Why MBAs Are Even More Satisfied Than The Most Optimistic Survey Shows

graduatesEvery year, the Graduate Management Admission Council asks alumni of MBA programs all over the world if they think the time and money they spent getting the degree was worth it. And every year, the results show extremely high levels of satisfaction with the MBA.

The latest 2014 GMAC Alumni Perspectives Survey, released in March, strongly reaffirms the value of the degree. Nine in 10 (91%) recent business school alumni from 2010–2013 consider their graduate management education a good to outstanding value.

Sixty-six percent of alumni agree their education was financially rewarding. And a quarter (26%) of alumni report their expectations for recouping their financial investment were exceeded while 53% say their expectations for return on their investment (ROI) were met.


Pretty good, right? This part of the survey is based on responses from 6,862 alumni who graduated between 2010 and 2013 from some 132 business schools worldwide that partnered with GMAC in the study. The survey was conducted in October-November of 2013.

But here’s the most surprising part of the upbeat results. Most of the alumni from the best business schools in the world aren’t included in the study. By and large, there’s no alumni from Harvard, Stanford, or Wharton. None from Chicago Booth, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, MIT Sloan, Columbia Business School, or Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business.

For whatever reason, those schools and many more decided not to participate in the latest research. In fact, alumni from only three business schools—Virginia, Carnegie Mellon, and Indiana University—of the Top 20 in the U.S. were included in the survey.


And it’s not only the most highly selective U.S. business schools that did not participate in the study. The very best non-U.S. schools also are missing. There are no alumni from London Business School, INSEAD, IMD, HEC Paris, IE Business School, or IESE Business School.

Which schools participated in the GMAC survey? Some very good schools, of course, but also places that fail to rank among the top 100 U.S. or the top 50 non-U.S. business schools from Alliance University to Widener University (see list of participating schools here).

In other words, despite the high levels of endorsement for graduate business education, the survey on satisfaction with the MBA doesn’t even benefit from having the views of the graduates who are most likely to be highly satisfied. After all, these are among the most highly paid MBAs in the market, the graduates who generally get the best job opportunities and graduate into the strongest alumni networks. These top schools, by the way, are also the ones that generally have the most scholarship money available to help offset the cost of the degree.


A GMAC spokesperson, Rich D’Amato, explains that “many of those schools do their own research and some schools have concerns about survey fatigue during ranking years.” He didn’t think the absence of alums from the most highly ranked schools would have that much of an impact. “Satisfaction is a measure that is relative to the individual’s expectations, experience, and perceptions. However, in year’s past, when some of the listed schools participated in the student exit survey, alumni valued their education at similar rates as the recent survey suggests.”

But satisfaction surveys over the years by other sources, such as BusinessWeek which has been polling MBA alumni since 1988, clearly show that graduates of the big brand schools tend to have higher levels of satisfaction than MBAs from second- or third-tier schools. That’s generally the outcome of the more lucrative job opportunities available to graduates of the top-tier schools.

For example, when BusinessWeek asked alumni of 88 schools around the world “To what extent did your MBA experience meet your expectations of what a good program should be?,” the school’s with the most satisfied alums were Chicago, Northwestern, Dartmouth, Virginia, Stanford, Yale, Duke, Cornell, Berkeley, and Wharton. At the bottom? Fordham, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Connecticut, South Carolina, Syracuse and Clark Atlanta.

When the magazine asked recent graduates if they would urge their friends or colleagues to enroll in the same MBA program at the school they just attended, the schools getting the most endorsements were Chicago, Northwestern, Stanford, Duke, Dartmouth, Harvard, Virginia, Wharton, UC-Berkeley, and Yale. Less enthusiastic were grads from Arizona State, George Washington, Illinois, Penn State, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Clark Atlanta, Syracuse, and South Carolina.

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