2011 U.S. News Ranking of the Best B-Schools

The biggest changes in the top 50 of the 2011 ranking? The University of California at Davis jumped 14 places to secure a 28th place finish, up from No. 42 last year. Vanderbilt’s Owen School of Business rose eight spots, from 27th in 2010, to claim a tie with California at Davis.

Other important changes: Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business gained two places, moving to 12th from 14th last year. Cornell University’s Johnson School of Business also jumped two spot to claim 16th place, from 18th in 2010. The University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School also gained two places, moving to 19th from 21st last year. And the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School rose three places to 21st, from 24th in 2010.

The most surprising news in the latest survey was the deep drops by several business schools (see our story on the big winners and losers of the 2011 U.S. News ranking).

The differences among these schools can sometimes be so slight that there is no real statistical difference between one program and another. U.S. News essentially concedes this point by the numerous ties it gives schools. The lower the magazine goes in the ranking, the more likely that it will report several schools in the same position. There are, for example, six schools tied for 107th place, the last rank this year: Abilene Christian, Binghamton, Drexel, Portland State, Rollins College in Florida, and the University of Hawaii. Six schools are also tied for 63rd place: Auburn, Claremont, Rochester Institute of Technology, Temple, Alabama, and the University of Arizona (see the next page for the U.S. News ranking and how it compares with other ratings.)

What makes a school climb significantly higher or fall a great deal on these rankings? Unlike the Harvard-Stanford example, wide swings are almost impossible to explain.

Consider Vanderbilt University’s Owen School, which jumped eight places this year to its rank of 28. The school’s showing in U.S. News’ recruiter survey was the same as it had been a year earlier. Its score in the all-important poll of deans and MBA directors actually fell slightly. The starting salaries of graduating students last year also went south, falling almost $10,000 to $93,351 from $102,852 a year earlier.

On the other hand, Owen’s reported grade point average for the latest incoming class rose to 3.4 from 3.3 a year earlier, and its. GMAT scores increased nearly 20 points to 673 from 656. Finally, 62.9% of Owen’s graduating MBAs were employed at graduation last year, up from 53.4%. Three months later, 82.9% of grads were employed, some ten percentage points better than the 72.8% reported in 2009.

Are those changes enough to justify an eight-place improvement in the rankings? Is Owen that much better a business school in a single year? Those are not easily answered questions, and they are made almost impossible to answer because the field of competition is changing all the time. But as the school’s statistics show: there’s some good news to report (better GPA and GMAT scores of incoming students and higher employment rates), and there’s some not-so-good news (a slightly lower reputation score from other deans and lower starting salaries for graduates).

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