Every business school hypes their alumni network. Adcoms will drop names of CEOs who once prowled the halls. And employment reports – without fail – index their top employers. They are allusions to the depth and vitality of the alumni base. Who could resist such a pitch? ‘This could be me in a few years,’ many applicants think. ‘These could be my business rolodex and social circle, the future bosses, partners, advocates, and experts who’ll open doors or take me with them.’
Indeed, the alumni network may be the biggest differentiator between MBA programs. Question is, how do you measure which networks truly produce results? Luckily, it is also a question asked by seemingly every business school ranking – with some subtle and telling differences.
CONTRAST FOUR DIFFERENT NETWORK RANKINGS – WITH VERY DIFFERENT AGENDAS
Recently, Poets&Quants evaluated the alumni network rankings produced by Bloomberg Businessweek, Financial Times, The Economist, and GraduatePrograms.com. And here’s a spoiler alert: Stanford and Harvard rank among the best MBA networks. No surprise there, as these schools enjoy a virtuous circle. Their robust brands draw talented faculty and copious resources. This, in turn, attracts the top students who ultimately emerge as the captains of industry. But would you believe that schools like Rice and Texas A&M outpoint Wharton in some alumni rankings? Despite Tuck’s reputation for having an unrivaled alumni support, the network rankings reflect that this caricature isn’t a slam dunk.
And that’s no surprise. While these rankings are based on alumni survey responses, they each target a different piece of the puzzle. Here is a breakdown on how they work:
Graduate Programs (Global Ranking): Evaluated “where students have strong peer, faculty, and alumni networking connections and opportunities, even after graduating.” Based on surveys from 13,000 business school alumni and students, school networks were scored on a scale of 1 (Poor) to 10 (Perfect).
Financial Times (Global Ranking): Based on survey responses back from 9,700 alumni (40% response rate), where they listed the three schools from which they would recruit MBA graduates.” To qualify, 20% of a school’s alumni base must respond to the survey. Overall, responses for the 2015 survey carried 50% of the ranking weight, with 2014 and 2013 results each accounting for 25%.
Bloomberg Businessweek (Separate U.S. and International Rankings): Includes surveys from 12,773 respondents who earned their MBAs in 2007, 2008, and 2009. Covering MBAs from 2,500 companies, the survey is divided into three equally-weighted parts: 1) Median Compensation Increase, 2) Job Satisfaction, and 3) MBA Feedback (i.e. “the specific impacts that respondents’ MBA programs have had on their careers, and whether they would recommend their program to other”).
The Economist: Features data from surveys submitted by “thousands” of current students and newly-minted MBAs. Here, an overall “Potential to Network” score is derived from three equally-weighted parts: 1) Number of Overseas Chapters (i.e. “How international are alumni?”); 2) Ratio of Alumni-To-Current Students (i.e. “Breadth of alumni network”); and 3) Student Rating of Alma Mater (“Alumni Efectiveness”).
In other words, The Economist targets the most recent students and alumni, while Bloomberg Businessweek focuses on respondents who are 6-8 years out of school. Conversely, the Financial Times offers a glimpse into how the marketplace views younger alumni from particular schools, with Graduate Programs bringing a broad overview. As a result, the rankings, like a Rorschach, sometimes mirror what readers bring to them.
HARVARD AND TUCK STILL DOMINATE…WITH SOME CAVEATS
Naturally, Stanford and Harvard perform well across the rankings. It holds the #1 spot among respondents for Bloomberg Businessweek and Graduate Programs, along with sporting the #2 ranking with the Financial Times. Alas, Stanford places 16th with The Economist overall. However, this stems from the school being dragged down by a lower number of global chapters and international students (an enviable 40% for the Class of 2017) than peer programs, particularly overseas. When it comes to alumni effectiveness, however, Stanford ranks 2nd…just a shade below Tuck.
Harvard fares nearly as well, nabbing the top spot with the Financial Times, while ranking 2nd and 3rd with Bloomberg Businessweek and Graduate Programs respectively. Like Stanford, Harvard is hobbled by global chapters and percentage of international students (again, a respectable 34% for the newest class). More concerning is Harvard’s 11th place finish in The Economist’s alumni effectiveness rating, an indication that the new generation of HBS grads don’t view their predecessors as being as supportive as alumni from other leading programs. In fact, Harvard’s 19th place finish in Bloomberg Businessweek’s student survey may point to an increasing dissatisfaction with the program itself. And that can only hamper job hunting and mentoring for future Harvard MBAs.
Likewise, Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business maintains enviable alumni support according to the rankings – but not necessarily at the level you might expect. Tuck pulled down the top spot in The Economist’s stand-alone alumni effectiveness ranking, meaning recent graduates were thrilled with the helpful guidance of past Tuckies. While this sentiment is strong across the board, it doesn’t sustain a fever pitch. The school’s alumni network lands the 8th spot with Bloomberg Businessweek and 12th with the Financial Times. A disturbing trend at Tuck? In the most recent Financial Times ranking, the school finished 81st in value for the money among all MBA programs. Not to mention, the program slumped to 17th in Bloomberg Businessweek’s student survey, all warning signs that some students may perceive the Tuck experience as a disappointment.