Winners & Losers In The 2012 BW Ranking

The Smith School said it completed a multimillion-dollar revamp of its Office of Career Services in fall 2011, introducing a host of new student programs and a state-of-the-art physical space for interviews that have attracted many additional employers to campus. The office’s “innovative offerings include a series of improvisation workshops led by a Broadway actor and soft-skills leadership training.” The school says “the MBA student experience is a top priority for the school, both in the classroom and through the six-credit, required Smith Experience program. Renowned researchers serve not only as top teachers, but as mentors and leaders for the experiential learning program’s consulting projects and global study trips.”


Is that all it takes to lift a school 27 places on a key element of the BusinessWeek ranking? It’s certainly possible because the customer satisfaction scores are so closely clustered together that in many cases they are statistically meaningless. But Maryland’s ranking on student satisfaction means that it is better than Harvard (ranked 12th), Stanford (ranked 8th), Wharton (16), Kellogg (13), Chicago (11), among many other schools. That is just a hard pill to swallow.

Then, there is Vanderbilt’s Owen School. The rise here is far more understandable because the numbers went up in somewhat more acceptable fashion. Owen’s student satisfaction rank improved to 24th from 30th, a rise of six spots. Where Owen really made tracks was on BusinessWeek’s recruiter survey, rising to 31st from 43rd, a 12-place gain. That’s a big jump in one survey, but nothing like the 27-place run up for Maryland in the magazine’s student satisfaction poll.

Both schools, it should be pointed out, did less well in BusinessWeek’s intellectual capital ranking, which measures the published articles of a school’s faculty in key academic and practitioner journals. Maryland, in fact, fell 11 places to 13th from 2nd in 2010. Vanderbilt slid just three spots to a rank of 36th this year from 33rd two years ago. But this part of BusinessWeek’s methodology accounts for only 10% of the ranking. The student satisfaction and corporate recruiter pools each account for a dominating 40% weight or a total of 80% of the ranking.


Then, there are the biggest losers, outside of the schools that completely disappeared this year. At the top of this list is Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business. Largely due to a change in the way BusinessWeek calculates its corporate recruiter poll, Cox plunged 17 places to finish 29th from a lofty perch of 12th in 2010. In an interview with Poets&Quants prior to the publication of the new rankings, BusinessWeek’s MBA rankings guru and editor Lou Lavelle explained that the change in methodology was a direct result of Cox’s strong showing two years ago.

“Everyone was saying it didn’t pass the smell test,” explained Lavelle. “We looked at why that was happening and the reason was we had some schools, like SMU, that had very few recruiter mentions—not a really deep base of recruiters—but that small base was wildly enthusiastic about the school.” The change is rather complicated, but the bottom line is that schools with few recruiter mentions that are all highly positive no longer have an advantage over schools with many mentions. This change alone, according to BusinessWeek, impacted the rankings of 31 U.S. programs.

For Cox, it meant an absolute free fall in its corporate recruiter ranking from 6th in 2010 to 36th this year–a shocking 30-place drop. But even that doesn’t tell the full story of the punishment BusinessWeek doled out because the rank of 6th last year was readjusted according to the new methodology along with Cox’s 2008 rank and then cranked into the latest result.


The school quickly responded to the downturn. “We continue to move forward, our employers are still ‘wildly enthusiastic’ about the graduates they hire … and our graduating students are still very satisfied with the education and experience they have received at SMU Cox,” says Marci Armstrong, associate dean of graduate programs at Cox. “In short, the only thing that’s changed is the methodology, and we are pleased to see that despite a new emphasis on the number of recruiters, which arguably favors larger schools, we are still ranked in the Top 30 in 2012.  By the way, under the old methodology, we were ranked below 30 until 2008, when we moved to number 18 and then 12 in 2010.”

There were two other notable schools that lost significant ground this year: the University of Georgia’s Terry School, which plunged 16 places to a rank of 52 from 36, and Michigan’s State Broad School, which stumbled 15 spots to a rank of 35 from 20th just two years ago. How did these schools fall out of favor?

About the Author...

John A. Byrne

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.