Round 1: September 27th, 2016
Round 2: January 5th, 2017
Round 3: March 28th, 2017
Wharton, of course, is to finance what Harvard is to general management or Northwestern is to marketing. There’s an impressive variety of financial electives here taught by some of the best finance faculty in the world. Even with Wall Street in decline, some 41% of Wharton’s Class of 2012 headed into the financial services industry, up from 38.5% a year earlier. Yet, we agree with this assessment of Wharton’s programming strengths by a recent graduate: “The strength of the finance program probably overshadows other departments, but the school is strong in marketing, real estate, entrepreneurship, and is growing its social impact focus.”
In fact, when U.S. News & World Report asked deans to name the best schools in specific disciplines, Wharton emerged as one of the very few that was in the top ten in all ten categories: No. 1 in finance, No. 2 in marketing, No. 2 in production and operations, No. 2 in international business, No. 3 in accounting, No. 3 in management, No. 5 in entrepreneurship, No. 6 in supply chain management and logistics, No. 7 in information systems, and No. 9 in non-profit management. That is quite an impressive list of expertise for a single school.
Yet, with Wall Street and finance in decline since the Great Recession of 2008-2009, an increasing number of people are questioning the school’s very high prestige and status. The Wall Street Journal started the debate in 2013 with a story that carried the headline: “What’s Wrong At Wharton?” It was the only school in the top ten in the U.S. that year that suffered a decline in applications. The fall, however, could easily be attributed to a new group discussion test that admissions launched, something that probably put off applicants who speak English as a second language.
We agree with Dan Bauer of The MBA Exchange, a leading admissions firm, who put it this way: “A Wharton MBA education is like a ‘blue-chip stock’ with a long history of growth. Yes, the market’s enthusiasm and demand for any investment will ebb and flow over time, but in this case, the long-term ROI is rock solid.”
Wharton has recently rolled out a new MBA curriculum that promises life-long education to MBA graduates, along with more leadership and communication experiences. The basic program will still evolve around an intensive core in general management, plus the depth of 18 majors and breadth of nearly 200 electives. The school’s month long pre-term session includes a two-day off-campus retreat where students begin the process of learning to lead in a team environment. The first year’s focus is a core curriculum that students complete together in learning teams of six. The core gives students the foundation of broad management skills that are applicable to any industry.
During the summer months between the first and second years, students are busy with internships, career treks, and volunteer projects around the world. When they return, the second year curriculum offers flexibility to follow personal interests and career goals. Students select from a wide range of majors and electives that help to develop one or more areas of expertise.
Wharton rose one spot to a third place finish in the new Poets&Quants ranking for 2014, with mostly steady finishes on the most influential underlying lists. In both Bloomberg Businessweek’s biennial ranking in 2012 and The Economist’s annual ranking the school stayed in exactly the same place it was before: third in the BW poll behind only Chicago Booth and Harvard Business School and tenth among U.S. schools in The Economist ranking. Forbes, which does its ranking every other year, still has Wharton in fourth place on its listing which measures MBA programs on return on investment.
There was a more interesting result when it came to the 2012 rankings by The Financial Times and U.S. News & World Report. Wharton fell to fourth, its lowest ranking by the British newspaper for at least a dozen years. For ten of those 12 years, Wharton had been ranked first by The Financial Times. Because the FT’s methodology is complicated, measuring 20 different criteria, from adjusted compensation three years after graduation to the percentage of female students, faculty and board members (schools that have a 50:50 (male: female) composition receive the highest possible score). Yes, we know. It’s rather silly. So it’s best not to take this decline too seriously.
And besides, after gaining a little ground in the U.S. News ranking of 2012, Wharton maintained its third place finish from a year-earlier. U.S. News has a more solid, though still flawed, methodology with includes a variety of metrics that are more closely associated with the actual quality of the MBA program such as the GMAT and GPA scores of incoming students, starting MBA salaries, percentage of MBAs receiving job offers at graduation and three months later.
Although BusinessWeek had Wharton ranked third again, the magazine’s survey of graduates showed some slippage in satisfaction with the school and the MBA program. The school’s graduate satisfaction rank fell five places to 16th from 11th in 2010. While notable, it’s not that big a deal because these scores are very closely clustered together with other schools. Wharton, on the other hand, maintained its recruiter ranking in the BusinessWeek survey at second, behind only Chicago Booth, and the school improved its standing in BW’s intellectual capital measurement, ranking seventh from 13th two years ago. That latter part of the BW ranking, accounting for 20% of the total weight of the methodology, tracks the publication of professors’ articles in both scholarly and practitioner journals.
So what brought down Wharton’s graduate satisfaction scores? Most likely the quality of teaching in the core. Wharton’s satisfaction scores on teaching quality warranted it a grade of B from BusinessWeek compared to A+ at Harvard, Chicago, Dartmouth and a few other schools known for stellar teaching such as Virginia’s Darden School and Cornell’s Johnson School. Several graduates griped that teaching quality fell below their expectations for such a world-class institution. As one Wharton Class of 2012 put it: “They could place more emphasis on teaching and incentivize professors to care about it more. Research is most professors’ top priority.” Added another: “The quality of instructors for the core courses could improve substantially. Many of my professors were of high quality, but those that were not, were not engaging at all.” Echoed a third MBA from the Class of 2012 to BusinessWeek: “Core classes should only be taught by the professors who get highest marks for teaching, as, by definition, students are there by force and not choice.”