The Dark Side Of MBA Rankings

The new Henry W. Bloch Executive Hall just opened last year

The new Henry W. Bloch Executive Hall just opened last year

How desperate can a business school be to get ranked?

In some cases, very desperate, especially when a school fails to make the most influential rankings published by U.S. News, Bloomberg BusinessWeek and the Financial Times.

Consider the University of Missouri—Kansas City’s Henry W. Bloch School of Management.  The school’s efforts to get a ranking—any kind or ranking—were the subject of a highly revealing series of investigative stories published last weekend by The Kansas City Star.


The newspaper found a pattern of exaggerations and misstatements that polished the school’s reputation as it sought to boost enrollment and open the checkbooks of donors, especially its primary benefactor Henry Bloch. No less crucial, the stories reveal how easy and how desperate a school might be to obtain a ranking, even one that few outsiders would bother to report—but at least the school could use it to promote and market itself to would-be applicants.

The irony in all this: The school is named for an entrepreneur whose signature line is “no shortcuts.” The co-founder of the H&R Block tax preparation firm had long sought greater recognition for a school. He made a $32 million gift to the business school in 2011, the largest in the university’s history.

Yet, it appears—based on the reporting of The Star—that shortcuts were indeed taken to get the school in the rankings game. Of course, this isn’t the first time a school has allegedly done less-than-ethical things to get a better ranking. Tulane University’s business school famously admitted reporting inflated GMAT averages and application numbers to U.S. News & World Report for several years so it would be ranked higher.

In its investigation, The Star reviewed thousands of pages of internal UMKC documents obtained through an open-records request, and interviewed scores of faculty and administrators. The reporters wrote that they discovered a number of embellishments designed to boost the Bloch School’s reputation. “Among them were inaccuracies and mischaracterizations of fact in the data the university supplied to the Princeton Review, which has awarded UMKC’s entrepreneurship program high rankings in four of the past five years,” the newspaper wrote.


But the most fascinating part of the series turned on an academic study—published in 2011 in the Journal of Product Innovation Management—ranked the business school ahead of Harvard, Stanford, MIT and other elite universities in innovation management research. That is a hot area in business these days because it is the study of how entrepreneurs turn ideas into thriving companies.

The study, however, was written by two Chinese authors as visiting scholars at the Bloch School when the paper was written. The relationship between the university and the authors was undisclosed when the study was published. When it came out, the university wasted no time promoting the news. It crowed about the achievement in a news release, and the university chancellor even appeared at a formal announcement of the ranking, telling a crowd of people, ““Oh my, have we made a big score.”

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