Why A Goat Farmer Ranks Business Schools

It could not be determined to what degree the content marketing may have contributed to the two men’s assets.

There’s what might be considered legit content marketing, and there’s deceptive content marketing. Kenan-Flagler, while actively engaged in the former, has no truck with the latter, says chief marketing officer Michael Schinelli. The school derives leads from advertising and online marketing, which prospective students may find and use to contact the school, but it doesn’t work with “cost-per-lead” services, Schinelli says. Kenan-Flagler has no paid advertising relationship with lead generation sites such as SuperScholar, Schinelli adds.

BAD INFORMATION? WHO CARES, IT BRINGS STUDENTS

Then how did Kenan-Flagler get into those rankings? The MBA@UNC program is run by Kenan-Flagler’s executive education unit, which is a limited liability company, in conjunction with educational technology company 2U, which delivers and markets the program. Susan Cates, associate dean of executive education for Kenan-Flagler – whose name was on the first email Poets&Quants received after requesting information on the school via BestCollegeReviews – describes MBA@UNC’s business relationship with the dubious rankings websites as “a tiny subset of a subset of the marketing that we do for the program.”

Cates defends the school’s practice of obtaining these leads. “People become aware of our program in multiple ways, and if we happen to have ads in places where they’re looking for information, whether it’s good information or bad information, that doesn’t have much to do with our program,” she says. “I want to find great students.”

Those students must meet the same admissions standards applied across all Kenan-Flagler MBA programs, Cates says, adding that the school does not pay for positioning in any rankings.

“Our placement of an ad is not an endorsement of a ranking and it doesn’t have anything to do with the ranking itself,” Cates says. “It may be a place where students begin their search.”

‘WE HAVE NO ROLE OR INPUT WHATSOEVER IN THE PROGRAM RANKINGS’

When 2U is asked how it justifies paying for leads generated by fake rankings, how much it pays for such leads, and whether 2U believes the rankings are legitimate, company spokesperson Chance Patterson responds saying 2U has “no role or input whatsoever in the program rankings published by these sites.”

Besides, 2U says it has severed its relationship with Sparacio and Prato, though Patterson would not reveal when the decision to do so was made. “Our marketing spending with the companies who manage these sites has been relatively minimal,” Patterson says. “In fact, we are not currently spending any funds with the companies and we have determined not to spend with them going forward.”

U.S. NEWS WEIGHS IN

At U.S. News & World Report, chief data analyst Robert Morse claims U.S. News is the only publication producing “real online MBA rankings” based specifically on data for each program rather than for the whole school where it’s located. Morse questions whether Sparacio’s outfit generates any of its own data. “They’re taking data from U.S. News or they’re using university-wide data, that’s my take,” Morse says. “It looks like they made something up for not any real reason except maybe it’ll generate ads. It’s a model for lead generation, that’s my interpretation. Unless they can prove differently, it’s totally made up.”

Micah Sparacio, fitness trainer, Renaissance Man - grundycountyherald.com

Micah Sparacio, fitness trainer, poet, goat farmer – grundycountyherald.com

Unfortunately, after Poets&Quants reaches Sparacio, he politely declines to answer questions about the veracity, management, and revenue of his rankings websites, and we can’t ask him what a nice philosopher-poet like him is doing cooking up and selling misleading business school rankings. Prato, reached on his cell phone and asked about SeaWaves’ rankings websites, has this to say: “Not interested in talking to you.”

Of course, the real villains in this tale aren’t an Appalachian goat farmer and a Jersey bagel guy, but the folks out in California at Google, with their notoriously game-able search-results algorithms, who enable the two men to get their worse-than-worthless websites in front of viewers.

ONE ACHIEVEMENT SHINES RAY OF HOPE

And Sparacio might not be entirely mercenary. Possibly, as his blog reveals him to be Christian, he has concerns about the fires below. In any case, he was bursting with pride after putting up “The 50 Best Colleges of 2012 Rankings,” possibly the only one of his lists that isn’t a commercially driven mash-up of stars and pine riders. This ranking, though differing substantially from those produced by major rankings players such as U.S. News and Bloomberg BusinessWeek, is free, in its 2014 iteration, of such institutions as the University of Phoenix, Walden, and Capella. It presents Princeton, Harvard, Swarthore, MIT, and The College of William and Mary as the top five. Links below each institution lead only to school and region stats.

“It feels great to make something so good and high quality,” Sparacio writes on his blog, “something that matters.”

Maybe there’s hope yet for the goat farmer’s soul.

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