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

Where’s Harvard Business School on the debut Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education ranking? Even Waldo can’t find it because HBS and many of the best business schools declined to participate

In the late 1980s, one of the most popular children’s books came from Britain and was called “Where’s Waldo?” The series of children’s puzzle books challenged readers to find a character named Wally who was inevitably hiding among dozens of people in highly detailed illustrations at locations all over the globe.

Today (Dec. 6), the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and its British partner Times Higher Education (THE) produced its own version of “Where’s Waldo?” for business schools. The twist? No matter how hard you search, you won’t find most of the world’s best business schools on the two separate lists ranking two-year and one-year MBA programs.

No Harvard, Wharton, MIT Sloan, Kellogg, Columbia, London Business School, Tuck or UCLA among the 54 ranked two-year MBAs. No INSEAD, Oxford, Cambridge, Kellogg or Notre Dame among the 35 one-year options. Where are they? Each of these schools declined to participate with this new ranking. If anything, the new lists published today by THE show how the business school rankings game has gone completely awry.

STANFORD, CORNELL & VANDERBILT TOP THE WORLD’S TWO-YEAR MBA PROGRAMS

If rankings are meant to help readers make important educational decisions, these lists do the opposite. They do not inform; they simply add more confusion in a market that is justifiably weary of being sliced and diced by already too many flawed methodologies. Times Higher Education today published four separate rankings of MBA programs, master of finance and master of management programs. The Wall Street Journal plans to come out with the same lists two days later on Dec. 8.

With most of the world’s best missing, what do you get? The wackiest hodgepodge of a ranking ever produced. It is a ranking that in another day would have been, in newsroom parlance, spiked by a discerning editor who would have forced his misguided reporters back to the drawing board. Only four of the top ten U.S. MBA programs based on Poets&Quants‘ most recent composite list are included on this new two-year MBA ranking (see table below).

According to THE and the Journal, the top ten two-year MBA programs, in order, are Stanford, Cornell, Vanderbilt, Chicago, Duke, Virginia, Yale, Carnegie Mellon, Purdue, CEIBS in Shanghai, and Michigan, with Virginia and Yale tied at sixth and CEIBS and Michigan tied for tenth place (see all 54 programs here) The top five one-year MBA options, in order, are the University of Hong Kong, the Indian School of Business, Institute of Management in Calcutta, the SP Jain School of Global Management in Australia, and IMD in Switzerland (see all 35 programs here).

UC-BERKELEY BEHIND PITTSBURG & SAN DIEGO?

Even if you accept the fact that too many of the best schools refused to play, either because they are already overdosed on the rankings game or have legitimate gripes about the methodology used to crank out these lists, these new rankings still flunk the smell test. One awfully obvious example: UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, ranked 16th on the two-year list, trails behind No. 12 University of Pittsburg and No. 14 UC-San Diego’s Rady School of Business. New York University’s Stern School of Business, always a top 20 school, finds itself outside the top 25, nine places behind No. 17 University of Maryland and a half dozen spots after Washington University’s Olin School of Business.

The overall index scores that determine this ranking, moreover, suggest that future versions of the list will be outrageously volatile. No. 1 Stanford, for example, is ahead of No. 2 Cornell by a slim 1.8 point margin, 82.7 versus 80.9, respectively. That gives new meaning to the song Too Close For Comfort. Cornell is above No. 3 Vanderbilt by a mere .2 score, 80.9 versus 80.7. If not for Vanderbilt’s low 18.8 score in a so-called ‘environment’ category, the second lowest score achieved, the university’s Owen School of Management could have possibly beat out Stanford for top honors in the overall ranking. Even though this debut list is based on 20 different metrics, ten of the top 20 schools are locked in ties due to the unusual clustering of their overall scores. The index scores alone betray a randomness that should scare off every business school dean.

Then, there are some rather novel results on a countrywide basis in this global ranking. On the two-year list, Canada has two schools in the Top 50 (McGill at #48 and Rotman at #50). The same is true of China, but both are in the Top 20. France only has Grenoble (no HEC Paris) and Spain only has ESADE (no IESE or IE). Though the rankings were largely created by the U.K.-based Times Higher Education, it’s surprisingly very U.S.-centric with 39 schools in the Top 50–and none from the United Kingdom.

WHAT KIND OF METHODOLOGY CREATES THESE RESULTS?

To a large extent, of course, the results of every ranking are determined by the often arbitrary judgments over what gets weighted and how in a methodology. In this new MBA ranking, the editors chose to base their approach on 20 different metrics drawn from surveys of business school alumni and the schools. The alumni survey was taken by more than 23,000 students from three different graduating cohorts in 2012, 2013 and 2015. Only responses to 10 survey questions were used in the final metrics. The scores were then aggregated into four key categories: resources, engagement, outcome and environment. Outcomes are weighted most heavily, making up 38% of the ranking.

In each of these categories, the results are just as perplexing as they are in the overall ranking. Consider ‘resources’: On what planet does Stanford have fewer resources than Cornell and Vanderbilt? How does Chicago Booth have fewer resources than UC-Davis? UC-San Diego’s Rady School of Business has more resources than Yale SOM? The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business is rated lower on resources than 18 other schools, including Costa Rica’s INCAE and Thailand’s Sasin?

There is plenty to question and quibble about in each of the four categories. In resources, for example, the most obvious and meaningful metric–a school’s endowment which helps a business school attract and retain the best faculty and offer the scholarship awards to capture the best students–is not included. Instead, a program’s resources score is based on faculty per student (given an 11% weight), teaching qualifications (6%), career support staff per student (4%), and career support effectiveness (4%).