Which B-Schools Have The Happiest Grads?

2010-02-01-The Bell CurveYale Revives the Bell Curve

It’s hard to find anyone who believes the Earth is flat. These days, you’ll find plenty of executives (and academics) who think evaluations should be curved.

And the Yale School of Management is joining them.

That’s the plan according to Anajani Jain, the school’s Senior Associate Dean. Going forward, the top grades will be awarded to the top 10% of students. What about the bottom 10%? If one group wins, another group must lose. It’s just natural selection, B-school style.

Actually, it’s more corporate style. Yes, the 80s are back, just not with the big hair and bright colors. This time, Yale is dusting off stacked rankings. Like a 80’s horror movie villain, you can shoot, impale, fry, drown, or put a stake through its black heart, but stack rankings will magically return for a sequel.

Popularized by GE Chairman Jack Welch, stack rankings place employee performance into several buckets along a bell curve. Here, managers assume the top ten percent of employees are stars and the bottom ten percent must be replaced. In between, companies peg a certain percentage as B-level and C-level players. As a result, employees are subjectively slotted based on a one-size-fits-all model.

You can probably guess the drawbacks. Aside from encouraging rivalry over cooperation and de-motivating valuable “glue” employees, stack rankings make for an easy way to dump the Cassandras and free thinkers under the guise of “performance.”

So how does this change Yale’s current grading system? Currently, students earn one of four grades: Distinction, Proficient, Pass, or Fail (with a mark between Distinction and Proficient being added in the fall). After analyzing grading patterns, Jain noticed the natural distribution, with 10% of students at the top and another 10% at the bottom. In other words, Yale’s approach is grounded in data science. What’s not to like?

A lot, actually.

First, Yale is an elite business school. It only accepts students with the highest business and academic credentials. If only 10% of students are pulling A’s, then it reflects poorly on the school, according to Herman Aguinis, who teaches at the University of Indiana’s Kelley School of Business. He tells Bloomberg Businessweek, “When you use a normal curve and you limit the number of A’s that you give to your students, that’s probably telling you that your admission system wasn’t that good.” If that isn’t the case, there should be a higher number of stars earning A’s.

Aguinis also co-authored a study with the University of Iowa’s Ernest O’Boyle Jr. that debunks the bell curve. From evaluating professionals ranging from athletes to researchers, they noticed that “hyperperformers” actually carried the majority of the performance burden, reflecting the proverbial “80/20 rule” where 80% of the work is achieved by 20% of the team. As a result, there are actually a greater percentage of high performers – and bottom performers – than the bell curve accounts for. If these findings were applied to business schools, you’d find much smaller class sizes.

In addition, Yale’s approach could undermine learning. For example, Josh Bersin, founder of Bersin by Deloitte, observes that the curve is just a sorting device where grades are almost established before the class begins. To Bersin, a curve discourages students from competing against their talented peers. “So they say, ‘Eh, forget it. I’m never going to be in the top percent, so what the heck. I’ll just do what I’m doing. And they just become sort of complacent.”

While the approach guards against grade inflation, it makes a class error: Assuming every class is equal in terms of talent.

Despite committing to a stack ranking, Jain has signaled an openness to tweaking the system. “We don’t think of any particular grading system to be perfect,” Jain notes. “We remain open-minded about how there might be a need to alter the parameters going forward.” Considering that the use of stack rankings plunged from 49% to 14% between 2009 and 2011 (according to the Institute for Corporate Productivity), those changes could be coming sooner rather than later.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek

  • Nels

    In Bloomberg Businessweek’s survey of B-Schools, a person made a similar comment, “If you are in I Banking or MC”, you are set for life there, else it is extremely difficult to break into ; and the school my dear ppl is Columbia. Great for finance and MC types I guess. Not much for other industries. Thank you DA for letting us know more abt Columbia 🙂

  • Dissatisfied Alumnus

    AA: So short answer, no, the connections weren’t great. I think that relates to being in a non-core industry/function. If I was in i-banking, consulting, etc. maybe my experience would have been different. I think the MBA is a powerful stamp and gives credibility, but networking at my school tends to be more about functions/industry. And in any event, if I’m not in brand management or VC, for example, the students and alumni aren’t as interested in chatting with me and realistically vice versa.

    Pros — getting the degree and brand equity, leaving work for a few years, getting to be experimental in classes and hone my long-term path
    Cons– expensive time out of work, extreme favoritism towards select classmates (of which I was a beneficiary in undergrad but not at MBA), mediocre instruction at times, insufficient focus on leadership skills

    I think the BS is that you are considered an individual and not a number. But is that really the case at a major institution? These schools care about money first and foremost. Money from tuition (including well-funded internationals), from donors, etc. And they care about rankings, sadly, which impacts who they admit. I hated that my class included high GMAT scorers that were morally unethical (a few) or exhibited limited social skills (more) or were young and had nothing to offer in the classroom due to limited work experience (many). So the school takes young students with low salaries and then is advantaged in the rankings b/c their salary goes to $100k+ when they graduate. I just feel that there is so much gamesmanship within a lot of top programs. Schools should be more genuinely focused on excellent teaching, leadership skills, etc. and truly focusing on every student’s career advancement. We pay so much to attend. I wonder if I took a free role at a PE shop (if I were in PE) for two years that I would have learned more than paying to watch my resources get allocated to other students.

