Shortly after Harvard Business School professor David Thomas was named dean of Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business last year, he met privately with University President John J. DeGiola.
“What is going to be the part of the job that will be the toughest for you?,” asked DeGiola.
“Waking up every day knowing how much people care about the rankings so I have to care about them, too,” replied Thomas without hesitation.
Thomas just faced his first rankings test as a new dean and discovered he didn’t have to worry all that much. Yesterday, Georgetown’s McDonough School climbed one spot in the 2012 U.S. News & World Report ranking of the best business schools to place a respectable 24th.
SIX SCHOOLS HAD DOUBLE-DIGIT TUMBLES WHILE 13 OTHERS FELL OFF THE LIST ENTIRELY
But there were a lot of other deans that weren’t quite so lucky yesterday. At least six business schools had double-digit tumbles in the ranking, while 13 other schools fell off the U.S. News list entirely. At Rochester Institute of Technology, the B-school that lost the most ground–a fall of 31 places to a rank of 94–there was not much to celebrate. At Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School, the institution that gained the most spots–leaping 28 places to rank 52 this year–there was plenty of reason for cheer.
How is it possible for a business school to rise or fall that much in a single year? In most cases, what keeps Thomas and other deans up at night is the uncontrollable nature of most rankings. More often than not, schools are so closely bunched together that differences in numerical rank have little to no statistical significance. So small changes in the metrics a ranking organization uses can result in big swings in a school’s standing from year to year.
HOW THE ROCHESTER INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY FELL 31 PLACES THIS YEAR
Consider what happened to the full-time MBA program at Rochester Institute of Technology, this year’s biggest loser. According to the stats the school reported to U.S. News, it was far more selective than the previous year, accepting 40.6% of its applicants versus 50.7% a year earlier. Its latest crop of MBA graduates posted higher starting salaries: $51,116 last year, compared with $48,880 a year earlier. Yet, Rochester plunged 31 places.
How come? The school, according to an analysis of U.S. News data, didn’t fare as well on a number of other key metrics. In U.S. News’ opinion survey of deans and MBA directors, Rochester scored 2.7 on a five-point scale–just .1 less than its 2.8 score a year earlier. In U.S. News’ opinion survey of corporate recruiters, the school scored 2.9 this year–also just .1 less than its 3.0 score a year earlier. Certainly not a significant difference to account for a 31-place drop.
But there’s more. Rochester’s latest entering class had an average GPA of 3.36, down from 3.47 a year earlier, and an average GMAT score of 565, a rather shocking 45-point fall from the 610 it reported to U.S. News a year ago. Finally, while many schools reported improved placement stats, Rochester’s metrics went the other way. Only 48.5% of the Class of 2011 had jobs at graduation, down from 61.9% for the Class of 2010, and only 80.4% of the class had jobs three months later, versus 84.1% a year earlier. Even so, do these changes justify that dramatic a fall to a rank of 94 from 63 in 12 short months?
HOW CASE WESTERN’S WEATHERHEAD SCHOOL GAINED 28 PLACES IN A SINGLE YEAR
What about this year’s biggest winner, Case Western? To be fair, it’s 28-place gain seems based on the fact that every one of U.S. News’ eight ket metrics showed improvement–in some cases, very substantial improvement. In the two opinion surveys of deans and corporate recruiters, Case Western eked out a .1 gain in each survey–nothing all that much to crow about.
But it’s acceptance rate rose to 69.7%, from 60.4%, while the average GPA rose to 3.40, from 3.24, and the average GMAT score rose 38 points to 633 from 595. The most dramatic improvement occurred in the school’s placement stats. Starting salaries jumped to $81,152 last year, from $73,630. Some 62.5% of the Class of 2011 had jobs at graduation, up from just 39% a year earlier, while 87.5% had jobs three months later, up from just 71.2% for the Class of 2010.
Even so, do those numbers suggest that a school should rise 28 spots in a single year? Most deans will privately shrug their shoulders, believing that such changes should not result in these wild swings. It’s why Thomas lays awake at night worrying about rankings he has little control over.
(See tables of the biggest winners and losers this year on the following page)