Since surveying students and graduates of the world’s top business schools, The Economist has collected the opinions of more than a quarter of a million MBAs. Yet, those student and graduate surveys account for just 20% of the magazine’s annual MBA rankings. The remaining 80% comes from data provided by each business school, from the ratio of faculty to students to starting salaries.
But what if The Economist ranked schools on little more than its student satisfaction surveys? The magazine publishes the actual grades that students and graduates assign to their schools on five key factors: the quality of the MBA program, the quality of the faculty, the school’s culture and classmates, the effectiveness of the career center, and the overall quality of the school’s facilities (see How MBAs Grade The Top Business Schools).
GRADES ARE BASED ON NEARLY 50,000 MBA PARTICIPANTS
The grades given to each of core factors of the MBA experience are actually composed of three years worth of data, with 50% from the latest online survey this year, 30% for last year’s survey, and 20% for the survey done in 2010. All told, it’s a powerful sample of opinions: 15,550 students and graduates participated in The Economist’s survey this year, while 18,712 participated last year.
When you add up the published grades for each of the five key issues, The Economist’s top three business schools for 2012 remain exactly the same: the University of Chicago’s Booth School comes in first, followed by Dartmouth College’s Tuck School and the University of Virginia’s Darden School.
INDIANA, NOTRE DAME, WASH U, & UNC GAIN MOST GROUND
It’s only after the top three that things get really interesting. Instead of Harvard Business School, which The Economist ranks fourth this year, the No. 17 Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business has the fourth best student satisfaction scores. Several other big differences: Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, otherwise ranked 44th by The Economist, zooms into a fifth place tie with Harvard–a difference of 39 places.
The University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza school gains 26 places to finish at a rank of 23rd versus 49th, and Washington University’s Olin School jumps 24 spots to place 23rd versus 47th in last week’s Economist ranking. The University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School climbs into 19th place from a rank of 40.
COLUMBIA LOSES MOST GROUND WHEN IT COMES TO MBA SATISFACTION
On the other hand, Columbia Business School, ranked fifth by The Economist this year, would fall to a lowly rank of 31st on the basis of MBA opinion. The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, ranked 13th by The Economist, would plunge to a rank of 26th. Student satisfaction at these big MBA factories in cities clearly have a harder time delivering a defect-free MBA experience as judged by their own graduates.
What becomes increasingly apparent, however, is just how tightly clustered the overall grades are–so close to each other that their statistical significance is highly questionable. The difference between the No. 1 school, Chicago Booth, which scored 23.6 points out of possible 25.0, and the No. 23rd schools, where Texas, Washington University and Notre Dame are all tied by racking up 21.9 points each, is a mere 1.7 points. That’s hardly consequential. Indeed, among the top 25 schools, 19 schools are involved in ties. That’s how close the data clusters. In the ranking published by The Economist each year, the magazine doesn’t permit ties.
TWO MAJOR REASONS WHY THE SCORES ARE SO TIGHTLY CLUSTERED
Are the differences among these schools as small as these grade suggest? We very much doubt it.
But there are two big reasons why the grades are so close: 1) MBAs know their grades will be factored into a ranking so they are likely to grade on the very high side. It would take significant disappointment to make a student veer from cheerleading mode. 2) All the grades are subject to MBA expectations. Students who enter ESADE are likely to have very different expectations from those who get into Harvard or Stanford.
So what value is there in this analysis? In essence, ranking schools by student satisfaction shows which MBA programs exceed expectations based on their overall rank by The Economist and which schools fall short. The tables on the following pages show the schools based on student satisfaction grades, how that rank compares with The Economist’s overall 2012 ranking, the underyling score for each school, and then the difference between the satisfaction rank and The Economist rank.
(See following page for table of the top 25 schools and how they would rank by The Economist’s student satisfaction surveys over the past three years.)