Hult: A Powerhouse Or A Pariah?

The school's website and promotional materials are highly polished--even slick

The school’s website and promotional materials are highly polished–even slick

This is the second of a two-part series on Hult International Business School. The first part ran yesterday under the headline “The Story Behind The Remarkable Growth Of The World’s Largest Graduate School Of Business.”

Depending on who’s talking, Hult International Business School can be a money-sucking educational cesspool or a plucky, innovative rising star.  Condemnation of the school’s quality runs rampant on the internet, usually from anonymous sources, while Hult officials sing the institution’s praises and paint a bright and influential future.

Criticism of the school from those contending to be Hult graduates is vehement. The critics slam the school on everything from the quality of the students and faculty to the ability of Hult to help graduates land decent jobs. At least one disgruntled grad, anonymously weighing in on beatthegmat.com, maintains that “Hult is a cancer on your resume and will leave you bitter and scarred.” (See “Hult: The Kanye West Of Business Schools“).

Philip Hult, the Swedish entrepreneur who founded the school with his father Bertil and sits on the board, doesn’t see it that way. He views the school as an innovative pioneer in business education, an institution with multiple campuses in Boston, San Francisco, London, Dubai and Shanghai, offering one of the most global MBA experiences in the world. He says the criticism mostly comes from people who had trouble finding jobs. The school concedes that fewer than half its students have jobs by graduation.

WHAT CAN BE SAID FOR CERTAIN IS THAT HULT IS DIFFERENT

What’s the truth? Like anything else in life, students tend to get out of Hult what they put into it. What can be said for certain is that Hult is different. It has campuses around the world in Boston, San Francisco, London, Dubai and Shanghai, with a satellite in New York. Its MBA program lasts one year, not two. It has no internship program for students. It puts a relatively low weight on GMAT scores. And it relies heavily on adjunct faculty, many without PhDs.

The school’s explosive growth in recent years–more than a doubling of its graduate enrollment since 2010–is largely the result of a highly aggressive marketing and recruiting strategy, based in part on the rankings achieved by the school. If anything, Hult is a case study in the incredible sway a ranking has over both application volume and prestige—and why a school’s appearance on a ranking with the world’s best schools is hardly a guarantee of anything.

For Hult, the first big rankings break occurred in 2009 when it cracked the highly influential Financial Times’ global MBA list, coming in 97th out of 100 schools. Hult has since climbed to a rank of 61st this year, down slightly from its best showing in 2013 when it finished 57th in the world. As the school justifiably claims on its website: “We are consistently ranked in top 1% of business schools by the Financial Times, putting us on the same level as business schools with hundreds of years more history.”

But there are components of the FT ranking that are much less impressive. According to the Financial Times, Hult ranks near the bottom on faculty research (97), job placement success (93), and alumni recommendations (91). And then there is how the school interprets its rankings for would-be applicants and students.

HULT FELL TO 59TH LAST YEAR FROM 31ST IN THE ECONOMIST’S RANKING

“Hult continues its rapid ascent in business school rankings,” the school’s website trumpets, highlighting its 2013 spot in The Economist‘s rankings as 34th-best among U.S. business schools. But Hult’s claim of a “rapid ascent” seems dubious. In 2013, Hult had actually fallen precipitously in The Economist‘s global rankings, from 31st in 2012 to 59th in 2013 and had been ranked 54th in 2002 when the school was known as the Arthur D. Little School of Management.

Regardless, the lists often play a key role in applicant decisions to attend Hult. Natalya Spicker, a 2013 MBA graduate who is now a division director at Robert Half International in Miami, worked two days for Hult in Tel Aviv after graduation staffing a recruitment fair and interviewing potential applicants afterward, she says. The would-be MBA students appreciated the chance to speak with someone who had a great Hult experience, and they had researched the school, she says. “They were very impressed by the rankings,” Spicker says.

Ironically, given the prominence Hult gives to rankings in recruiter phone calls with potential applicants and on its own website, Philip Hult downplays their significance for schools below the top 15. “I don’t think they’re actually that important,” Hult maintains in an interview with Poets&Quants. “It’s a very imperfect metric. I think people actually realize, ‘I’m going to try to make a decision on what’s best for me, not based on whether my school is 63rd or 41st.’ It starts to become, ‘What am I going to study, and what’s the chatter on the blogs?’” However, Philip Hult adds, receiving a rank at all “shows you are real.”

HOW HULT HAS PERFORMED IN THE FINANCIAL TIMES’ RANKINGS

 

Hult made the influential Financial Times ranking of the top 100 global MBA programs in 2009 at a rank of 97th and has since climbed to 61st, largely on the basis of its international stats and alumni salaries three years after graduation, adjusted for purchasing power parity. The adjustment tends to boost average pay because of the large number of students from emerging nations in Hult’s MBA program.

YearOverall RankingAlumni SalarySalary IncreaseJobs In 3 MonthsPlacement Success RankAlumni Rec RankResearch RankFaculty With PhDs
201461$104,57691%85%93919764%
201357$113,65389%80%94949966%
201265$100,74795%88%95979866%
201161$107,07987%78%99999266%
201094$98,64487%73%93999551%
200997$96,91585%89%94989454%

Source: The Financial Times global MBA rankings