The champagne will flow at the University of Cincinnati’s Lindner College of Business which had the single biggest rise of any school in U.S. News & World Report’s 2014 MBA ranking out today (March 11). Lindner jumped a remarkable 39 places to finish 60th this year, up from a rank of 99 in 2013.
And which school is likely to sulk the most? The University of Alabama’s Manderson Graduate School of Business which plunged the most places, a 14-spot drop to a rank of 74. Quite a comedown from its 60th place finish in 2013.
Behind many of the movements–whether up or down–is the question of how reasonable these rankings actually are? In many cases, gains or falls are often rather capricious–based on small fractions of change that have no real impact to an MBA applicant or student. In some other cases, however, improvements or falls in a ranking, especially over time, can be indicative of a school that has special momentum or is in a state of decline.
WHAT’S BEHIND A 39-PLACE JUMP IN THE RANKINGS IN A SINGLE YEAR?
Of course, there are schools that nudged their way onto the list this year–and schools that completely fell off which may be even more shocking than staying on the list and losing ground. Among the disappearing MBA programs on U.S. News’ latest list is Auburn University, Virginia Tech, St. Louis University, Oklahoma State, the University of San Diego, Clarkson and the University of Mississippi.
The newcomers this year include the University of Delaware, Texas Tech, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Mississippi State, the University of St. Thomas, and North Arizona University, which came in at No. 104 as the highest ranked school on the list.
The big question, of course, is what does a school have to do to leap 39 places in a single year. For the University of Cincinnati, it pretty much meant improvement in every single metric measured by U.S. News. The school reported average GMAT scores of 601, up from 565 in 2012; a slightly better grade point average of 3.52, up from 3.42 a year earlier. Because it attracted more prospective students, accepted fewer applicants and also enrolled fewer still, it was able to get those input numbers of student quality higher.
AND WHAT CAN CAUSE A TEN-POINT DROP?
The school’s acceptance rate this past year was 61.4%, a vast improvement over the 92.2% rate in 2012. Its scores also improved in the two polls U.S. News conducts of corporate recruiters and business school deans and MBA directors. Lindner scored 3.0 on peer assessment, up from 2.6, and a 2.9 on the recruiter poll, up a tick from the 2.8.
Even the output measures looked better. Graduating MBAs last year reported average salary and bonus of $67,333, up from $57,124 a year earlier. Some 73.4% of them had jobs at graduation, up from 68.8% in 2012, and 87.5% had jobs three months later, up from 72.9%.
It may be more shocking to examine what could possibly cause a ten-point drop? Consider the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School. It reported higher average salaries and bonuses for its graduates and significantly better placement rates. Pay was up to $118,986, a slight rise over $117,972 a year earlier. Some 83.6% of the Class of 2013 had jobs at graduation, much better than the 68.8% rate in 2012, and 90.9% had jobs three months later, up from 83.8% in 2012. The corporate recruiters surveyed by U.S. News awarded Carlson higher scores, too, a 3.2 on a five-point scale, up from 2.8 a year earlier. The latest entering class also had a slightly better average grade point average: 3.43 versus 3.40 in 2012.
THE MYSTERY IN U.S. NEWS’ RANKING METHODOLOGY
So how in the world could the school drop ten places to finish 33rd and lose its status as a Top 25 MBA program? Carlson’s average GMAT scores slipped six points to 686 from 692, and it lost a fraction of a point on its peer assessment score, 3.5 this year, versus 3.6 last year. That’s it. The upshot: a shocking ten-point fall in the making, even though Carlson’s underlying index score from U.S. News was just one point lower at 68 versus 69 in 2013.
Of course, the list is dynamic. Each school’s numbers are changing so some rival schools obviously gained ground on Carlson which allowed them to leapfrog the school on the U.S. News list. But you would be hard pressed to find any reasonable person who would say that a six-point difference in average GMATs should cause a school to plummet ten places in a ranking when other measures actually improved.