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How Wharton Fought Its Way To The Top Of U.S. News’ MBA Ranking

Wharton has tied Harvard Business School for first place in the 2017 U.S. News’ MBA Ranking

It’s no secret that the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School has been slipping in MBA rankings in recent years, often falling behind the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. In Poets&Quants’ ranking of the best full-time MBA programs, Booth has bested Wharton in six of the seven P&Q lists since 2010.

For years, regardless of rankings, the conventional wisdom has been that Harvard, Stanford and Wharton are at the top of the world’s business school elite. Increasingly, however, that convention has been questioned given a long string of Booth victories over Wharton. Last year, for the first time ever, Booth topped Wharton in the U.S. News’ ranking.

Asked about the slippage by Wharton students at a town hall in October, Dean Geoffrey Garrett suggested that the school’s lagging financial support of students was a key factor in the school’s ranking decline. “Correlation is not causation, but it is true that HBS and GSB spend considerable more money at the MBA level than we do and we suspect that’s true for Chicago Booth as well,” he conceded. “We should just try to do the best job we can and it’ll work out in the rankings. I think it’s much harder to game at the top.”

BEHIND THE WHARTON VICTORY: IMPROVED PAY & EMPLOYMENT STATS

Wharton Dean Geoffrey Garrett gets his first No. 1 ranking in U.S. News

Since that on-campus town hall, however, the school’s most famous alum has won election as President of the U.S. and now Wharton has moved into a first place tie with Harvard Business School in the 2017 U.S. News’ MBA ranking. It is only the second time in 28 years that Wharton has captured the top prize in what is arguably the most-watched business school ranking of all (see The Big Surprises In U.S. News’ 2017 MBA Ranking).

Wharton fought its way to the top, from fourth place last year, with improved pay and employment numbers. Average salary and bonus at Wharton topped all schools at $155,058, a healthy 5.7% rise. The percentage of employed students at graduation also beat HBS, Stanford and Booth at 85.8%, up from 80.8% a year earlier. The percentage of students with jobs three months after commencement also crushed its peers at 95.5%, up from 93.5%. These three metrics alone account for 35% of U.S. News’ ranking, with 21% for employment and roughly 14% for pay. Along with GMAT and GPA scores, these stats have the most impact on year-over-year changes in the ranking.

But there’s a potentially troubling issue with the quality of those stats. Unlike Harvard, Stanford and Booth, whose results are based on a 100% to 99% report rate from graduates, the Wharton numbers reflect a much smaller sample size of 92%. A record 65 MBAs out of a graduating class of 850 students failed to report on their career outcomes to Wharton last year. As a percentage of the students actually seeking employment—639—some 10.2% didn’t bother to fill out and return Wharton’s survey.

THE PERVERSE ‘DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL’ INCENTIVE IN LOW REPORT NUMBERS

It’s generally assumed that graduates who fail to complete a school’s career surveys are among the least satisifed with their MBA experience. They are more likely to be unemployed and more likely to have accepted a job that pays less than expected. So lower response rates can lead to artificially inflated pay and employment stats. What’s more, a large non-report allowances creates a perverse ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ incentive for schools to ignore students still looking for jobs.

It creates the temptation for a career management office to be more aggressive in getting the report from a satisfied graduate who landed a high-paying job over a disaffected student who may be either unemployed or under-employed. That’s why high response rates on these surveys lead to more credible and authoritative results. Low reporting rates can lead to artifically high salary and bonus and employment rates—and it’s hardly a signal of high student confidence in the quality of career services.

The Financial Times, which tracks response rates in its review of school data, shows that among its ranked U.S. MBA programs at least 44 schools, including Temple University’s Fox School of Business in Wharton’s hometown of Philadelphia, boast 100% response rates. Another 16 schools have response rates of 99% or 98%. Harvard, Kellogg, Tuck, U.C. Berkeley, UVA Darden hit 100% last year. Stanford, Chicago Booth, MIT Sloan, Duke Fuqua, Yale SOM reported response rates of 99%.

  • Cavalry Vet

    Hm, I only hear HSW said by Wharton guys. Weird.

  • Cavalry Vet

    Huh? Do you think your response does more or less to refute that Wharton an aging brand?

    It’s funny. I only hear “HSW” when used by Wharton guys. You should let Harvard and Stanford know you are still a part of the band.

  • tinfoilhat

    This is a wonderful conspiracy theory worthy of Wharton’s most famous alum – very Trump-esque.

    The reality is much more mundane. When you graduate, you receive an email saying “Fill in this survey, it’s taken into account for business school rankings.” When you don’t fill it in by a certain date, you get a follow-up reminder email. That’s it. There’s no aggressive courting of “satisfied students” and no systematic ignoring of “lower-quality students” going on. Some years presumably completion rates are higher and some years they’re lower.

