What’s the most devastating development for a business school playing the rankings game? It’s to get the cold shoulder from one of the five most influential MBA rankings in the world.
Getting dropped from a ranking—or conversely getting on a list a school had failed to crack earlier—is the best way for an MBA program to experience a precipitous fall in Poets&Quants’ annual ranking (see 2013 Poets&Quants’ Ranking of the Best MBA Programs in the U.S.).
Consider the Thunderbird School of Global Management, which in recent months has had a very tough time of it. Alumni are loudly complaining about a partnership the school is undertaking with a for-profit education provider. Board members have resigned in protest. Alumni have organized petitions to stop the partnership which Thunderbird deems necessary for financial survival.
THUNDERBIRD FELL 14 PLACES TO A RANK OF 65TH
In this year’s Poets&Quants ranking Thunderbird had the second steepest drop of any business school, falling 14 places to a rank of 65th from 51st in 2012. Only the full-time MBA program at Auburn University fell further—15 spots to 89 from 74. So what caused Thunderbird’s crash? Both Forbes and The Financial Times, which had ranked the school previously as 54th and 47th in the U.S., respectively, did not include Thunderbird in their latest rankings. And then, the school plummeted 13 places in U.S. News & World Report’s ranking to 75th from 88th a year earlier.
Of course, a school doesn’t only move up and down when it is included or rejected from a major ranking. Significant across-the-board improvements or declines in rankings can cause significant movement on our list. Consider Washington University’s Olin School of Business in St. Louis. The school’s full-time MBA program improved its position on four rankings this past year: Forbes, U.S. News, The Financial Times, and The Economist. BusinessWeek, which revised its 2012 biennial list this year to reflect a correction, held Olin steady at the same rank.
But the school’s improved performance in four of the rankings made a big difference, boosting it a half dozen places in a single year to 23rd place from 29th. The school’s biggest advance came in the Forbes survey where Olin improved to 34 from 47. But Olin also did well in the FT, moving up four places to 26th among U.S. programs from 30th. In both U.S. News and The Economist, the school gained one place, to 21st and 28th in the U.S., respectively.
BIGGEST WINNERS INCLUDE UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO & UNIVERSITY OF UTAH
Those rises and falls reflect what the underlying rankings measure, with starting MBA pay and placement looming larger than any other factors. Olin’s big gain in Forbes is all about the return-on-investment reported to the magazine by its alumni. Compensation figures prominently in The Financial Times analysis as well.
This year’s biggest winners, not accounting for the new schools on the list, include the University of Utah’s Eccles School of Business, which rose 24 positions to rank 69th, and the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business, which jumped 17 places to finish 76th. Two other schools saw their full-time MBA programs advance nine places in addition to Wash U: the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, which finished 24th, and Georgia Institute of Technology, which placed 31st.
Losing the most double-digit ground: Auburn, Thunderbird, the University of Miami and DePaul University in Chicago. The latter two schools fell by 11 places each to 81st and 98th respectively.
STATE PRIVACY LAWS HURT MINNESOTA’S CARLSON SCHOOL WITH THE FT
Sometimes, however, it’s not exactly a school’s fault for losing ground in the rankings race. The University of Minnesota’s Carlson School, for example, was not ranked by The Financial Times this year because the newspaper conducted an audit of Carlson’s statistics. But by state privacy law, the school is prohibited from showing the files of individual MBA students. So Carlson fell out of the FT ranking—and that caused the school to drop nine places in this year’s Poets&Quants list.
Nobody said rankings are entirely fair. Like life, they can be incredibly unfair and punishing.