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Why A Goat Farmer Ranks Business Schools

Would you let this man find you an MBA? Goat farmer Micah Sparacio.

You may ask yourself, “What does a goat farmer from the Appalachians know about business school?” Well, you probably won’t ask yourself that. Yet. 

You may ask yourself, “What does the highly regarded University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School know about what a goat farmer knows about business school?” OK, almost for sure you won’t ask yourself that. But at Poets&Quants, we did. And as they say here on the internet, you’ll never believe what we found.

It’s a bizarre and colorful tale of farm animals, new-school marketing gone bad in the age of Google, a fateful groundhog–and Kenan-Flagler’s brush with the underbelly of the higher-education business.

Google “best online MBA” and the fourth hit down will bring you to a website showcasing a surprising ranking: BestCollegeReviews.org’s “Top 10 Online MBA Programs.”  It leads, credibly enough it might appear, with Kenan-Flagler and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. But then, like weeds crowding out the flowers, up sprout fifth-raters Capella University, the University of Phoenix, and Walden University at spots 7, 9, and 10.

POP GO THE RANKINGS

Continue to browse your “best online MBA” search results (you might want to hold your nose while you do this) and up pop three additional similar websites in the first three pages. BestCollegeReviews and these other sites are part of a network of some 10 higher-education websites, many of them ranking business schools, all of them run by three men, one of whom does not exist.

One of the sites, SuperScholar.org, ranks “The Best Online MBA Programs of 2014,” putting Southern New Hampshire University School of Business at No. 1, the University of Massachusetts Isenberg School of Management at No. 2, and Kenan-Flagler, which began offering its online MBA@UNC in 2011, at No. 3. The rest of the list mixes reputable schools such as Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business at 17th with bottom-end institutions such as the Liberty University School of Business, offering a 36-hour online MBA, at 11th.

‘THERE IS NO FUQUA ONLINE’

The rankings, of course, serve as little more than bait to lure unsuspecting internet users into a lead generation scheme. In some cases, these websites don’t even bother to explain what metrics are used to create the rankings. When there is some content on methodology, it is purposely vague, so much so that it is impossible to determine why an online MBA program might find its way on the list.

In fact, how Duke University managed to eke out a No. 2 ranking on BestCollegeReviews’ list confounds the school because it does not even have an online MBA program. BestCollegeReviews  says, “Duke offers a Master’s of Business program through their Fuqua Online program.” Over at Fuqua, spokesperson Elizabeth Hogan responds, “We do not have a Fuqua Online program. Fuqua does not have any online programs so it would be odd for us to be featured in such a ranking.”

While BestCollegeReviews’ ranking entry for the non-existent Fuqua program contains no links to other sites or pages, Kenan-Flagler’s No. 1 entry, like the entries for Walden and Capella, has a “more information” link that connects to a page dedicated to collecting, for the school, prospective students’ personal information – name, address, email address, phone number, age, education details including GPA, and years of work experience. Kenan-Flagler’s No. 3 ranking on SuperScholar also contains such a link. The UNC business school appears to be the only top business school to enjoy such prominence in websites run by those three men while also using the sites to contact would-be students.

About those men: phone numbers, website postings, domain registries, and state documents confirm they run a network of higher-education websites, many of them owned through the trio’s digital media company, SeaWaves Technology.

  • Alison

    I also agree with OP’s suggestion that P&Q has financial reason to do so. My guess is that Harvard applicants are MUCH more willing to shell out for consultants, interview prep, etc. than Stanford applicants.

  • Jason

    Totally agree with this. For all the arguments about this site’s hatred for Wharton, promotion of Booth, and sheer creepy love for HBS, it is very interesting to see the site’s more subtle underlying approach to Stanford. They acknowledge it is one of the best two (because they would lose all credibility if they don’t) but they obsessively refer to HBS as the market leader when a large percentage (maybe indeed a majority) of people who follow the top 10 schools would say that they believe Stanford trumps Harvard.

  • Guest

    Again, P&Q’s LOVE for HBS and hatred for Stanford shows through. “How Duke beat HBS and everyone else” OH PLEASE. Can we stop kidding ourselves: Sandy and John HATE Stanford and demand articles presented as such. their love for HBS helps the HBS guru and who knows whats behind John’s. TELL THE TRUTH!

