U.S. News’ MBA rankings are a peculiar fusion of inputs and outputs. In some ways, it is a political compromise with goodies for just about every constituency of business education. Admissions can flaunt their stats with a 25% weight given to test scores, undergraduate GPAs, and acceptance rates. Career services can point to starting salaries and placement rates, which account for 35% of a rank. The deans and MBA directors have they say through a peer assessment survey, good for another 25%.
There is one bloc that operates outside the business school. While their opinions comprise only 15% of U.S. News’ ranking, they wield heavy influence on what matters most to students: Who gets hired where. Indeed, recruiters act as gatekeepers, advisors, matchmakers, and project managers. And their views on schools don’t always align with academic orthodoxies.
Take MIT Sloan, where the major recruiters of the past three classes are McKinsey, Bain, Amazon, and Boston Consulting Group. On a scale of 1 (marginal) to 5 (outstanding), Sloan earned a 4.6 score from recruiters in the 2016 U.S. News’ survey-–equal to Stanford and Harvard (and higher than Wharton and Booth). If you’re to believe the U.S. News poll of recruiters, MIT’s esteem among MBA employers has grown. In the 2008 rankings, it averaged a 4.2 score. Since then, it has climbed .4 of a point, the highest increase among Top 25 schools during that period.
TUCK WINS ON PAY BUT DOES LESS WELL IN THE U.S. NEWS RECRUITER SURVEY
At the opposite end, you’ll find Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, inconveniently tucked in Hanover, N.H., not an easy place for some mainstream MBA hirers to visit. Among recruiters, it averaged a 4.3 score in 2010, before sliding to 4.0 for the past five consecutive years. Like Sloan, Tuck is a consulting mecca, with 35% of its 2014 graduates entering the field. Although Tuck is ranked equally with Texas McCombs in recruiter surveys, Tuck graduates aren’t suffering for it by any means. Their first year compensation averages over $155,000, below only Stanford, Harvard, and Berkeley Haas.
What’s more, Tuck grads land higher starting packages than the MBAs at Northwestern Kellogg ($17,000 difference), Chicago Booth ($10,000), and Wharton ($5,000). Despite scoring 0.6 of a point below MIT Sloan, their graduates earn $7,500 more to start. And they maintain a 93.8% placement rate within three months of graduation, ranking just below Wharton, Chicago Booth, and Emory Goizueta among top 25 schools. In other words, when it comes to the measure that matters most – money – employers score Tuck far higher than their recruiter survey averages would initially indicate.
Those are just a few of the conclusions from an in-depth analysis of U.S. News’ annual surveys to corporate recruiters. The magazine is vague when it comes to details on its sample of MBA employers. This year, U.S. News did not disclose how many companies it surveyed or how many responded–a red flag, for sure. A year earlier, U.S. News revealed 18% of the recruiters surveyed responded. U.S. News said it averaged the recruiter scores over the past three years for this ranking.
No matter what flaws are hidden in the numbers, the scores remain an independent, third-party measure of how schools are trending among employers. First, recruiters have their feet in both the academic and professional worlds. By visiting campus, they get a first-hand look at the quality of students who enroll – and how these students develop over their two years. At the same time, they huddle with their internal constituencies to learn which graduates ultimately pan out. Bottom line: Recruiters are almost always going to value results over reputation.
RECRUITERS CLOSER TO STUDENTS – AND OFTEN SCORE SCHOOLS LOWER THAN ACADEMICS
Unlike academics in the peer assessment rankings, recruiters take the pulse of their programs year-after-year. They recognize the differences, however nuanced, in each school’s curriculum, culture, and support system. That’s one reason why recruiter scores may exhibit greater fluctuations in both the near- and long-term. Michigan Ross is a perfect example. From 2006-2010, Ross averaged a 4.4 score from academics before slipping to 4.3 from 2011-2014. Ross has since rebounded back to a 4.4 for the past two years. Compare that to recruiter rankings, where the school has earned 4.4, 4.2, 4.1, 4.0 and 3.9 marks during this same 11-year span. In other words, recruiter scoring is more fluid, an input that gives schools a greater chance to move up (or down) in the rankings.
Recruiters also tend to score programs lower than academics. Stanford, which consistently earns 4.8 scores from academics, ping-pongs between 4.5 and 4.6 among recruiters (with a 4.4 score mixed in for good measure). For the most part, you’ll find that trend across all tiers, whether you look at top schools such as Wharton (4.7 academic vs. 4.5 recruiter) or Northwestern Kellogg (4.6 vs. 4.4), or MBA programs at UCLA Anderson (4.1 vs. 3.8) or Washington Olin (3.7 vs. 3.3), and second-tier programs like Michigan State Broad (3.5 vs. 3.1) or Tulane Freeman (3.0 vs. 2.7).
However, there are exceptions. One of them is the Yale School of Management, known for aggressively upgrading facilities and talent in recent years. It averaged a 4.3 score from recruiters and a slightly lower 4.1 score from academics. Obviously, Yale’s increasingly global atmosphere is attractive to recruiters and so are the school’s quality inputs, such as its 719 average GMAT (sixth-best in the U.S.) and enviable undergraduate GPA (3.53).
However, academic opinion can be a notorious lagging indicator, more a function of existing reputation than change and progress. Yale’s better positioning along with its increasing investment in faculty and facilities under Dean Edward ‘Ted’ Snyder – the turnaround artist behind Chicago Booth’s rise into U.S. News’ top five business schools – is likely to show even more progress in years ahead. Along with Yale, the University of Texas-Dallas Jindal (2.9 vs. 4.2), Brigham Young Marriott (3.1 vs. 3.3), and SMU Cox (3.0 vs. 3.1) are other schools that recruiters score higher than academics.