The 2016 Bloomberg Businessweek MBA ranking was full of surprises and shocks this past week. It was the 17th time the magazine published a full-time MBA ranking and each one of them has contained a few eyeopeners. This time, though, there were a few bombshells.
First off, we need to slap something of a warning label on this analysis and the ranking it is based on. Applicants should take every university ranking with a very big grain of salt. Any one ranking at a given point of time is likely to be misleading. They count, over time, and can have a sizable impact on a school’s reputation and standing. But in any single years, there are often anomalies and statistical quirks–and especially silly metrics mindless journalists throw into these systems–that should make readers discount the findings.
With that warning done, here are the 10 most unexpected things about the new ranking and why (we think) they occurred.
1. Jones Graduate School of Business Cracks The Top Ten
There’s little doubt that no one was more bewildered by Rice University’s appearance in the eighth spot of Businessweek‘s 2016 MBA ranking than new Dean Peter Rodriguez. To land there, the school had to jump 11 places in a single year from 19th place, bypassing some of the most coveted B-school brands in the world. Jones shot by Northwestern’s Kellogg School, Berkeley’s Haas, Columbia, Michigan Ross, Yale’s School of Management, and one other rival. Jones did the proverbial Texas Two-Step by the University of Virginia’s Darden School where Dean Rodriguez had been in charge of the MBA programs as a senior associate dean until July of this year.
How to explain the rise for a school that for years was not even ranked by Businessweek but instead was tossed into a “second-tier” category of MBA programs? You can largely attribute it to one metric in the magazine’s methodology: The employer survey which is given the most weight–35%–of any of the five measures used by Businessweek to create ranks. In just 12 months, Jones went from a rank of 40th on this metric to 14th, six better than Stanford, eight better than Yale, and a dozen better than Berkeley.
Make no mistake, Jones offers applicants a close-knit, intimate and very good MBA program, with an annual intake of just 110 full-time students. The school also rose eight places in this year’s U.S. News ranking to 25th from 33rd in 2015. But the only plausible explanation for the school’s unexpected Businessweek showing is that the alumni who came back to their alma mater to recruit Jones’ students were more likely to fill out Businessweek‘s employer survey and were more enthusiastic than many other alums. God bless them.
2. Duke Fuqua Shows Up Right Behind Harvard & Stanford
When Businessweek named Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business the winner of its 2014 ranking, most business school observers considered it a total fluke. After all, the only other time that Duke finished in the top five was 14 years earlier in 2000 when it claimed fifth place. But first? Above Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and the rest of the M7? Well, here we go again.
This year Duke zoomed up the list, rising five positions to rank third, just behind the two giants of MBA education, Harvard and Stanford. Is Duke really that good? The school boasts strong faculty across a wide range of business disciplines, exceptional MBA students, an unusually supportive and collaborative culture, a creative admissions office that really gets to know its candidates, one of the best career management centers, and a pretty tight and loyal alumni network. The breadth and depth of the MBA employers at Fuqua is among the best anywhere and is really the secret behind the school’s strong showing in Businessweek‘s ranking.
This year, Fuqua moved up one spot on the magazine’s employer rank to sixth from seventh, four places on the student survey to eighth to 12th, and a remarkable 36 positions on job placement to 15th from 51st. That latter increase isn’t all that consequential because we’re talking fractions of percentage-point differences. Fuqua is the ideal school to take advantage of the flaws in Businessweek‘s methodology, a ranking that does not include GMAT scores where the school purposely lags because it is one of the few that walks the talk on the holistic assessment of MBA applicants.
Still, third? Here’s one way to look at it: We have always said that a school’s rank in any one year in any one survey is little evidence of its standing. You have to look at results over a longer timeframe to get a better sense of a school’s true position. If you toss out Fuqua’s No. 1 ranking in 2014 and its 14th or lowest place rank of 13th in 1990, it brings Fuqua’s average rank to about 8th over 15 separate Businessweek lists. U.S. News rated Fuqua 12th best this year. We think the school’s better than that.
3. Dartmouth Tuck’s Best Businessweek Ranking In 38 Years
Putting aside the 11-place jump by Rice University’s business school this year, the biggest improvement for any Top 25 school was made by Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. Tuck raced up the list by nine positions to finish fifth this year, its strongest showing in the Businessweek ranking since the original list made its debut in 1988. Back then, Tuck finished third. This week’s ranking, putting Tuck ahead of Wharton, MIT Sloan and Kellogg, is even better than this year’s earlier U.S. News‘ eighth place ranking for the Hanover, N.H., school.
The reason behind Tuck’s long-delayed resurgence? Again, it was Businessweek‘s employer survey. Tuck soared 14 places to eighth from 21st on the magazine’s employer survey, more than offsetting an 11-place drop on the student poll to 28 from 17 (the scores on the student surveys, however, are so closely clustered that their actual weighting in the methodology tends to be significantly lower than the 15% Businessweek claims to assign that data). That pushed Tuck well above its more typical 10th place position (its average BW rank after subtracting out its highest third place rank in 1988 and its lowest 16th place finish in 2000.
Frankly, the bigger surprise is that Tuck didn’t perform well on the employer metric last year or in 2014 when Businessweek changed its methodology to survey all the recruiters who show up on a campus, including alums. When that change occurred, The magazine conceded that employer scores from alums were about 18% higher than the average non-alumni rating. Some 38 schools in the sample then derived at least 25% of their ratings from alumni, while five schools derived “at least 50%” of their ratings from alumni.
It’s no secret that Tuck has one of the best, if not the best, MBA alumni network. No other business school in the world can claim that more than 70% of its alums contribute to its annual fundraising campaign other than Tuck. So if you survey super loyal alums who recruit at the school, as Businessweek does, the odds are pretty good they are going to go out of their way to put Tuck first on the list of the best schools. Someone at the school finally wised up to make the case to returning alum recruiters to fill out those darn Businessweeek surveys!