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U.S B-Schools: ‘We’re The Best In The World’

American B-schools overwhelmingly believe they are better at prepping MBAs for the job market than their European and Asian counterparts, according to a new Kaplan survey

Business schools in the United States are better than European and Asian business schools, according to … themselves. In a report released today (March 31) by Kaplan Test Prep, admissions officers at 124 U.S. B-schools overwhelmingly agreed that their schools’ preparation of students for business management roles is superior to their overseas competitors. In Kaplan’s annual survey of admissions officers at American business schools, 97% claimed their schools “prepare their graduates for the business world” better than European programs. For Asian schools, the rate was 96%.

What’s more, slightly more U.S. admission officers today think the U.S. is better than the last time this question was asked in 2014, At that time, 95% of admissions officers agreed that American schools prepped students better than European schools. That year, 92% believed the same compared to Asian schools.

Predictably, the American chest -thumping isn’t going down all that well with European rivals. Itziar de Ros Raventós, the director of MBA admissions at IESE Business School in Spain, calls the survey findings biased, one-sided, and “anemic.” Other B-school officials in Europe point out that they, in fact, more effectively prepare students for global careers because American programs are still largely U.S.-centric and more costly due to their more typical two-year timeframe.

THREE REASONS WHY U.S. SCHOOLS ARE BETTER, ACCORDING TO U.S. ADCOMS

Nonetheless, there are at least three reasons why U.S. admissions officers hold their views, says Brian Carlidge, the executive director of pre-graduate and pre-business programs at Kaplan Test Prep. First, he says, is “pride in their own academic offerings and results for their graduates.” Next is a strong belief in the innovation happening within their curriculum. And lastly, it could simply be “unfamiliarity” with programs outside of the U.S.

“They could also be thinking that MBAs from non-U.S. programs might be less prepared to work in the United States, not thinking that they may choose to stay in their native lands,” Carlidge explains in an email exchange with Poets&Quants. “It would be interesting to see what European and Asian business schools think about programs in the United States. We actually think they have a lot to learn from one another.”

Indeed, there seems to be a lot of learning potential. One respondent to the Kaplan survey elaborated on the belief that American schools are better by stating, “As long as the school is accredited through the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the degree carries about the same weight, but without any concrete evidence, I think American schools are a little better.”

Said another: “American MBA degrees are more valuable around the world. That might speak to what the world thinks. The curriculum might be the same but a U.S. degree sells better.”

EIGHT OF 12 HIGHEST REPORTED SALARIES FOR MBAS WITH U.S. DEGREES

That person may have a point when it comes to the pay awarded MBA graduates. In the most recent Financial Times global MBA rankings, based on surveys of graduates three years after earning their MBAs, eight of the 12 highest average reported salaries came from U.S. business schools. The only international school to crack the top five in average salaries was the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad, whose average salary of $181,863 was largely inflated by the FT’s adjustment for purchasing power parity. Yet, the IIM’s average pay was good enough for second behind Stanford Graduate School of Business, which reported an average of $195, 322. IE Business School ($168,923), INSEAD ($167,657), and Cambridge Judge ($164,462) also cracked the top 12.

Kaplan did find some discrepancies in just how much better U.S. admissions officers viewed their schools compared to their European and Asian counterparts. For instance, only about 27% believed their schools were “much better” than European schools at prepping students for work, while a little more than 69% confirmed American schools are “somewhat better” at preparing students than European schools. Interestingly, for Asian schools, the rates changed to 38% for “much better” and 58% for “somewhat better.”

The generality of the question could also lead to skewed results. Instead of comparing their own schools to certain schools in Europe or Asia, admission officers were asked about all American schools. That could explain another disconnect in the results. Of the 124 schools to participate, only five were in the top 25, as ranked by U.S. News. In the most recent Financial Times ranking of MBA programs, five of the top 10 MBA programs, and six of the top 11, were outside of the U.S. The numbers stay similar going further down the rankings: 12 of the top 25 schools are international.

‘IT’S LIKE COMPARING APPLES AND ORANGES’

“The survey appears to offer an inherently biased sampling and set of questions,” maintains Ros Raventós, at IESE Business School. “We respect the business schools in the U.S., and would never offer an opinion as to which nation or regions of business schools are better than another. It’s like comparing apples and oranges.”

Erik Schlie, the associate dean of the International MBA program at IE Business School agreed that European and U.S. schools largely serve different purposes. “I would argue that many U.S. schools are still very much U.S.-centric and not truly global in nature,” he said in an email to Poets&Quants. “This in itself is not a bad thing but it implies engaging in a different game and thus serving a different purpose.”

To prove out this point, Schlie says to look at the international makeup of U.S. business schools versus European ones. Some 90% of the students enrolled in Schlie’s own program are international from more than 70 different countries. Likewise, nine of ten students in London Business School’s class of 2018 are from outside Britain, hailing  from 70 countries. Meantime, U.S. schools have significantly lower international populations. Only 35% of Harvard Business School’s class of 2018 is composed of students from outside the U.S., while only 40% of the students at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business are international.

“I would wholeheartedly agree that many U.S. schools are indeed better positioned within their local or regional geographic cluster to parachute graduates into attractive post-MBA positions,” Schlie continued. “If your school’s identity defines itself by the close ties with the surrounding business community, then your ‘world’ might actually be limited to a radius of a few hundred miles from the campus epicenter. Within this somewhat narrow perspective, it is perfectly natural to believe that you are actually ‘better’ than the rest of that world. This explains why the Kaplan survey results should not come as a surprise at all.”