Can a Survey Tell if an Applicant Will Get Rich Someday?
It’s never been easy to get into a good business school. You devote months to honing your problem-solving skills, hoping to land that magical 730 score. You grovel for recommendations, as you conduct the self-analysis that your ex had once begged you to do (maybe you should’ve hired her instead of that $5000 consultant). You fill out the same forms and answer the same interview questions over and over. Once you’re accepted, there’s still one step left: Signing away your life for a six-figure loan. Sure, you look good on paper. And you can say and do all the right things. This isn’t business school news.
At the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, that may not be enough. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Booth is surveying students “about their classmates’ popularity and potential in order to predict who will be the most successful (and wealthiest) after they graduate.” Basically, Booth is peering into the future, hoping to pick the next Super Bowl champion before any games are actually played (It sure worked for last season’s preseason darling, the last-place Houston Texans).
More commonly, adcoms evaluate candidates to determine if they’ll drag down their placement stats in two years. With this survey, has Booth grown hell-bent on engineering a Stepford student body? Not so, says Stacey Kole, the school’s deputy dean for the full-time MBA program. In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, Kole argues that the surveys are designed to uncover “hidden indicators of eventual wealth, job success, and popularity.”
“What we’re trying to do is understand potential,” Kole argues. “You know who the successful alumni are, but if you go back and try to predict it, it’s hard.” As expected, Booth’s survey produced confusion among graduate students. Some questioned Kole about intent, but she insists that the school was seeking something deeper. “…the intent was to ask, ‘Who spurs your learning? Whose questions, insights, comments provoke you to think deeper?’”
In fact, the survey is just a small part of a larger Booth initiative focused on strengthening ties with alums. “There’s a huge network effect of having strong and satisfied alumni out there,” Kole admits. “The money matters. There are very few schools that run their institutions purely on tuition. But I’m not putting a bigger weight on the cash than having people come and speak or mentor students.”
Still, predictive modeling surveys, like the ones being applied at Booth, could represent an unforeseen educational hazard, according to W. Kent Barnds, vice president of enrollment, communication, and planning at Augustana College. “What if your archetype comes out that the people most successful are white men that attend a certain set of colleges? That doesn’t advance what we do in higher education.” Barnds adds that many intangibles are also nearly impossible to measure in any quantifiable data tool. “Even with all this data that may predict behavior, there’s still a lot of art we do if we want to reflect the world.”