Ranking B-Schools On Intellectual Capital

Which of the top U.S. business schools crank out the most intellectual capital?

It’s an intriguing question, given the huge amounts of money that business schools devote to academic research by their faculties. At most schools, full-time tenure faculty spend more time researching and writing articles for publication in fairly esoteric journals than they do preparing for class and actually teaching.

One of the more intriguing parts of the latest BusinessWeek MBA ranking attempts to measure each school’s “intellectual capital.” The magazine takes a noble stab at this by tallying the number of articles published by each school’s faculty in 20 publications, ranging from the Journal of Accounting Research to the Harvard Business Review. BusinessWeek also awards a school extra points if a professor’s book was reviewed in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, or Bloomberg Businessweek. When the tally was complete, the scores are adjusted for faculty size so that schools with massive faculty members, such as Harvard, Wharton and Columbia, don’t have an unfair advantage.

What did the BusinessWeek survey find? The results are peculiar, to say the least. Columbia, Wharton, MIT, Northwestern, Harvard, and UCLA fail to make the top ten. Even though Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management is ranked overall as the fourth best school in the U.S. for an MBA, its intellectual ranking is a shockingly low 28th.

Other schools, highly ranked by BusinessWeek and other major media brands that rank MBA programs, are also rated surprisingly low on academic research by BW. Consider the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. It’s overall rank is 11, but its intellectual capital rank is a paltry 36. Southern Methodist University’s Cox School, which was ranked 12th best overall, received an academic research ranking of 40.

No less surprising, two of the top three schools in creating intellectual capital, according to BusinessWeek, are the the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business, ranked second, and Wake Forest University’s B-school, ranked third. Pretty much, no one in academia would be rating Maryland or Wake Forest above such powerhouse research-oriented schools as Columbia, Wharton, MIT, Stanford, and Chicago. Yet, BusinessWeek is awarding them kudos for intellectual capital.

Only one other of the five major MBA rankings takes a look at academic research. The Financial Times awards points to schools for papers “written by the faculty of each school in 40 academic and practitioner journals.” It measures output over a three-year period and then, like BusinessWeek, adjusts the results for faculty size.

The differences between the two publications are both amusing and thought-provoking. Harvard, rated by BusinessWeek as 14th, wins the academic research prize from the FT as the school producing the best academic research in the world. Yet, it should be pointed out, that most research-oriented faculties at such schools as Stanford, Wharton, Columbia and Chicago think Harvard is generally research light, largely because much of its “research” falls into case study production. Wake Forest, BW’s third ranked school, is rated 91st by the Financial Times on research–a difference of opinion that is 88 places off (see table below). Other schools where there are huge disparities between the two polls: Yale School of Management, which BW ranks as No. 9 and the FT as No. 37, and the University of Wisconsin, which BW ranks as No. 24 and the FT ranks as 53.

The similarities may give some credibility to the results of both surveys: Duke rates first in BusinessWeek and second in the FT on research. Dartmouth College’s Tuck School ranks fourth in BW and fifth in the FT. Stanford has a seventh place showing in the BW survey and a sixth place finish in the FT study. So you can be fairly certain that these schools, at least, deliver the goods when it comes to the production of intellectual capital.


School & BW 2010

Intellectual Capital Rank

2010 FT Research Rank Difference in Ranks
1. Duke University (Fuqua) 2 -1
2. University of Maryland (Smith) 14 -12
3. Wake Forest (Babcock) 91 -88
4. Dartmouth College (Tuck) 5 -1
5. California-Berkeley (Haas) 7 -2
6. Cornell University (Johnson) 32 -26
7. Stanford Graduate School of Business 6 +1
8. University of Chicago (Booth) 4 -4
9. Yale School of Management 37 -29
10. Rice University (Jones) 16 -6
11. University of Michigan (Ross) 8 +3
12. Columbia Business School 16 -4
13. Pennsylvania (Wharton) 3 +10
14. Harvard Business School 1 -13
15. UCLA (Anderson) 26 -11
16. Carnegie Mellon (Tepper) 32 -16
17. University of Texas-Austin (McCoombs) 22 -5
18. MIT (Sloan) 14 +4
19. New York University (Stern) 11 +8
20. Georgia Tech NR NA
21. Emory University (Goizueta) 32 -11
22. Illinois-Urbana Champaign 24 -2
23. Penn State University (Smeal) NR NA
24. University of Wisconsin-Madison 53 -29
25. Notre Dame (Mendoza) 40 -15

Source: BusinessWeek and The Financial Times 2010 rankings

What’s up? If BusinessWeek’s results are quirky, it’s because the methodology is quirky. Measuring academic output over only two years can lead to odd, distorted results. Picking only 20 journals to measure isn’t much of a sample when there are well more than twice that number that really count. Tossing in book reviews by only two newspapers and one magazine seems awfully random as well. The result: some oddball outcomes.

Like the Financial Times, BusinessWeek only gives its intellectual capital survey 10% of the weight in its overall ranking of the best B-schools. And its attempt to measure academic research is well-intentioned. Nonetheless, the result strains credulity and reflects poorly on the overall ranking.

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