A New Rankings Revolt In The Making?

‘THIS IS GOING TO IMPACT THE PERCEPTION OF P&Q’

Behind the scenes, Bendoly was aggressively lobbying the editors for a cost-of-living adjustment that would favor his school’s position on the list. In a series of emails to P&Q staffer Nathan Allen, Bendoly’s persistence on trying to influence the methodology to advantage his school was striking.

“This is going to impact the perception of P&Q as a responsible and thoughtful steward,” he wrote on one occasion. “All schools have both salary and placement of city information. One approach would be to provide all schools a standard cost of living reference by US city (established indices exist and are regularly updated), and have them weigh salaries by the respective indices – reporting that rather than the actual dollar value.

“Imagine the extreme case where the unadjusted salary was the only measure in the ranking. Would we ever put any stock into such a ranking if only the schools that placed people in the most costly urban settings remained at the top?  Is that what all students are looking for?  Is that what we as a society hope they are looking for?  If not, why would we ever include such a misleading element in a comprehensive ranking? It’s a good time to rethink what these rankings are trying to do – and who they are trying to help.”

‘I’D BE HAPPY IF SALARY WAS DROPPED ENTIRELY’ FROM A RANKING

When it was pointed out that such a calculation would be misleading because of the difficulty of accounting for international graduates, Bendoly wrote: “While I know there is a percentage of international students in the pool, you and I both know that’s not really a barrier to a more responsible calculation: Why not do the calculation strictly for students that place in the US, exclude international salaries (which add confusion no matter what), and then provide a separate metric that describes the % that are placed internationally?

“I hate to harp, but if we are to follow the lessons of corporate responsibility, we should apply them in not overly aggregating the numbers.  We are facing a student debt crisis, in part because expectations are being set in a non-transparent and often misleading manner.”

In yet another email, Bendoly urged that salary shouldn’t even be included in a ranking, despite its obvious importance to students and parents. “I’d be happy, and many others would if salary was dropped entirely,” he wrote Poets&Quants. “ There are real fixes but they are challenging ones.  And the thought that career management offices collect salary data, but not alumni location data is probably old by a couple of decades. Bottom line is, if a socially responsible estimate of something can’t be made… don’t take the socially irresponsible path.  Drop the item.  It’s not hard.”

SCHOOL PRESTIGE & INDUSTRY CHOICE OFTEN TRUMPS COST-OF-LIVING DIFFERENCES IN STARTING SALARIES

Contrary to Bendoly’s argument in support of a cost-of-living adjustment that would benefit Ohio State, however, the power of a higher education brand often exceeds either geography or industry choice as a factor in compensation. Prestige also results in a degree that more effectively travels, having value far beyond a geographic region. Fordham University may be based in New York City and more of its graduates may go into finance, for example, but the starting pay of its undergrads is significantly below that of many Midwestern schools, including No. 1 ranked Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, or (for that matter) Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School in Pittsburgh, or Notre Dame’s Mendoza School and Indiana University, both in Indiana.

In still another email to the editors, though, Bendoly wrote: “You can, of course, use whatever sources of data to create still-less representative caricatures of school that simply choose to withhold judgment on your methods, but believe my (sic) this will NOT endear you to the community. Please think hard before proceeding.”

Ultimately, Poets&Quants decided against a cost-of-living adjustment because it would adjust data in ways that would make it less valuable to users and because the underlying argument in favor of an adjustment was judged as a self-interested attempt to advantage a few schools at others expense.

In a detailed story on the methodology of the ranking, however, P&Q openly addressed the issue and noted that the weighting applied to starting salary and bonus accounted for slightly less than 10% of the overall ranking. Still, Ohio State’s Fisher School of Business ranked 41st behind The College of New Jersey and Elon University’s Love School of Business in North Carolina, among others. One reason that had nothing to do with pay: Only 72% of its graduates were employed three months after graduation last year, compared to 95% at Indiana University’s Kelley School, 97% at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School, and 94% at the University of Illinois, all public institutions in the midwest.

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About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.