How MBAs Grade The Top B-Schools

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.

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