Academics vs. Recruiters: Which Schools Perform the Best?



It’s the age-old question: Do you go to school for an education or a job?

Call it the proverbial chicken-or-egg argument. Without a degree, most employers won’t consider you. They’ll assume you lack the tools (and the grit) to thrive on the job. But education, for its own sake, doesn’t pay the bills. It needs to be channeled, grown and tested. And there’s no better place to apply knowledge than in a business.

The Tensions Between Academia and Business

Still, there’s an underlying tension between academics and employers. At times, employers will deride colleges as “ivory towers,” free from the pressures of meeting payroll and changing business cycles. You’ll hear professors dismissed with phrases like, “Those who can do, and those who can’t teach.” And what new grad hasn’t had a boss quip about ‘re-training” them at orientation.

But it isn’t just managers who think this way. In any faculty lounge, you’re certain to be subjected to a treatise on how today’s companies lack basic fundamentals (if not ethics). And despite reams of research and writings, many educators still wonder helplessly why companies don’t follow through on their empirically-proven ‘best practices’ (If a study makes the Strategic Management Journal, but isn’t acted upon, does it really make a sound?).

Stereotypes abound: Educators are “out of touch,” while companies are only “out for the quick buck.” Sure, they partner (if not compete), as companies are being launched out of incubators and curriculum is being developed in-house. But academics and employers have two separate functions. Academics must trim a conflicting body of theory and cases, whose size and complexity are accelerating at light speed. And employers, however noble, can only apply a sliver of it. They’re simply too busy (and understaffed), operating on-the-fly to satisfy customers, outflank competitors, and remain solvent.

Business students also experience these tensions. And it starts with how they’re ultimately evaluated. If you’re academically-inclined, you probably measure yourself by grades, rank, and accolades. If you’re among the ‘grades don’t matter’ set, you’re focused on making connections, holding leadership posts, and landing the right internship. In this set, placement and compensations are the real metrics for success.

How They Evaluate Schools Differently

With different roles and responsibilities, schools and companies, to an extent, value different aspects of the educational experience. And that comes out loud-and-clear in the 2015 U.S. News and World Report rankings. Here, surveys from academics and company recruiters account for 40 percent of a school’s rank (with peer assessments from deans and MBA program directors comprising 25 percent). Using a five point scale, where 1 is marginal and 5 is outstanding, each group assesses the value of various MBA programs (with respondents able to mark “Don’t Know” on specific schools). For the 2015 rankings, 42 percent of academics targeted responded to the survey, nearly twice the response rate of recruiters (18 percent). As a result, the recruiter survey results were averaged for the past two years.

Through these surveys, you can set academics and recruiter opinions side-by-side, to gauge how much value each places in particular institutions. For academics, the peer assessment is a measure of a school’s brand equity, the perception of intellectual quality and rigor of the faculty, curriculum, and student body. For recruiters, the scores reflect the caliber of students they interview and hire, particularly their skill sets and “fit” within given organizations.

The downside of the peer assessments, of course, is that many respondents spend little time on the campuses they evaluate, making their scores more subjective than normal. While recruiters invest heavily in campus visits, their evaluations are colored by their employers’ ends as much as academic quality.

  • Billy Bob Cooter

    The article’s rationale behind why Booth lags behind HSW from a recruiter’s perspective does not make much sense.

    “Booth’s starting salary and bonus ($135,982) comes up to $5500 below Wharton”

    I would think being able to hire someone for $5500 less (i.e. at a discount given the academics are equal) would be a favorable reason to hire someone from Chicago.

    The article then goes on to contradict it’s conclusion by stating that the placement rate for Chicago is higher than Harvard and Stanford; this premise would support the conclusion that recruiters favor Chicago grads over Harvard and Stanford.

    Either way, this article’s rationale does not make sense. I do agree that recruiters probably favor HSW grads over Chicago grads; and I would agree that Chicago is academically comparable to HSW (Chicago might even have a slight edge in Finance/economics/analytics).

    I am a bit surprised to see MIT a notch below HSWC… I personally think MIT’s academics (especially in quantitative subjects) are unrivaled by Harvard and Stanford. With MIT being such a powerhouse quant school I am disappointed that they do not send more people to Wall Street.

  • Norbert Weiner

    Yale is punching above its weight. I’m glad recruiters realize this even if peers haven’t yet.

  • Orange1

    Sorry to disappoint you Matt. But I just see this as one more effort at hair splitting. It’s a one decimal place evaluation. How do I know two of the 4.0’s aren’t one at 3.95 and another at 4.04? For recruiter assessment, we have no idea of the overlap among schools in terms of who recruits there and at what capacity. For the peer evaluation, academia is notorious for self promotion so once you get past the obvious top four, doesn’t say a lot.

  • Matt

    I’m surprised nobody is commenting on this one yet. I have been refreshing periodically throughout the day, waiting patiently for the intense debates.