  • AA

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m not going to try and guess which your school is because, frankly, I don’t think it matters that much.
    But I’m interested in something else – did you find that the alumni network and the connections you built in school are as valuable as they are advertised by the schools and MBA students? A lot of people say that this is one of the main benefits of an MBA, so I’m curious about your opinion.
    An in general, what do you think were the pros and cons of your MBA experience? Which parts of it did you find to match your expectations and which do you think are overhyped bs?

  • Mucus

    Yeah, third-rate facilities.

  • Nels

    stop being an a**h** and let us know the B school YOU FELT was terrible. It will help prospective applicants take note of it and allow them to make an informed decision rather than you beating around the bush by your whining on making it big 😛

  • Dissatisfied Alumnus

    It’s interesting to hear your guesses…although I will disappoint you all by not saying anything (in the unlikely event I make it big 20 years from now, maybe then). But I wonder if I’m not alone on this. Particularly having gotten a great undergraduate business degree, I had such high expectations for my MBA. And my expectations were far from met. I think there is worthy discussion regarding whether or not MBA expectations are met or are oversold. It’s one thing to use the MBA for career ascension but it’s another thing to claim that these programs’ structure are of equal quality to that of a big corporation. I always found it contradictory to see the MBA professors wax poetic about mistakes by corporations and then see those same mistakes at my alma mater!

  • WekiWaka

    it is Harvard. His “fancy” language says that.

  • ThisGuy

    I think DA is referring to the other part of that list… “And top 10 stalwarts like Harvard, Northwestern (Kellogg), Columbia, and Cornell (Johnson) are nowhere to be found.”
    I’d guess Columbia.

  • Nels

    I think you are talking about Stern since they are closely related to I-Banker stuff 🙂 since Yale and Darden have not much leverage and MIT is a breeding ground for entrepreneurs. :))

  • Dissatisfied Alumnus

    John, I am not in a position to share, as it serves no value to my degree’s equity. You see, even us dissatisfied folks have to be publicly positive about our school so that the rankings and reputation don’t sink. It’s an unfortunate reality. In any event, many of this website’s commenters love to mock any school’s weaknesses so I remain anon. Further, I wouldn’t want to engage in a shouting match with Sandy over the worthiness of my alma mater–a diatribe that would be filled with dismissive, condescending, caps lock commentary.

  • JohnAByrne

    Would love to know where you went and so would our readers!

  • Dissatisfied Alumnus

    I went to one of the four top-10 stalwarts/”misery” schools noted and I concur wholeheartedly. My BBA education at a top 20 US university was far better than the crappy academics, completely full of themselves student populace, unsupportive administration, incompetent and incapable career management support, and third-rate facilities at my second business alma mater. The politics at my MBA school were also incredible. For those with unique passions or unusual industries, you are nobody–but if you’re an i-banker, you are gold. Believe me, when I make it semi-big or big, I know where my contribution dollars are flowing and it won’t be to my MBA alma mater.

  • devils0508

    What weightings did they use?:

    Kellogg is :
    MBA education: 8

    Prepared relative to other MBAs: 5

    Current job: 21

    Which seems like it should be top 10, compared to the above.

  • devils0508

    Makes sense to me. It’s kind of like how the bronze medalists at the olympics are generally happier than the silver medalists. People at Tuck and Booth compare themselves to classmates who get the ridiculously lucrative PE/VC type of jobs. At worst ranked schools, you don’t have those high performing outliers, so people aren’t upset they don’t have 7 figure jobs in their early 30’s.

  • vp

    I can’t believe Tuck and Booth are at 38 and 40 respectively when it comes to job satisfaction.

  • Saffer

    Indiana has a really great culture within the full time MBA class. It is a pretty small full time MBA class and students get to know each other and the faculty really well. There are many excellent (sometimes transformative) international learning experiences (e.g. meaningful consulting assignments in emerging markets). There are also very good academy programs within the MBA focused on job specific skills and knowledge (e.g. for consulting, capital markets, consumer marketing etc.). Not everyone dreams of going to a college town in the middle of Indiana for an MBA, so the applicant pool is maybe not what it should be for such a good program. But those who land up at Kelley (Indiana) generally have a great personal, academic and networking experience resulting a pretty good rankings for the program on all fronts.

  • MonoCasa

    INDIANA is somehow a weird school! Low GMAT, Low GPAs, yet, in most rankings (even the pure academic rankings such as ARWU) it is always highly placed! why is that?