For the sixth time since The Financial Times has been ranking the best MBA programs and for the third consecutive year, Harvard Business School today (Jan. 26) remained at the very top of the FT global heap. Harvard managed to beat back a general trend of improving positions by European and Asian schools in this year’s 2015 FT survey.
That trend saw London Business School edge out Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business for second place. Stanford slipped into a tie for fourth with INSEAD, behind the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School which was third. Columbia Business School, in fifth place last year, dropped to sixth.
Throughout this year’s ranking—based on 20 different metrics—the European and Asian business schools seemed to have a field day. Ceibs in China rose six spots to its highest rank ever: 11th. Only three years ago, in 2012, the school was ranked 24th by the FT. HEC Paris and SDA Bocconi each moved up five places to finish 16th and 26th, respectively. Even more remarkably—if implausibly—Imperial Business School in London jumped 15 spots to finish 34th and The Lisbon MBA in Portugal surged 16 positions to 36th.
BIG GAINS IN ALUMNI SALARIES AT MANY ASIAN AND EUROPEAN SCHOOLS?
Even more shocking, China’s Fudan University Management School rocketed up 28 places to rank 55th. Lancaster University Management School shot up 27 spots to 50th, though not much has changed in the MBA programs at these schools in the past 12 months since the FT last ranked MBAs. The same can be said of Rochester University’s Simon School, which dropped 30 places to rank 85th, the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School, which declined 29 spots to rank 83rd, or the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which fell 27 positions to place 71st. A record ten schools which weren’t even on the top 100 list last year made it this time. (See The Vertigo In The Financial Times’ 2015 Ranking: Winners & Losers).
One exception to the upward trend for European schools: IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland. The school plunged eight places–more than any other MBA program ranked in the top 25–to finish 20th. IMD has had major turnover in its staff ranks of late and surprisingly poor salary results for its graduates in recent years. Yale University’s School of Management also fared poorly, falling seven spots this year to rank 17th from tenth in 2014. It was the biggest drop of any U.S. MBA program in the top 25.
Exactly why a school such as Yale could plummet seven places in a single year can be hard to determine from the data provided by the FT. But the newspaper said that Yale’s “placement success rank” had fallen 23 places to a rank of 55, even though the school reported that an increasing number of its MBAs had job offers three months after graduation this year and more of them had accepted their offers of employment. In its 2014 employment report, Yale said that 93.1% of the Class of 2014 had job offers three months after commencement and 88.9% accepted those jobs, up from 91.1% and 85.2% in 2013, respectively. The FT also reported that Yale’s “international mobility rank” dropped eight places to 66th place. Salary increases at Yale, according to the FT, also dropped by 18 percentage points to 96% above pre-MBA pay. Even a $3,295 rise in reported alumni salaries to $154,175 apparently couldn’t offset those other declines.
DID STANFORD ALUMNI REALLY HAVE THE SINGLE BIGGEST DECLINE IN ALUMNI PAY? IT’S DOUBTFUL
The single biggest factor in the Financial Times’ ranking is compensation, with 40% of the newspaper’s methodology based on adjusted salaries three years after graduation and average salary increases from pre-MBA levels. Look behind the overall rankings and you’ll generally find that schools making big progress have alumni reporting higher salaries to the FT. MBA alumni at Ceibs, for example, posted the highest year-over-year gains, an increase of more than $22,000 to $149,504.
Many of the biggest gains in these reported salary figures occurred at Asian and European schools: At the National University of Singapore, the year-over-year increase was $15,924, at Fudan University in China, it was $14,693, at Nanyang Business School in Singapore it was $14,440, and at Esade Business School in Spain, the gain was $12,420.
In contrast, the FT claims that three-year alumni salaries reported by Stanford MBAs fell by nearly $7,500 to $177,089, while the increase in salary from pre-MBA pay also dropped 20 percentage points to 80%. The decreases are in the midst of a Bay Area boom where most Stanford MBAs remain and in a U.S. economy that has staged a robust recovery, especially compared to Europe. The higher sums kept Stanford in the top five but the declines helped to contribute to the school’s fall to fourth place from second. Only 14 schools among the 100 ranked had lower alumni salaries this year and Stanford showed the largest single decline–in an area that has been undergoing an absolute economic boom.
ONE OF THE KEY WAYS THE FINANCIAL TIMES DISADVANTAGES THE TRULY ELITE SCHOOLS
The FT actually has done its shrewd readers a favor by publishing such folly. The newspaper is capturing self-reported salary figures, without initial signing bonuses, guaranteed year-end compensation, stock grants and stock options, performance bonuses, and other valuable perks received by MBAs, particularly those from the better U.S. schools, such as Stanford. The impact then of this “weighted salary” calculation is to significantly disadvantage those elite U.S. schools in a ranking.
Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School reported that slightly over 22% of its MBA graduates last year were given stock options. The Stanford total had to be much higher given its proximity to Silicon Valley where equity awards are common. It’s also important to remember that the FT numbers are “adjusted” for purchasing power parity that also significantly disadvantages the best North American schools against those in emerging economies where poverty is rampant. In some cases, those FT adjustments can inflate the actual salaries by a third or more in U.S. dollars.