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The Economist’s 2016 MBA Ranking Is A Doozy

Stanford University's Graduate School of Business

Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business

HOW DID CHICAGO BOOTH WIN AGAIN? THAT IS A MYSTERY

A longer five-year look at The Economist’s rankings shows an especially topsy-turvy result. The University of Pittsburgh’s Katz School of Business moved 44 places over that timeframe to a rank of 55 from 99 in 2012; York University’s business school had a 40-place drop to 56th place this year from the lofty heights of a rank of 16 in 2012. Warwick Business School saw a 40-place climb in the same period, rising to a rank of 20th this year from 60 in 2012. Among the schools on the list for the 2016-2015 period, the average change was 12.8 places, with the greatest movement for MBA programs ranked 50th to 75th. The average change for those business schools was nearly 18 places.

To its credit, The Economist puts a warning label on its list every year. “Rankings are little more than an indication of the MBA market at a particular moment,” according to the magazine. “They reflect the prevailing conditions such as salaries, jobs available and the situation at a school at the time the survey was carried out. Results of rankings can be volatile, so they should be treated with caution.” Indeed.

What did it take for Chicago to win yet again? Because The Economist uses 21 different metrics in its methodology, it’s hard to get a clear view of why Booth seems so entrenched at the top of this ranking.The student assessment of the school’s culture, on a scale of one to five is 4.58, which puts Booth behind 19 other schools in 20th place. Booth ranks 59th when it comes to the percentage increase in pay—73.4%—MBAs get when in their first jobs out of the school. The post MBA salary of its graduates was 11th best at $120,772. Even Booth’s faculty, among the most highly regarded in the world, is rated 17th by The Economist, while the student quality is rated 10th. The student assessment of Booth’s alumni effectiveness is 32nd, while the breadth of the alumni network is 51st.

On the surface, those are not chest-beating results for the No. 1 school. In fact, the only category for which Booth is first is something The Economist calls “personal development and educational experience.” Regardless, all these metrics go into an odd stew to make up the final results. Trying to make much sense of this is virtually impossible—and when you look at some of the individual ranks the magazine assigns to certain categories, the results can be utterly bewildering.

ANOTHER MYSTERY: HOW CAN QUEENSLAND RANK FIRST IN STUDENT QUALITY & POST-MBA SALARIES?

Consider that this year The Economist’s ranked the University of Queensland Business School in Australia first in student quality and post-MBA salaries and seventh in faculty quality. Harvard Business School’s student quality is deemed to rank 13th, while the HBS faculty ranks a shockingly low 56th. Stanford’s Graduate School of Business does a bit better on these measures, but still well below Queensland. The Economist claims that Stanford has the 8th best student quality and the 49th best faculty quality.

Among the world’s best business schools, moreover, Queensland is among the least transparent. Go to the school’s website and you would be unable to find the most basic information about its full-time MBA program. There’s no class profile with average GMAT scores or acceptance rates. There’s no employment report with starting salaries and the percentage of graduates with job offers at graduation or three months later. Just as puzzling, the backup data The Economist includes for most of the schools in the ranking is competely missing for Queensland.

So how in the world could Queensland be tenth? How can it possibly be ahead of such prestige MBA players as Columbia, Wharton, INSEAD, Yale, MIT Sloan, Duke, Michigan and a host of other superb business schools that offer full transparency of their numbers to would-be students making the important career decision on whether to get an MBA?

A CONFUSING STEW OF METRICS THAT BRINGS MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS

Of course, it’s not by any objective measure. It’s why Ralf Boscheck, program director of IMD’s MBA program, unsuccessfully tried to pull out of this ranking. “I don’t understand the methodology,” he says. His team at IMD tried to make some sense out of the previous metrics and couldn’t. “We tried to retrofit the logic with people here and ended up with more questions than could be answered.”

Though The Economist ranked IMD and Oxford without their cooperation, the magazine listed 16 schools that it said had declined to participate and that it did not rank. Those schools include CEIBS in China, the University of Toronto, McGill University, and the Indian School of Business. The Economist said that another five schools–Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, UC-Irvine, Fordham, Imperial College, and Rutgers–completed their first year of participation and will be eligible for rankings in 2017. So readers can expect still more change ahead.

In fact, besides the ups and downs of the schools that stayed on the list year over year, there are another 16 schools that either dropped out of last year’s list or edged their way onto this year’s ranking. Eight schools on last year’s list fell out of the 2016 ranking, including Concordia’s Molson, the International University of Japan, Ryerson’s Rogers School, the University of Arizona’s Eller School, HEC Montreal, SP Jain (which was kicked out due to insuffient data), the University of South Carolina’s Moore School, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

This year’s newbies include No. 51 Georgia Institute of Technology, No. 71 UC-Davis, No. 85 Purdue University’s Krannert School, No. 89 North Carolina State’s Poole School, No. 94 Audencia Nantes, No. 95 Copenhagen Business School, No. 97 HHL Leipzig Graduate School, and No. 98 Sun Yat-sen Business School in China.

Looking through the ingredients of this stew brings only more skepticism than the magazine’s overall ranking. But for schools looking to impress prospective students, many will be issuing news releases today and tomorrow, plugging these latest results on their websites and marketing brochures, and pretending that The Economist’s ranking actually has real gravitas. How silly.

(See following page for the full 2016 Economist MBA ranking)