    So I wouldn’t be waiting with bated breath for the Wikileaks expose with regards to business school rankings conspiracies.

  • HSW

    HSW is very much a thing. yes H/S are definitely half a notch up from W, but the only school anyone would consider turning down H/S for is Wharton. And a few people do that. If one is super focused in finance, wall-street and receives good FA from Wharton they do that. On the other hand turning down H/S for Booth never happens.

  • Grad

    This article is incredibly biased. Reality is that every ranking system has its pros/cons and can be manipulated. For example, FT mixes 1yr programs with 2yr programs, which is highly misleading as the MBA experience and mindset is entirely different.

  • HSW

    poor insecure Boothie….maybe one day Booth will be considered fully on par with HSW. but that will take decades if it will ever happen at all.

  • Jerry

    Are you HBS grad? Obviously not. Wharton is undoubtly #1 to students who like to learn business. Why are you so afraid of Wharton?

  • Willis

    If this were even true, their average salary would not be $153K, it would be much higher. Someone with a basic understanding of math would realize this…

  • Jerry, what you are saying is not true. Can you refer me to any statement made by HBS that would lead you to think this?

  • Jerry

    HBS has internal policy : if graduate salary is below the mean for example $150k, they will match it to $150k. Plus US News ranking contains 40% subjective peer opinion in order to put HBS on top spot as always. If US News dares to use objective data from each school website, how can HBS stays abive top 4? You can calculate yourself. US News Robert Moore is s graduate of HArvard. He ranks all H schools to top 3 no matter how bad their real objective data is.

  • Jerry, Can you untangle that assertion and explain exactly what you mean by “HBS matches graduates salary to mean”? I have no idea what you’re getting at, but would love to know.

  • Jason

    I often think John is biased toward Harvard/Booth and and against Stanford/Wharton, but honestly, this is just fantastic journalism and a really nice job by PQ illustrating a very real Wharton trend. Seems clear Wharton is gaming the system here. Great article guys!

  • Jerry

    It is a very biased article. Why don’t you report that HBS matches graduates salary to mean in order to maintain the top ranking? This is the biggest cheating of all. How can I match my wife’s salary to a level and tell others that she earns a lot? It is a shame, not proud! Who cares the ranking.

  • deioces

    Where are these adjusted compensation numbers coming from? They appear to have been made up by the author.

  • Fernando

    The proposed adjustment to the ranking lacks of ground and reasonable basis; it implies that non-responding grads are unemployed. In fact, unemployed grads have more incentives than employed grads to report their status because the top schools have great career management services that they can use to find jobs. Hence, employment rates might be even higher than reported. You need to find better arguments to squeeze Booth in HSW.

  • Jason A.

    This site has an obvious grudge against Wharton and a sweet spot for Booth. Why does a #1 ranking for Wharton necessitate a 3-page “they won on a technicality” article? Both, Kellogg, etc. are fantastic schools, but despite big moves in the ever changing rankings, they are not held in the same regard as HSW by employers around the world. This is the only metric that should matter to prospective students.

    It’s true that many students today pick H/S over W, but not all. Additionally, school preferences among the top 3 shift over time depending on which sectors of the economy are hot – finance, tech, corporate, etc. It’s been true for awhile that Wharton is king of the mountain for finance, Harvard is the best school for general management, and Stanford is unbeatable in tech, though these generalizations are blurring. For example, Wharton sent more MBAs interns to Google this past summer (CEO is also an alum) than anyone else, and it’s also the top feeder to many of the best investment banks, consulting shops, private equity firms, etc.

  • Spot on

    Spot on. There is a much greater gap in the disparity of choice by H-W dual admits then there is compared to W-B dual admits. You pretty much have to get a full ride at W to choose it over H/S.

  • Anon

    There is NO such thing as HSW, stop trying to make it happen random W alumni/current students. No one in the world would pick W over H/S which means it’s in a different tier.

  • Daniel

    The suggested adjusted ranking is ridiculous. Multiplying the percent employed by the percentage of data providers is a radical measurement that more or less equals to assuming that all of the non-responding grads are unemployed. This assumption is probably very inaccurate.

  • yikes

    if you add non-reporting to the unemployed, Wharton’s numbers are the worst out of the top 5. Wharton was just great at manipulating the numbers. Typical of future wall streeters..

  • Evan

    20% of Stanford and Harvard alums aren’t employed at graduation?? No wonder they have time to fill out those surveys.

  • slayer

    lol i guess this doesnt fit with your narrative of trying to force Booth on the same tier as HSW. When Booth locks in decades in the top 3 and attains the kind of cachet than HSW have in the business world, it can join HSW. until then not really…

  • Anon

    This is the best article I have read on here in years. I love how you show the true ranking to be H, B, S, W.