When MBA Rankings Lag The Facts

The Underperformers: Thunderbird Crashes To Earth

Alas, there are always “underperformers”, whose peer assessment scores are higher than the quantitative data collected by U.S. News suggests. You’ll only find two top fifty schools here (Penn State and Illinois). But the difference between perception and performance are more pronounced here. From Babson to Fordham, you’ll find plenty of surprises:

Overall Rank   Peer Rank   School                                                     Peer Score   Performance
88 31 Thunderbird School of Global Management 3.5 -57
101 50 Claremont Graduate School (Drucker) 3.2 -51
96 61 Pepperdine University (Graziadio) 3.0 -35
79 50 University of Colorado (Leeds) 3.2 -29
93 67 University of Kentucky (Gatton) 2.9 -26
91 67 University of Miami 2.9 -24
91 67 University of Oregon (Lundquist) 2.9 -24
47 26 University of Illinois 3.6 -21
84 67 Bentley University (McCallum) 2.9 -17
49 34 Penn State University (Smeal) 3.4 -15
56 41 Babson University (Olin) 3.3 -15
73 58 University of South Carolina (Moore) 3.1 -15
96 81 Rensselaer Polytechnic (Lally) 2.8 -15
75 61 Auburn University 3.0 -14
75 61 Virginia Tech (Pamplin) 3.0 -14
73 61 UC-San Diego (Rady) 3.0 -12
79 67 Fordham University 2.9 -12
79 67 Syracuse University (Whitman) 2.9 -12
93 81 DePaul University (Kellstadt) 2.8 -12
52 41 Case Western University (Weatherhead) 3.3 -11

Source: P&Q analysis based on U.S. News & World Report 2014 Business School Rankings

Thunderbird’s inclusion is hardly shocking, as steady enrollment declines recently precipitated a partnership with for-profit Laureate Education, a move denounced by Thunderbird trustees and alumni alike. However, the continued high marks for the University of Illinois, which tumbled ten spots to 47 in the 2014 rankings, are a head-scratcher. The peer assessments of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the Claremont College’s Drucker School may be lagging a year behind, as they plunged 26 and 25 places respectively in the most recent U.S. News rankings. However, one factor unites many of these schools: Poor placement. Ten of the twenty schools on this list (Thunderbird, Claremont, Colorado, Fordham, Oregon, Pepperdine, Rensselaer, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, and Kentucky) also correspond to a 2012 Top 20 list from U.S. News of the business schools with the highest unemployment rates at graduation.

The inclusion of the Universities of South Carolina and Colorado on this list may also reflect U.S. News’ methodology, as these schools were two of the biggest gainers in Forbes’ most recent MBA Rankings. The selection of Peter Brews as the new dean at Darla Moore also heralds a potential uptick in the University of South Carolina’s performance.

Bottom Line

It can take years for the academic community to recognize which business programs are surging or sinking. As a result, peer assessment can often lag behind on-campus reality. It takes years to build reputation and brand – and those sentiments are a powerful force in formulating rankings. When evaluating a business school, look at its trajectory. What’s more, look behind the overall number at factors like employment rates and recruiter scores to know how schools are truly viewed.

A Quick Note

The U.S. News 2014 Business School Rankings methodology used above has a minor flaw. Although we subtracted the overall rank from peer assessment rank, the 25 percent weight of the peer assessment is still embedded in the overall rank. In other words, the peer assessment still acts as a drag (or a boost) on the overall ranking. As a result, some schools could theoretically be ranked slightly higher (or lower) if peer assessment was removed entirely.


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