver a premium MBA experience to students and have invested in the infrastructure needed to make that happen.

WORST MBA PROGRAMS AMONG THE TOP 25: COLUMBIA, WHARTON, ESADE

As is typical in any data dump, the best stories tend to be in the extremes.

Among the top 25 schools, for example, the lowest grades for the overall quality of the MBA program were awarded to Columbia Business School, Wharton and ESADE. Those three schools all tied for a score of 4.2. Translated to a letter grade, that’s roughly equal to a B. Not a very good showing for a world class instiution and if an applicant applied with those grades, he would likely get dinged.

In comparison, Chicago Booth graduates awarded their MBA program the best score of any top 25 institution: a 4.8 out of a 5.0, or a grade of A. It’s one of many reasons why Chicago Booth was The Economist’s number one school this year. Booth also fared exceptionally well when it came to its career center, receiving the highest grade of any top 25 school: a 4.7.

THE CAREER CENTER GETTING THE WORST GRADE? YORK’S SCHULICH

At the other end of the scale, the worst scoring career center in the top 25 belongs to York University’s Schulich School in Ontario, Canada. The school got 3.2, an embarrassing D- score, the lowest grade handed out to any school in the upper quartile of The Economist’s list.

RELATED STORIES:

THE ECONOMIST NAMES CHICAGO BOOTH THE WORLD’S BEST BUSINESS SCHOOL
OOPS! THE ECONOMIST FIXES ITS NEW 2012 MBA RANKING
WINNERS & LOSERS IN THE 2012 ECONOMIST MBA RANKING

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  • Nate

    Got a lot of friends who went to Columbia and Wharton. None of them ‘love’ their school. They just wanted a monster brand, so they signed up… I think it works both ways: Columbia knows its in NYC, therefore it doesn’t have to do much, it will always get thousands of apps b/c of it’s location, and the admissions staff, etc doesn’t have to bend over backwards for students.

  • Bill

    Another explanation for the US / non-US split could be cultural – US schools (and their students) tend to be more comfortable promoting themselves, as well being more willing to admit the link between survey response, school rank and future value.

  • Otis J

    I felt more warmth at Wharton than at Columbia. The latter, I found was a more cold place and people were not as forthcoming or friendly. I’m not ripping the school, but this was what I took away from interacting with the students and staff there. Maybe for a Southerner like me, the Yankee way of life was something totally new and different. On the other hand, I had a really nice time at Wharton. For one, the students were so affable and friendly. They just seemed so much happier than the folks I met at Columbia.

  • P&Q Article Idea

    John — thanks for the article, and also for the great website in general! I’m a big fan and love what you guys do here! Please keep up the great work…

    I have an idea for an article I wanted to suggest — could you perhaps do a ranking/analysis of the various Healthcare MBA programs out there? It feels like these are getting more popular over the last few years, but there seems to be a the lack of resources out there comparing different programs. What are the strengths/weaknesses of Healthcare MBA programs such as Wharton, Kellogg, Fuqua, Haas… and what about Healthcare certificate programs (Stanford? Harvard? Others?) or even dual-degree MBA+MPH (offered by a number of schools) or MBA+Biotech programs?

    There are many other areas an article like this could touch on: fundamentally, how different/similar are these programs? How flexible is the curriculum? How many of them focus on Healthcare Services (similar to Masters of Public Health programs) vs those allowing students to earn credits for Biology, Chemistry, etc. electives? Do any of them require students to participate in real-world Healthcare consulting or service projects? And of course, how do they compare from an employment/job placement standpoint as well…

    Anyways, just an idea I had … would be curious to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

  • THP

    I have a feeling that a lot of perspective students visiting Columbia have significant confirmation biases that they don’t realize is running through their thought process when judging the school. I’m currently at Columbia and the place has the warmest and friendliest people around. I didn’t have this feeling before arriving here since a lot of my perceptions were skewed by these uninformed websites/blogs that continue to bash on Columbia as being cut-throat. I’m serious: D-bags need not apply to CBS… the school won’t tolerate it (*also for the record, Dean Hubbard is pretty amazing! Stop taking what you read in the NYTimes as gospel –this is coming from an Obama supporter too :P)

  • RV

    D-bags need not apply??? And you are wondering why people think Columbia kids are “different*. The two posts above were decent..one of them even said he did not want to rip the school. It was his perspective, and just because it does not align with yours, its not an uninformed perspective. Let me try to say this as respectfully as possible — THP please don’t embarrass yourself and your school.

  • RV

    And who cares who you support. Supporting Obama does not make your behavior any more or less acceptable, nor does it excuse your rudeness.

  • JasonB.

    RV, you okay? How was the Obama comment rude? He prob mentioned it cause the Dean at Columbia was Mitt Romney’s economic advisory. And you really thought Otis’ comment was decent??? “I felt more warmth at Wharton than at Columbia. The latter, I found was a
    more cold place and people were not as forthcoming or friendly…Maybe for a Southerner like me, the Yankee way of life was something totally new and different” …wow!

    THP is also at Columbia so lets be rationale and say he might have the best perspective of how Columbia really is. Yeah, I don’t agree with throwing out the word “D-Bag” and I’m 100% sure that Columbia has its fair share–if not more–but I would not lash back in an angry fit over it. RV, seriously you sound like a recent Columbia reject or an NYU Stern MBA.

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