You may ask yourself, “What does a goat farmer from the Appalachians know about business school?” Well, you probably won’t ask yourself that. Yet.
You may ask yourself, “What does the highly regarded University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School know about what a goat farmer knows about business school?” OK, almost for sure you won’t ask yourself that. But at Poets&Quants, we did. And as they say here on the internet, you’ll never believe what we found.
It’s a bizarre and colorful tale of farm animals, new-school marketing gone bad in the age of Google, a fateful groundhog–and Kenan-Flagler’s brush with the underbelly of the higher-education business.
Google “best online MBA” and the fourth hit down will bring you to a website showcasing a surprising ranking: BestCollegeReviews.org’s “Top 10 Online MBA Programs.” It leads, credibly enough it might appear, with Kenan-Flagler and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. But then, like weeds crowding out the flowers, up sprout fifth-raters Capella University, the University of Phoenix, and Walden University at spots 7, 9, and 10.
POP GO THE RANKINGS
Continue to browse your “best online MBA” search results (you might want to hold your nose while you do this) and up pop three additional similar websites in the first three pages. BestCollegeReviews and these other sites are part of a network of some 10 higher-education websites, many of them ranking business schools, all of them run by three men, one of whom does not exist.
One of the sites, SuperScholar.org, ranks “The Best Online MBA Programs of 2014,” putting Southern New Hampshire University School of Business at No. 1, the University of Massachusetts Isenberg School of Management at No. 2, and Kenan-Flagler, which began offering its online MBA@UNC in 2011, at No. 3. The rest of the list mixes reputable schools such as Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business at 17th with bottom-end institutions such as the Liberty University School of Business, offering a 36-hour online MBA, at 11th.
‘THERE IS NO FUQUA ONLINE’
The rankings, of course, serve as little more than bait to lure unsuspecting internet users into a lead generation scheme. In some cases, these websites don’t even bother to explain what metrics are used to create the rankings. When there is some content on methodology, it is purposely vague, so much so that it is impossible to determine why an online MBA program might find its way on the list.
In fact, how Duke University managed to eke out a No. 2 ranking on BestCollegeReviews’ list confounds the school because it does not even have an online MBA program. BestCollegeReviews says, “Duke offers a Master’s of Business program through their Fuqua Online program.” Over at Fuqua, spokesperson Elizabeth Hogan responds, “We do not have a Fuqua Online program. Fuqua does not have any online programs so it would be odd for us to be featured in such a ranking.”
While BestCollegeReviews’ ranking entry for the non-existent Fuqua program contains no links to other sites or pages, Kenan-Flagler’s No. 1 entry, like the entries for Walden and Capella, has a “more information” link that connects to a page dedicated to collecting, for the school, prospective students’ personal information – name, address, email address, phone number, age, education details including GPA, and years of work experience. Kenan-Flagler’s No. 3 ranking on SuperScholar also contains such a link. The UNC business school appears to be the only top business school to enjoy such prominence in websites run by those three men while also using the sites to contact would-be students.
About those men: phone numbers, website postings, domain registries, and state documents confirm they run a network of higher-education websites, many of them owned through the trio’s digital media company, SeaWaves Technology.