  • Ethan Baron

    Thanks for your comments, Jakson. I hear you on burying the lede – but media’s becoming increasingly character driven, for better or worse, and with characters like these I had little fear readers wouldn’t get as far as the crux… Fair comment re: Google, must admit.

  • Ryan S.

    Get over yourself. This isn’t really a scoop. The fact you spent many hours researching and writing such an irrelevant, shitty, thing is appalling.

  • Amanda

    This article is overtly petty and juvenile (although it does seem you’ve done your fair share of deep Googling, ahem investigation, into the man you are attempting to humiliate). It seems as though you are just upset that this “goat farmer’s” ranking is higher in the Google search results than your own. Perhaps P&Q should spend more money on SEO for their real content and less money on the rantings of a gossip journalist. Targeting an individual and making fun of him in an attempt to show the flaws within a system only makes you guys look bad. Keep it classy, P&Q.

  • Jakson L.

    Ethan, as a former journalist myself, I understand how difficult it can be to create a powerful narrative when writing for a trade media outlet. I think your research into this topic is admirable. But in your desire to tell a descriptive story, you buried the lede. Self-serving, SEO-optimized rankings have been around for decades, but the real story here is on Tab 5 of this story, where UNC admits that it finances this despicable site through its ads. Even if it didn’t pay for a specific ranking, it knew what it was getting by advertising on this site and financing these kinds of operations. THAT is very much a story, and while you report it, you primarily decide to glamorize the low-lifes who are operating these sites rather than highlighting the supposedly respectable administrators who are condoning it (perhaps because they are potential advertisers for P&Q?).

    And Google is the “real villain” here? Please. Just because P&Q has poor SEO-optimization and other sites can indeed ‘game’ the system doesn’t mean Google has ill intentions. The algorithm is complex and generally very effective. Tell your company to invest in better SEO, but don’t blame Google that your IT guys don’t know what they’re doing.

    On the whole, I appreciate stories like these. You’re right that these sites deserve a spotlight so people can see them for what they are. But go a step further and show how they are getting financed. That is how you eliminate sites like these.

    Best,
    Jakson

  • Guest

    This just seems like mudslinging, and intensely personal. And what does his farming have to do with his ranking metrics?

    Besides the several rankings you target there are hundreds of other rankings free of those “red flags” you mention.

    Gossip at its worst.

  • Ethan Baron

    TMZ, The Onion, and Poets&Quants? I’m not seeing it. We serve many thousands of readers who are making profoundly life-affecting decisions about b-school. When the reality is that everyone who googles “best online MBA” finds a group of deceptive b-school rankings sites, we have good reason, as a service to our readers, to look into it. And it’s not our fault that the material we uncovered is TMZ-lurid and Onion-unbelievable…

  • Ethan Baron

    Yes, ‘no…” is right re: the misleading aspect, though I’d be more inclined to describe the business model as “sleazy” and perhaps “callously mercenary” than “malicious.” Steve, of course you’re right about the “schmuck” part. But “boring?” I give you an Appalachian goat farmer-poet and a Jersey bagel guy ranking b-schools, and a reputable school shamelessly capitalizing on their atrocious product, plus celebrity breasts, a groundhog, the U.S. Senate, and the University of Phoenix, and you call it “boring?” Sigh. I’m gonna go throw my laptop out the sixth-floor window here at P&Q and give up this journalism business for something where I get a little appreciation… hmmm, yes, got it! And it would really take only a couple goats to get started…

  • Ryan S.

    Sometimes I feel like this is a gossip blog, or a satire site. I can’t believe someone wasted their time writing this crap.

  • no…

    It’s not a competing ranking. It’s completely and intentionally misleading prospective applicants without any credentials whatsoever. It’s malicious.

  • Steve Kreizl

    Boring. So some guy comes up with rankings that compete with your own rankings. “Ours are way better. This guy’s a schmuck. Let us tell you just how disreputable his rankings really are …” This piece is catty and self-serving. I would have expected better of P&Q.