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.