The Best B-School Alumni Networks in the U.S.

One of the most valuable assets of a top-ranked business school is its alumni network. It’s a major consideration by applicants in choosing an MBA program, and it’s a significant sign of a school’s true brand strength in the marketplace.

But it’s also something that is hard to measure. There is no available metric that will let you know how often the alumni network at a school gets current students internships or jobs. There is no measurement to find out how often an alum returns the call of a student for advice, mentorship, or networking.

There is, however, one very telling number to judge the strength of a school’s alumni network: the percentage of alumni who give money to a school every year. As Paul Danos, dean of Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, puts it, a school’s annual alumni giving rate is “a long-term satisfaction index.”

Alumni wouldn’t be handing over money to a school especially if they felt no affinity toward the institution or were unsatisfied with the MBA experience they received. So high alumni giving rates might well be the single best proxy to assess both the satisfaction of MBAs with an institution as well as the ultimate value of the network a graduate inherits at commencement.

Which business schools do exceptionally well on this index? Year in and year out, the Tuck School beats every other institution in the world when it comes to annual alumni giving. Last year, for example, some 67% of Tuck’s 8,976 living MBAs wrote checks to the school. That is an extraordinary level of support at a time when the average rate of giving for a top-20 business school is roughly 20%.

“That is like the four-minute mile,” boasts Danos. “The appreciation for Tuck grows as our graduates go out and speak to others about their experiences. That long-term satisfaction has to be high given the unheard of rate of giving. I do think it’s a long-term endorsement of the general way we educate.”

This year, Tuck will reach a new milestone, eclipsing the highest participation rate in its history. With a May 31st deadline approaching for its annual giving campaign, more than 68% of its alums have already send in their checks, beating the 67.5% peak reached in 2008. Danos is hopeful that the school might very well hit 70% this year.

And after Tuck? It’s Yale University’s School of Management, which last year saw 46% of its MBA alums reach into their pockets to donate money to the school; the University of Virginia’s Darden School, the beneficiary of a 43% alumni giving rate last year, and the Stanford Graduate School of Business, which reported a 41% participation rate by MBA alums.

Among the top-ranked schools, who comes out on a low end? The University of Minnesota’s Carlson School has an annual giving rate of just 5%. Two well-known Texas’ schools come next: Texas’ McCombs School of Business at 8%, while Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business reports a participation rate of 10%. Several schools, including Chicago Booth and Wharton, refuse to disclose these numbers, most likely because they are less than flattering to the institution. (In the table on the last page of this story, we’ve estimated the annual alumni giving for schools, which do not report this data).

Joseph Thomas, dean of Cornell University’s Johnson School, calls Tuck’s 67% rate “mind boggling. That means they’ve been doing things right for quite a number of years,” he says. “A higher percent must indicate a higher level of happiness.”

“The annual participation rate is the best measure of the strength of the alumni network,” insists Dave Celone, who heads up the annual giving effort at Tuck. “It’s really the only true metric that can measure the strength of the network. In a capital campaign, there may be half a dozen donors who make the difference. This measurement looks at 100% of the alumni at a school on an annual basis and all the schools track it.”

The money giving, of course, is little more than a proxy for the strength of a network. It’s not the payoff students and alums get. “Anecdotally, whenever students call a Tuck alum, they get a call back or an email within that day, if not within the hour,” says Celone. “Alumni respond at close to a 100% rate whenever some from Tuck calls. But you can’t compare that to other schools because it’s impossible to track.” Tuck’s career services office does track the percentage of jobs MBAs ultimately get via an alumni contact. Last year, roughly 70% of the Class of 2010 landed full-time jobs thanks to alumni connections, says Celone.

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