Most can agree there is no perfect way to rank business schools. At their best, they offer prospective students an academic barometer on the current B-school climate. At their worst, they lead to fraudulent data being submitted or schools admitting students based on admissions statistics or salary potential post-graduation. Last month, two Cambridge University academics released “Business School Rankings for the 21st Century,” published by the Graduate Management Admission Council, suggesting the need for a rankings and accreditation overhaul for business schools.
“The existing benchmarking systems, many of which are administered by well-respected media institutions, appear to have a strong motivational effect for administrators and prospective students alike,” the authors write. “Many of the rankings criteria currently in use were developed years or decades ago, and use simple measures such as salary and salary progression. Less emphasis has been placed on what is taught and learned at the schools.”
The authors penned the report with the backing of the United Nations Global Compact, a global pact focusing on sustainable and socially responsible policies and practices in which businesses may decide to join. “Currently,” they write, “ranking publications employ several criteria in assessing business schools. Most of these are important. None fully measures what is being taught and whether it is being taught well, however. This would seem to be an important addition, but it is also one that is difficult to measure.”
COMPARING CURRENT METHODOLOGIES TO THE REPORT’S SUGGESTIONS
Ranking methodologies at the most prominent media organizations currently range in complexity and data points. U.S. News includes peer and recruiter assessments, employment placement rates and salaries, acceptance rates, average standardized test scores, and average undergraduate GPAs. Forbes, meanwhile, ranks MBA programs solely by “five-year MBA gain,” based on alumni surveys. Similarly, Businessweek’s ranking is based solely on surveys completed by recruiters, alumni, and current MBA students and broken into four categories. Weighted heaviest is the compensation portion, followed by networking, learning, and entrepreneurship. The learning category is closest to what the Cambridge authors suggest schools should be evaluated.
The Economist, which also ranks MBA programs solely on an alumni survey, also hits closer to what the authors suggest in their report. Student diversity and educational experiences are both pieces — albeit small ones — to the overall rankings. Finally, The Financial Times ranks schools based on an alumni survey and school data. Again, salary and salary increase is one of the heaviest weighted categories. And while student and faculty diversity are included, it’s at a smaller overall weight compared to the compensation data.
The GMAC report lays out a dozen suggestions to consider when evolving future methodologies. First, the authors recommend reducing or eliminating entirely the weight of salary differential measures. Awarding schools for sending students into nonprofit, NGO, and public-sector positions is another suggestion. Other recommendations include measuring the diversity of sectors in which graduates go to work; measuring the diversity of student governance hierarchies, reducing the weight of standardized test scores, and instead of ordinal rankings, create bands or tiers.
“Business schools are tremendously important global institutions. Evidence suggests that they directly influence their students’ knowledge, competence, beliefs, and behaviors, and therefore affect society in a broad sense,” the report concludes. “Business schools, in turn, appear to be greatly influenced by business school rankings. However, evaluations of curricula are hardly to be found in the major rankings of business schools or of specific courses such as the Master of Business Administration (MBA). Instead, rankings tend to focus on criteria such as graduates’ salaries or alumni assessments. Evidence suggests that the rankings drive behavior, but perhaps not in the direction of training managers to contribute to a sustainable, inclusive 21st-century economy.”