Cornell University (Johnson Graduate School of Management): In recent years, no MBA program has undergone more changes than Cornell. The wave started in 2014, when the program rolled out a dynamic new curriculum. Based on feedback from CEOs, alumni, and students, the updated core taps into the needs of employers and the roots of long-term success by infusing leadership, analytics and critical thinking from top-to-bottom. In 2016, the school completed a three-pronged merger of the undergrad Dyson School, the graduate Johnson School, and the acclaimed School of Hotel Administration. Along with creating the country’s third largest business school faculty, the merger also breaks down institutional barriers to deliver more opportunities for collaboration between student and faculty members alike. Come summer, the school will be cutting the ribbon on its 76,000 square foot Breazzano Family for Business Education Building. In the process, they will double the available space at the school.
However, the centerpiece of the Cornell makeover is Cornell Tech, a campus in New York City that’s slated to open its doors on a two million square foot facility on Roosevelt Island in July. Already into its third year, Cornell Tech is a one-year degree program where business students work in tandem with engineers, computer scientists, and lawyers in a studio environment. In the process, they partner with area tech giants on projects along with commercializing their own tech solutions. This dual campus option will also open up to full-time MBAs in the coming years. The benefit? Students can gain hands-on experience in the tech field and build a network in the Big Apple’s thriving tech and entrepreneurial markets — all without sacrificing their picturesque Ithaca digs.
Not surprisingly, the word about Cornell is getting around. In 2016, the school arrested a 28% decline in applications from 2014-2015 with a 13% upswing during the 2015-2016 cycle. GMAT scores for the incoming class rose in the process. Now that the pieces are falling into place, Dean Soumitra Dutta is moving into an even more ambitious phase of his long-term agenda. “Our goal is not to become another generic business school,” he insists in a recent interview with Poets&Quants. “The goal really is to do things that other schools would not be able to do easily.” That’s the right message to applicants who are increasingly looking to make an impact over taking the easy road.
Rice University (Jones): Happy students make happy alumni… and happy alumni make even better employees. That’s the big takeaway from Rice University in 2016. In 2015, Rice made headlines in the Bloomberg Businessweek student and alumni surveys, earning the 2nd and 3rd highest respective marks. What could the school do for an encore? On one hand, you might call falling to 14th (student survey) and 4th (alumni survey) to be a disappointment. However, those declines were offset by the recruiter survey, where Jones soared 26 spots to finish 14th. As a result, the school now ranks 8th among American programs —higher than Kellogg, Haas, Columbia, Darden, Yale, and Ross in Businessweek’s latest ranking.
While Rice’s jump may come as a surprise to some, it was foreshadowed in March, when the program leaped eight spots in the U.S. News rankings to finish in the top 25, a move fueled by higher salaries and placement rates for the 2015 class. Come 2017, you could see Rice take another step forward, as its GMAT scores rose 14 points with the incoming class. With Rice ranking among the best schools for low debt (thanks, in part, to generous financial aid packages that cover over 80% of students), the school won’t see a downturn in applications anytime. That’s particularly true in a boomtown like Houston, with a diverse industry base — and two dozen Fortune 500 firms headquartered there too.
Still, you can’t help but return to Rice’s culture when it comes to what sets the school apart. “Every time I came on campus, I felt really welcomed,” says Jasmine Richard, a 2016 graduate and member of Poets&Quants’ MBAs to Watch, when discussing what drew her to Rice. “Everyone, the admissions team and current students, seemed excited about having me join the school. It’s a really small program. People support each other.” This outgoing, passionate, and supportive culture starts all the way at the top, adds newly arrived Dean Peter Rodriguez who had been a key player at UVA’s Darden School. “We place great value on being attentive, responsive and kind to everyone we touch. We know that if we keep our focus on how we treat our students even before they’re our students, good things will always follow.”
University of Chicago (Booth): Booth…an emerging MBA program? Aren’t they really the establishment? They are…to an extent. In 2016, the program made news on several fronts. Par for the course, Booth again ranked #1 in The Economist ranking, notching its standard high scores in delivering stellar personal development, educational experience, and new career opportunities. However, Chicago also tied Stanford for the honor of being runner up to Harvard in the March U.S. News rankings, thanks (in part) to their usual 97% placement rate. In addition, Booth remained the darling of recruiters, with survey scores that placed them 2nd in U.S. News and 3rd in Bloomberg Businessweek.
Does this mean a changing of the guard is at hand? Should we now talk about the “Big Four?” That’s decidedly mixed. Among the five major rankings (Poets&Quants, U.S. News, Financial Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, and The Economist), Booth does rank higher than Wharton in all but the Financial Times. A year earlier, Booth had pulled ahead of Wharton in Poets&Quants, The Economist, and Bloomberg Businessweek. Looking ahead, however, the see-saw between the schools favors Wharton on quantifiable inputs and outputs. In the 2018 class, Wharton held the advantage in GMAT scores, applications, and percentage of women. 2016 Wharton grads also pulled down $3,000 more in total starting pay on average than their Booth counterparts, with Wharton’s enviable 98.2% three-month employment rate encroaching on Booth’s traditional strength. That said, Booth has typically bested Wharton on qualitative survey data (such as recruiter sentiments).
Alas, there is a wild card at play here. Booth Dean Sunil Kumar departed over the summer to become the senior vice president of academic affairs at John Hopkins University. With any transition, you have the great question: Will the school lose its slow and steady momentum during the process…or will new leadership spark an intellectual renaissance and take Booth to the next level? Stayed tuned on this one. There’s precedent on both ends and it’s going to make for a fascinating study.