The Topsy-Turvy Economist Ranking
Hult International Business School makes a point of its sometimes stellar showing in MBA rankings. There’s a prominent link on the school’s homepage to access its latest position in any one of three major business school rankings.
The school proudly notes, for example, that it is “top ranked by The Economist” as the “21st best business school in the U.S.” and the “31st best business school in the world.”
No more. In today’s 2013 Economist ranking, Hult did a nose dive, plummeting 28 places in a single year to rank 59th. IE Business School, a far more prominent global player in business education, didn’t get much love, either. It also plunged 28 places to finish 50th, from a relatively lofty perch of 22nd only last year. The U.S. school to suffer the biggest drop this year is the University of Southern California’s Marshall School, which fell 20 positions to rank 63rd. Boston University lost 18 places to rank 73rd from 55 a year ago.
34 BUSINESS SCHOOLS HAD DOUBLE-DIGIT RISES OR FALLS IN THE SURVEY
What gives? It’s just another topsy-turvy ranking from The Economist, which has consistently published the most unstable and volatile ranking of business schools since its debut in 2002.
Some 34 business schools in all had double-digit climbs or falls in this year’s Economist ranking, including three newcomers and five schools that completely fell out of the Top 100. As if it couldn’t get any worse, one business school literally came out of nowhere, climbing at least 71 places to finish at a rank of 30th. The European School of Management and Technology in Germany, which was not on The Economist’s Top 100 list last year, showed up above such world renown business schools at Cambridge, the University of Texas, Georgetown University, and Italy’s SDA Bocconi. Because ESMT failed to make the ranking in 2012, it meant that if it were the 101st school last year it would have had to rise 71 places in a single year to end up 30th.
The biggest gains by schools on last year’s list were posted by the business school at the University of St. Gallen, which zoomed ahead 29 places to rank 52, and SDA Bocconi, which climbed 23 spots to rank 47th this year from 70th in 2012. The big U.S. gainers are the University of Georgia’s Terry School, up 19 places to rank 79, and Arizona State University’s Carey School and Case Western’s Weatherhead School, both up 14 positions to rank 45th and 86, respectively.
The Economist says that its methodology for ranking MBA programs takes into account new career opportunities (35%); personal development/educational experience (35%); increasing salary (20%); and the potential to network (10%). The figures are a mixture of hard data and the subjective marks given by the school’s students who are surveyed by the magazine.
THE CHANGES ARE DUE TO THE ECONOMIST’S METHODOLOGY–NOT WHAT IS GOING ON AT THE BUSINESS SCHOOLS
What generally causes such wide swings is a methodology where the underlying result is so close that a numerical rank for a school if more often than not statistically meaningless. The Economist does not publish underlying index numbers along with the actual rank of each school so it’s not possible to tell exactly how close one school is to another. But it would not be possible to have so many dramatic changes in a year-over-year ranking unless the differences among schools are mere slivers of fractions.
Obviously, business school MBA programs don’t change all that dramatically in a single year. So there are no explainable transformations of curriculum, student quality or MBA outcomes to justify such roller coaster results–especially when they occur to roughly a third of the sampled schools. The MBA programs at Hult and IE didn’t deteriorate since last year in any meaningful way to drop like stones. The University of St. Gallen and SDA Bocconi didn’t appreciably improve to warrant jumps of 29- and 23-places in the space of 12 months.
(See the following page for the double-digit losers and winners this year)