Last week when New York University Stern School Dean Peter Henry was told his school would fall nine places to rank 20th in U.S. News’ forthcoming list, he had to be shocked. Ever since the magazine began ranking MBA programs in 1989, Stern had never ranked so low. Last year the school’s full-time MBA placed 11th. Its worst ranking ever was 14th. There was no obvious reason for that big a fall to 20th this year. After all, there was little change in the school’s year-over-year metrics used by U.S. News to rank the best full-time MBA programs.
Sure, Stern’s acceptance rate had inched higher to 20.0%, from 18.1% a year earlier. Some 89.0% of last year’s MBAs had jobs three months after graduation, down from 90.4% the previous year. But some of the school’s stats, including its employment rate at commencement, had actually improved, along with the starting pay last year’s graduates received.
Was it even remotely possible that Stern could plunge nine places to its lowest rank ever? Dean Henry says that when he heard the news, he was “surprised” in what has to be an understatement. We “looked at the data, and found that Stern’s scores were higher than a number of other schools with higher ranks. So we challenged their ranking of Stern,” he recounts.
OMISSION WAS ‘WHOLLY UNINTENTIONAL’ & ITS VALUE WAS NEARLY IDENTICAL TO LAST YEAR
The dean quickly discovered that his school had unintentionally omitted one data point out of more than 300 asked for by U.S. News. It was the number of incoming students who had taken the GMAT test. The magazine relies on this statistic in its ranking model to to determine the strength of a school’s entering class relative to other programs. The magazine has been burned in the past by a few schools, including Tulane University’s Freeman School, that sent in fraudulent information to be ranked higher. So it takes a tough line on both omissions and the submission of wrong data.
Yet, in this case, the school told U.S. News it was merely a simple mistake. “The data point has been provided by Stern in previous years,” Henry wrote in an email to students last night, “and its omission was wholly unintentional; its value was nearly identical to that we submitted last year. In lieu of the missing data point, U.S. News informed us that they used an ‘estimated’ number, though we have not been told what this estimate was, on what it was based, or how it was factored into the computation. Nor did U.S. News flag the missing data point in the final step of their data verification process, and unfortunately, Stern’s internal reviews did not pick up the omission, either.”
Instead of calling up Stern and asking for the missing piece of information, U.S. News—which is ranking tens of thousands of schools in business, law, medicine, engineering and education at the same time—chose to use its estimate which severely penalized Stern. When school officials tried to give U.S. News the previously omitted information, the magazine refused to re-run all its rankings calculations.