The forthcoming MBA ranking from the Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education isn’t going all that well. When it makes its debut in November, in fact, the list will have little to no credibilty largely because so many elite schools are opting out of the game.
Poets&Quants has learned that Harvard Business School, London Business School, MIT Sloan, Northwestern Kellogg, Columbia Business School, UCLA’s Anderson School and UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School are among just some of the prestige players who have decided not to participate in the ranking. The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School also has not yet agreed to cooperate with the list, though a spokesperson says Wharton hasn’t completely made up its mind.
The absence of business schools that typically dominate the top of most MBA rankings will make the first list less of a splash and more of a thud. Afterall, who would take seriously a ranking that might very well include only two M7 schools in the U.S. Just Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and Chicago Booth have confirmed to P&Q that ithey will be in the ranking.
DELAYS IN RANKING PARTLY CAUSED BY RELUCTANCE OF SCHOOLS TO GO ALONG
This was not the way it was supposed to turn out. Over a year ago this month, Times Higher Educaiton first announced it would team up with the Wall Street Journal to publish yet another set of rankings on MBA programs and specialty master’s programs in finance and management. The hope was to produce the first lists this spring, but as more and more schools declined to cooperate with the project, the debut ranking became further and further delayed. The debut of the list has since been pushed out to November of this year.
Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business have confirmed their participation, however.
Oddly, the refusal of many of the most prestigious schools could very well invite the participation of a group of other rivals. “You could see schools ranked eighth through 20 biting their fingernails saying if the big guns don’t come in and we get coverage that could only be good for us,” adds one insider. A typical response from several highly ranked schools: “Until we’ve seen this ranking play out and we understand it, you are asking us to leave a lot of blood on the table. If our school doesn’t perform well, why would we want to be in there? We are sitting pretty enough with the other rankings.”
WHY MEDIA OUTLETS LOVE RANKINGS
The WSJ declined comment on its problematic venture into the rankings. “We cannot comment on reporting that has not yet been published,” says Steve Severinghaus, senior director of communications for the WSJ. “I am happy to speak further once our reporting is published this fall.”
Media outlets, of course, like rankings because they attract large numbers of clicks on websites and also can be used to gain advertising from business schools. But they often require a good deal of management time and attention. Many schools already participate in more than a dozen different rankings and some partake in more than 20. Most of the schools that have declined to particpate either believe that there already are too many MBA rankings in the market and they don’t want to devote still more time to yet another one. Some hold outs have issues with the methodology employed by THE and the Wall Street Journal.
This new ranking comes at a time when more business school deans and research faculty are taking issue with the controversial lists. Academics often argue that rankings are misleading and disingenuous. Times Higher Education, moreover, is entering the business school market 31 years after Businessweek published its first MBA ranking and 20 years after the debut of the global MBA ranking from The Financial Times. The proliferation of rankings, fueled by consumer interest in them, has largely diminished the influence any one ranking has on the market. But the WSJ has an average paid print circulation of 2.2 million which will give the new list widespread exposure.
CONCERNED ABOUT THE IMPACT ON ALUMNI GETTING MULTIPLE SURVEYS
Times Higher Education was even unable to get the major business school player in its own backyard onboard: London Business School. “We won’t be participating in these rankings,” confirms David Simpson, director of admissions for the London Business School. “We will keep them under review and will consider our position once the first ranking is published. There are a lot of rankings out there and we are somewhat concerned at the impact on alumni in terms of asking them to respond to multiple surveys.”
UNC made its decision not to cooperate in November of last year. “There was a very short turnaround time to collect the data, pull the alumni lists and ensure their participation,” explains Allison Adams, a Kenan-Flagler spokesperson. “The methodology was unclear to us, and we typically don’t participate in the first year of a new ranking since the methodology is often unclear or still being developed.”
Matt Turner, who closely follows rankings as a market researcher at UT’s McCombs School, believes that many schools are sitting our the ranking due to uncertainty about the methodology. “THE / WSJ hadn’t completely pinned down their methodology when they launched the data collection, reserving the right to tweak this or that depending on the data they received,” notes Turner. “This practice is not uncommon, especially with new rankings, but it always raises eyebrows among administrators. Sitting out the first survey to see how the ranking shakes out is not necessarily a bad strategy.
“If the published list of schools looks odd, then it seems prudent not to have participated, and if the list looks solid, schools can simply say they wanted to make sure first and they’ll participate next time. I suspect this strategy works particularly well for elite programs. Their absence from a ranking is not going to hurt their reputation, but their presence with a low rank might — or, at least require some explaining.”
RANKING WILL NOT ATTEMPT TO MEASURE STUDENT QUALITY
Though a detailed methodology has yet to be revealed, the outlines of the THE/WSJ approach The methodology for this new list will be based on surveys to both alumni and schools, with the possibility that THE and the Journal may survey employers and recruiters at another time. The surveys will inform a rather complicated methodology that includes 21 different metrics. The ranking is heavily dependent on the views of alumni, with 12 of the 21 data points informed by responses from alumni who are both two years and four years out of school.
One surprise: The new ranking will not attempt to measure the quality of incoming students in a program, a significant part of the way U.S. News ranks MBA programs by using GMAT and GRE scores, grade-point-averages and acceptance rates. Not surprisingly, career outcomes loom large, accounting for 38% of the total ranking. The two metrics getting the most weight are the difference between pre-MBA and post-MBA salaries, which will be given a weight of 12%, and faculty-per-student ratios, which will account for 10% of the ranking.
According to two editors from the Wall Street Journal—Dave Pettit, editor of specialized news, and John Simons, deputy bureau chief for management and careers—the salary metric “will take account of salary differences related to the sector and country before and after the business degree to provide a real indication of the change.” Exactly how this adjusment to the data would be made was undisclosed. The two Journal staffers went on a roadshow in the spring to shore up support for the rankings project, hoping to get more schools to join the effort.
‘THE DIRECTIONS WERE CLEAR AND THE DATA POINTS WERE WELL DEFINED’
In general, the WSJ plans to rank programs under four categories: resources (with a weight of 25%), engagement (25%), outcomes (38%), and environment (12%), the latter attempting to measure “the social and human environment the students find themselves in and how well the school will prepare them for a global market.”
After deciding to cooperate with the new ranking, McCombs School of Business found the process wasn’t all that difficult. “Most of the questions were straightforward enough; only a few took some real sleuth work,” adds Turner. “I was rather impressed with the 27-page instruction booklet that THE/WSJ produced. The directions were clear, and the data points were pretty well defined. That is a welcome surprise in this line of work.”