The Wall Street Journal’s ‘Where’s Waldo?’ MBA Ranking

Stanford’s Graduate School of Business tops the debut two-year MBA ranking from Times Higher Education and the Wall Street Journal


Faculty-per-student ratios are among the most unreliable statistics you can get from a business school. That’s because many schools have a wide portfolio of programs including an undergraduate business degree, an executive MBA, a part-time MBA, executive education courses and any number of specialty master’s programs. How a school interprets this question can lead to many misleading answers. To measure teaching qualifications by whether a faculty member has a doctorate, which is what THE does on this measure, is to penalize schools that have smartly used clinical faculty who are far more likely to have pragmatic experience on their resumes to teach MBA students.

In the most heavily weighted category, outcomes, employment is not even measured. Surely, the most basic outcome a student would want is a job so including job offers and acceptances at graduation and three months later would seem painfully obvious. Instead, the category’s most important measure is the difference in pre-MBA and post-MBA salaries–but not the actual salary itself, nor the sign-on bonus or other guaranteed compensation, elements of MBA pay that significantly reflect on the value of the degree.

The outcomes category also includes a so-called entrepreneurship metric based on alumni responses to how useful the MBA program was or would be in helping them set up their own business. Roughly only 5% of MBA graduates launch startups to begin with. This seems a silly waste of time. Even worse, a social good metric in outcomes is based on alumni responses to whether they had volunteered during the last year.

Anna McKee, a reporter for THE, explains that the social good measure “is included as a way to probe the extent to which business schools are addressing the claims of critics that they promote an irresponsible, selfish form of capitalism. It is striking that alumni of top two-year programmes are more likely to volunteer than alumni of two-year programmes overall…the fact that the two-year list is dominated by U.S. institutions means that some of the differences between one- and two-year programmes could be attributable to national differences, rather than factors inherent to the programmes themselves. In the case of voluntary work, for instance, this is highly valued in the U.S.”

In engagement, a ‘pillar’ designed to get the pulse of the learning that goes on in an MBA program, the most basic question was apparently not asked: Judge the quality of the teaching in the classroom and the accessibility of faculty outside of class? Instead, this category attempts to measure research in teaching, the real-world relevance of what is taught, and whether a student would recommend the program to others. What any of these issues have to do with ‘engagement’ is anyone’s guess.


Just as silly is the so-called ‘environment’ category. It’s a collection of politically correct measures that rewards schools for having international and female students and staff. The most important attributes of a positive environment are not included at all: Whether it’s a highly collaborative culture, where student perspective and opinions are welcomed and encouraged, or whether it’s an inclusive environment based on the perspectives of alumni who have been in it.

A mere cursory look at the winners of this category tells you all you need to know. The number one school in having the best environment for a two-year MBA program is Grenoble School of Management in France. The school scored 81.3 points in this category, more than 40 points higher than No. 25 ranked Stanford which managed only a 40.4 score, lower than McGill in Canada, Purdue in Indiana, or Miami Business School. It’s worth noting that the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business ranks 48th and UC-Berkeley’s Haas School comes in at 49th in environment.

Among the 30 ranked master’s in management programs, the top five options are, in order, at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management in Germany, WHU: Beisheim in Germany, Eada Business School in Barcelona, and Imperial College Business School in London.

Among the 23 ranked master’s in finance, the top five, in order, are Vanderbilt, Washington University, Eada in Barcelona, ESIC Business and Marketing School in Spain, and Imperial College Business School.

We understand the media motivation behind any new ranking. It’s web traffic that would support an advertising business model from the business school community. But eyeballs aren’t all that important on a ranking that has little to no credibility. In fact, it’s highly likely that after one quick glimpse and a few laughs, these lists are not going to get much more traffic. They certainly will have no influence on a school’s reputation or standing.


When it was clear that the majority of the world’s best MBA program decided to opt out, the editors should have scaled back their ambitions. By ranking only one-year MBA programs and doing everything possible to insure that INSEAD, Cambridge and Oxford participated, THE and the Wall Street Journal would have had something to build on. They could have leveraged the first one-year ranking to persuade more of the best business schools to participate in the following year in a two-year version.

Instead of choosing this path, the editors decided to forge ahead with not only a two-year ranking but a one-year ranking as well as rankings for master of finance and master of management programs.

Given the results of this first ranking, it’s highly unlikely that THE or The Wall Street Journal will convert many non-participants in the second effort. Indeed, it’s far more likely that some of the schools that gave it a chance this year will now say ‘no thanks’ to a second trial. This is an undertaking that even Wally wouldn’t want any part.

(See The Following Page For The Top 25 Schools On The Two-Year MBA Ranking)