Forbes’ 2015 Ranking Of U.S. Schools

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Yale University’s School of Management continued its upward momentum in the rankings by rising seven places to finish 11th in the new biennial ranking of the best MBA programs published today (Sept. 9) by Forbes magazine. UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and The University of Texas’ McCombs School also scored substantial gains, rising six and seven places, respectively, to ranks of 8th for Berkeley and 14th for UT.

But the biggest winner yet again was Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, a school that seems to be in the right place at the right time. In the middle of what some people are worrying is now a tech bubble, Stanford claimed undisputed possession of first place with the highest return-on-investment of any two-year MBA program in the world. For Stanford, it was the second consecutive No. 1 ranking from Forbes and the third in the nine editions of the ranking dating back to 1999. Only its perennial East Coast rival Harvard Business School, No. 2 this year, has claimed first place more often: four times.

Rounding out the top five schools are No. 3 Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, No. 4 Columbia Business School, and No. 5 Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, the only other school besides Harvard and Stanford to ever win first place in the Forbes ranking. Tuck won it twice in 2007 and 2005. Kellogg improved its standing by two spots, while Columbia moved up three places, and Tuck edged up one.


Though no MBA graduates are earning more money five years out than Stanford, several European schools turned out even better ROI numbers. In the category of one-year international MBA programs, INSEAD topped the list with a five-year MBA gain of $171,200, resulting in a 2.4-year payback on the degree. That compares with a 4.2-year payback on the Stanford diploma. INSEAD was followed by No. 2 IMD, No. 3 Cambridge University, No. 4 SDA Bocconi in Italy, and No. 5 IE Business School in Spain.

London Business School, meantime, topped Forbes’ two-year international list, with a five-year MBA gain of $102,100, resulting in a 3.7-year payback. Entering LBS students left annual salaries of $78,000 and now report making $210,000 a year in total compensation, five years after graduation. London was followed by No. 2 IESE in Spain, No. 3 HEC Paris, No. 4 CEIBs in China, and No. 5 Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (see HEC Paris & Cambridge Judge Gain Big Ground in Forbes 2015 MBA Ranking).

Forbes routinely publishes three separate rankings every two years: One for two-year U.S. programs, another for two-year international programs and a final one for one-year international programs which tend to be more popular outside the U.S. One-year programs hold an obvious advantage when it comes to crunching ROI because students only lose one year of pay to get the degree and only have to pay one year’s worth of tuition. For the non-U.S. schools, Forbes convert the gains reported by students in their local currency and then uses an average exchange rate over the past five years to report the totals in U.S. dollars.


Perhaps the biggest surprise at the top of the rankings was the decline of both the UPenn’s Wharton School to seven place, a fall of three spots from fourth in 2013, and the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, which fell four places to sixth from second last time around. It would be tempting to suggest that schools which guide more MBA grads into finance might have taken a bigger hit in this ROI measurement which is based on more than 4,000 responses from the Class of 2010. But gains by other schools, such as Columbia and New York University’s Stern School, that are largely dependent on Wall Street and finance, would prove that theory false.

Unlike other MBA lists that often use a wide variety of metrics to rank schools, the Forbes methodology produces a ‘Show-Me-The-Money’ ranking based solely on return on investment. The magazine gathers all its rankings data from alumni, comparing graduates’ earnings in their first five years after graduation to their opportunity costs, including two years of lost income, tuition and fees, to calculate a five-year MBA gain. All the schools are ranked on the average five-year MBA gain for the Class of 2010, a tough year to enter what was a still troubled job market in the wake of the Great Recession.

Forbes said it had a 24% response rate on its surveys to 17,400 alumni at 95 schools. Schools with response rates under 15% were excluded from the rankings as were schools where alumni reported a negative ROI after five years. The magazine adjusts the median five-year gains for cost-of-living expenses and discounts tuition to account for students who pay in-state rates and for scholarships and non-repayable financial aid. Bottom line: If the graduates reporting the numbers are telling the truth, this is a fairly good set of data to judge the worth of an MBA degree.

(See following page for the Top 25 schools and how their ranks have changed)

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