Ten Biggest Surprises In U.S. News’ 2019 MBA Ranking

USC Marshall Dean Jim Ellis

5) For USC Trustees, More Evidence Of A Major Blunder

It’s not like Jim Ellis, the beleaguered dean of the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, needed any more evidence that he has worked miracles at the school. But this year’s three-place rise for Marshall to its highest U.S. News rank ever at 17th is still more proof in favor of a dean who many say has been unfairly ousted from his job by interim USC President Wanda Austin.

The highly popular 71-year-old dean is scheduled to leave at the end of this academic year, his third consecutive term cut short by three years because of the termination. His firing had been recommended by Provost Michael Quick who with Austin has been heavily criticized for the lack of transparency over the decision and failure to consult with faculty. Students have marched on campus in protest. Most of the school’s faculty are stunned and enraged. Many donors are canceling or rethinking tens of millions of dollars of pledges to the school. And several board trustees are reportedly seeking to revisit the decision (see At USC Marshall, An Engaged Faculty Tries To Understand Their Dean’s Ouster).

More than 4,000 people have signed a petition in support of Ellis, and hundreds more have sent letters, emails and phone calls to the university’s board of trustees opposing the university’s decision. Austin has not publicly disclosed the reason for the termination, only that the decision was made “after careful deliberation,” according to an email sent to alumni. “Because this is a personnel matter, we are limited in what we can share about this decision,” she added.

However, unnamed university sources, in spinning the story to the Los Angeles Times, suggested that Ellis was ousted because he had allegedly mishandled gender and racial bias complaints at the school. Rick Caruso, chairman of the board of trustees, has been quoted in the newspaper saying that Ellis’ firing “is part of where the university is today in terms of acknowledging a proper culture that needs to be embraced and practiced on campus.”

Well, that culture has gotten yet another independent endorsement from U.S. News. For Marshall, it is the third year in a row of improved U.S. News rankings. During that time, the school has moved up 14 places from a rank of 31st in 2016.

Even more compelling is that USC has made considerable progress in closing the long-standing gap between its business school and UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. The new ranking shows that USC is breathing down UCLA’s neck, just one place behind No. 16 Anderson in the ranking. In fact, only a single point separates USC from UCLA, 83 vs. 84 on the U.S. News’  overall ranking score.

No less crucial, Marshall’s MBA grads are reporting better placement and pay stats than grads at their crosstown rival. Last year’s graduating class of MBAs at USC pulled down an average salary and sign-on bonus package of $151,408, nearly $8,500 more than UCLA’s $142,997. Some 79.2% of Marshall MBAs were employed at graduation, nearly 10 percentage points higher than UCLA’s 69.7%, while 95.8% of USC’s grads had jobs three months after commencement, versus 88.7% at UCLA.

If anyone at USC needs to be ousted, it’s interim President Austin, Provost Michael Quick, USC General Counsel Carol Mauch Amir, and Board Chair Rick Caruso, all of whom have been directly involved in making a major blunder in dismissing Dean Ellis.

USC Marshall’s campus in Los Angeles

6) The Untold Story Behind One School’s Rise & Another School’s Decline In The Ranking

One of the rarely examined yet crucial elements of an excellent MBA program is the support that goes on behind the scenes in such key areas as admissions, programming, and career services. The best schools pour plenty of money and resources into these functions, ensuring that MBA students get the best possible experience.

Mark Brostoff, assistant dean and director of MBA career services at USC’s Marshall School of Business. Courtesy photo

Which leads us to Mark Brostoff? Who, you ask? He is one significant reason why USC is moving up in the rankings and a major reason why USC is now reporting better pay and placement stats for its MBA grads than crosstown rival UCLA. Hired by Dean Jim Ellis in early 2016, Brostoff is assistant dean and director of Marshall’s MBA Career Services. In that job, Brostoff leads all aspects of the career services process for the Marshall MBA programs. 

He joined Marshall after serving seven successful years as associate dean and director of the Weston Career Center at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis. It’s no coincidence that Olin fell out of the top 25 this year, slipping three places from 23rd to 26th, the full-time MBA program’s lowest ranking from U.S. News in five years.

Just look at what has happened to Olin’s employment stats since his departure. In his last full year at Olin, the school’s placement rate three months after graduation was 97.1%, the best of any top 25 school in 2015. In the year that Brostoff left Olin, it was 96.3%, again beating every other top 25 school in 2016. Last year, without him in the job, that employment rate fell to 87.9% within three months of commencement and was 77.8% at graduation. Yet, market demand for MBAs remains high and last year’s economy was as stronger if not stronger than it was in 2015 and 2016 when Olin led all top 25 schools in MBA placement. Hats off to Brostoff for working his magic.

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