For the third year in a row, Harvard Business School hung on to its number one ranking on Bloomberg Businessweek‘s now annual list of the best full-time MBA programs in the U.S. But there were plenty of dramatic changes near the very top of the ranking.
The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, continuing its run of ranking gains this year, surged four places on the list to pass Stanford, Duke, Chicago and Dartmouth to place second. It is Wharton’s best showing in Businessweek since 2014 when it also ranked second. MIT’s Sloan School of Management also zoomed up four places to rank third, and the University of Washington’s Foster School gained four spots as well to land squarely in 15th place above the business schools at Yale, the University of Virginia, NYU, and UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Columbia Business School climbed back into the top ten by rising two places from 11th last year.
And, of course, there were programs that lost ground, according to Businessweek. UVA’s Darden School of Business lost five places to rank 17th from 12th a year earlier. Texas A&M Mays School of Business also dropped four spots, falling to 22nd from 18th. Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, two of the most highly selective MBA programs in the world, both lost three places each to rank fifth and 11th, respectively.
18 OF THE TOP 20 MBA PROGRAMS HAD YEAR-0VER-YEAR RANKING CHANGES
Among the top 20 schools on a list that ranks 85 different MBA programs, 18 institutions had year-over-year changes in rank, with only Harvard and No. 4 Chicago Booth holding on to their year-earlier places. In recent years, the Businessweek ranking has become more volatile in general, in part because of several changes in the methodology used by the magazine to rank schools and also due to the already slim statistical differences among the schools on the list. In fact, the magazine’s editors added pay and placement data to the mix as ballast to help calm down the roller-coaster results.
This year, however, the magazine has somehow figured out a way to make its ranking less volatile, perhaps by including data in previous surveys. Not including the newcomers on the list or schools that fell off entirely, there were only six schools that had double-digit changes this year. That is a big improvement on last year’s list when 18 of the ranked schools experienced double-digit increases or decreases, including a 40-point drop by North Carolina State’s Jenkins School, which unexplainably plummeted to 69 from 29. Businessweek will publish its separate ranking for international MBA programs on Dec. 11.
Yet, the list does contain some counter-intuitive outcomes. How to explain Rice University’s impressive 10th place showing, down two spots from eighth last year. A top ten ranking puts the Jones School of Business at Rice above such elite heavyweights as Berkeley, Michigan, Yale, and Cornell, among other typically higher ranked MBA programs. Penn State’s Smeal MBA program, which enrolls about 60 students per class, cracked the top 25, surging 12 places to move above the excellent MBA offerings at Indiana, Georgetown, and Vanderbilt.
THANKS TO HIGH MARKS FROM RECRUITERS AND ALUMS, HARVARD REMAINED ON TOP
Harvard stayed at the top as a result of a number one ranking from corporate recruiters, a survey that asks companies to name the programs that best deliver the skills sought in MBA hires. That portion of the methodology counts for 35% of the ranking. HBS was also third best in the magazine’s poll of alumni from 2008 to 2010, which accounts for 30% of the methodology. Businessweek said that nearly 10,000 MBA alums responded to the survey.
Harvard also was second, only to Stanford, in starting salaries, a portion of the ranking that is worth 10%. Another 15% of the ranking is based on student satisfaction surveys filled out by 9,461 MBA graduates this year, while a final 10% is based on placement rates three months after graduation. The salary and placement data used for the ranking is a year old, reflecting the outcomes for the Class of 2016.
Perhaps the biggest news at the top of the list is Wharton’s rise. Only last year, at a town hall meeting in October, Dean Geoffrey Garrett and Vice Dean of the MBA program Howie Kaufold found themselves addressing student concerns over the school’s ranking declines in recent years. “The process of rankings is pretty arbitrary,” conceded Kaufold at the session, “but no apologies about it –- our goal is to be at the top of all those rankings if we can.”
WHARTON RACKS UP BIGGEST RANKING GAINS OF THE YEAR
Ever since Dean Garrett’s arrival in July of 2014, the school has lost ground in every major ranking with only one exception: the Financial Times where it eked out a one-place gain. Even more disturbing for Whartonites, Chicago Booth has consistently outranked the school, giving rise to conversations that a new Big Three has emerged with Harvard, Stanford and Booth in that category. Last year, the Poets&Quants‘ composite ranking saw Wharton tied for fourth place with Kellogg after what some observers considered the new Big Three.
Well, this year is a very different story. Besides tying Harvard Business School in the U.S. News survey for number one, climbing three places from a fourth place finish a year earlier, the school also topped the Forbes ranking, moving up six places from seventh. Wharton gained a spot on the Financial Times list, ranking third this year, and also soared eight places on The Economist list to rank fourth from 12th. All told, the school has moved up 21 places in all five of the most influential rankings, the biggest gainer this year.
The Businessweek ranking is the last of the five most influential MBA rankings to come out this year. It follows the Financial Times in January, U.S. News & World Report in March, Forbes in September, and The Economist last month. INSEAD capped the FT list this year, while Harvard Business School and Wharton shared top honors in U.S. News, and Wharton also claimed the No. 1 spot in Forbes for the first time ever. Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management earned top honors on The Economist list. Poets&Quants will soon follow with its composite ranking before month’s end.
All rankings should be taken with a big grain of salt, of course. But you often have to read deep into the methodology for a ranking organization to admit as much. The last two lines of Businessweek’s methodology this year read this way: “…A suitable program for one person might be an odd fit for another. Don’t let rankings alone make your school decision for you.” That’s good, solid advice.
BIGGEST CHANGES DOWN THE LIST, INCLUDING A 14-PLACE PLUNGE BY GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY
As is often the case, the lower one goes down a list, the more likely one sees bigger changes, whether up or down. William & Mary’s Mason School, for example, jumped nine places to rank 42nd this year. The University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business gained eight places to finish 30th. On the other hand, the University of Maryland’s Smith School dropped seven spots to end up in both place from 33rd last year. In 2014, Businessweek had ranked Maryland 17th best in the U.S.
After making a complete disappearance from the U.S. News list this year, George Washington University’s business school plunged 14 places to rank 59th from 45th a year ago. It was one of the biggest swoons of the year in the Businessweek ranking.
Worse than a drop in ranking, perhaps, is the total disappearance of a school on the list. Gone this year were the full-time MBA programs at American University, ranked 43rd in 2016, the University of South Carolina, ranked 62nd a year ago, Tulane University, 73, and the University of Missouri, ranked 79th last year.