For the third consecutive year, Harvard Business School remained at the top of Poets&Quants’ 2012 composite ranking of the business schools with the best full-time MBA programs. Harvard was followed by the No. 2 Stanford Graduate School of Business, No. 3 the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, and No. 4 the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
It was the exact same lineup of top four business schools that made our 2011 list of the best 100 MBA programs in the U.S.
Among the top 25 business schools, the biggest news is that Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management is beginning to show improvement under Dean Sally Blount who took over the school in July of 2010. Her new leadership team has turned the business school upside down, rethinking every aspect of the MBA program and the entire institution. Kellogg rose two places to finish fifth this year, jumping over MIT Sloan and Columbia.
COLUMBIA BUSINESS SCHOOL WAS THE ONLY SCHOOL IN THE TOP 25 TO DROP TWO PLACES IN RANK
No. 7 Columbia, meantime, was the only school in the top 25 to fall two places. The school’s weaker position is largely due to lower levels of graduate satisfaction with the MBA program. MBA graduates complained about the uneven quality of teaching in the first-year core curriculum, the university resources devoted to the business school, the outreach by career services to companies other than consulting and banking, and the acceptance of ‘connected’ applicants. “Too many students are ‘sons of,’” claimed one MBA graduate. “They are plain dumb but got in because dad or mom wrote a big check to the school. This is not acceptable.”
Those issues have been compounded by the decline of Wall Street, a steep 19% fall in MBA applications during the 2011-2012 academic year, and criticism of Dean R. Glenn Hubbard’s leadership of the school. Some students believe that Hubbard, whose credibility was questioned during a confrontational interview in the Academy Award-winning documentary Inside Job, has been a largely absent dean due to his involvement as an economic adviser to Mitt Romney during the Presidential election.
Unlike other rankings, the Poets&Quants composite list combines the latest five most influential business school rankings in the world: Bloomberg BusinessWeek, The Economist, The Financial Times, Forbes, and U.S. News & World Report. Instead of merely averaging the five, each ranking is separately weighted to account for our view of their authority and credibility. (The BusinessWeek, Forbes and U.S. News lists are given a weight of 25% each, while the FT is given a 15% weight and The Economist is given a 10% weight).
Combining the five most influential rankings doesn’t eliminate the flaws in each system, but it does significantly diminish them. When an anomaly pops on one list due to either faulty survey technique or biased methodology, bringing all the data together tends to suppress it. So the composite index tones down the noise in each of these five surveys to get more directly at the real signal that is being sent. Our list of the top 50 non-U.S. MBA programs for 2012 is published separately.
A COMPOSITE INDEX THAT IS NOT UNLIKE NATE SILVER’S APPROACH TO ANALYSIS
This is not unlike the prescient analysis that Nate Silver, the New York Times blogger, brought to the recent Presidential election. By smartly analyzing each political poll and averaging the results across all of them, Silver came to a greater truth than could be revealed by any single poll. When the election was done, he was pretty much the only outside observer who had accurately predicted the popular vote and the electoral vote outcome.
The index numbers accompanying the rank of each school allows you to assess how far above or behind one school is versus another. This is especially helpful because in some cases there is no meaningful difference between the schools. Yet, some of these rankings, including The Financial Times, still fail to provide the underlying index numbers that lead to a numerical rank.
Consider Southern Methodist University’s Cox School, ranked 47th this year with an index score of 43.9, versus UC-Irvine’s Merage, ranked right behind it at 48th, with an index score of 43.6. The difference between those two schools, separated by all of .3 on our index, can not be truly captured by a ranking. In terms of their market reputations, they are equal–based on this rankings result.
THERE’S ALWAYS A NEED TO LOOK BEYOND THE RANKINGS TO DECIDE IF A SCHOOL IS RIGHT FOR YOU
If you intend to make your professional career in Dallas, SMU is obviously the better bet. The degree not only would carry more prestige in the Texas area, the school’s alumni network would be better connected there as well. And if you intend to work in Southern California, UC-Irvine would likely be the better choice. To choose either of these two schools on the basis of their ranking would be foolhardy.