Historical Forbes’ MBA Rankings

ForbesFor many business schools, the rankings game is a roller coaster adventure. Some years you’re up; other years you’re down.

Even more difficult, it’s sometimes hard to figure out why a school is having a good or bad rankings years. That’s generally because most rankings are based on multiple metrics–not all of them visible to readers. This is how Forbes’ biennial ranking, launched in 1999, is different: the ranking is based on one simple measurement and nothing more: return-on-investment.

Every other year, Forbes sends out surveys to MBA alumni five years after graduation and asks them how much money they currently earn in salary and bonus. The magazine then subtracts out two years of forgone pre-MBA pay, as well as tuition and fees–minus scholarship aid. The actual Forbes ranking is based on the net cumulative amount alums of a school have earned after five years by getting their MBA degrees versus staying in their pre-MBA careers. The magazine adjusts the median five-year MBA gain for cost of living expenses and discounts gains using a rate tied to money market yields.

As with any ranking, the primary flaw of the Forbes methodology is its dependence on alumni for data. Because respondents know the information they provide will impact the ranking of their alma mater, they may be encouraged to inflate their compensation to get Forbes to rank their schools higher. There’s no way to completely safeguard the data collection from this bias, though Forbes does look at certain school-reported data and checks it against the numbers given to the magazine by alumni.

That’s why one-year ranking results can’t be entirely relied upon. It’s best to look at the data over the years to diminish anomalies that can crop up in a given year. That’s what we have done here in looking at the historical rankings by Forbes from their debut in 1999 until the latest release in 2013.

Over the years, Harvard Business School has topped the list more than any other business school: four out of eight times. Dartmouth College’s Tuck School has been at the top twice and so has Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, which took the crown again in 2013.

For the latest 2013 survey by Forbes, 12 of the 70 ranked U.S. business schools had their best showing ever, including No. 2 Chicago Booth, No. 5 Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, Duke University’s No. 8 Fuqua School of Business, and the University of Michigan’s No. 10 Ross School.

Clearly, these schools have forward momentum. You can also put on this list Indiana University’s Kelley School, at 19th, the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School at 25, the University of Washington’s Foster School at 27, Buffalo, Boston University, UC-Davis, Temple University’s Fox School, and Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School.

On the other hand, the schools that had their worst showing ever in the Forbes survey include seven unfortunate players: the University of Virginia’s Darden School, Yale University’s School of Management, the University of Texas’ McCombs School, the University of Maryland, Wake Forest, Rollins and Miami.

(See following page for full historical rankings)

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