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

7) So Many Ties, So Little Satisfaction

No one likes a tie. People want something definitive. Isn’t that what rankings are for, to separate schools – even by the most modest of margins?  

The 2020 U.S. News ranking violates that precept in a major way. Traditionally, you’ll find a couple of ties, but few that raise ire. Last year, for example, Harvard Business School and Chicago Booth tied for the top spot – an exciting development that heralded a potential changing of the guard. By the same token, Duke Fuqua and Yale SOM shared the 11th spot, no different than NYU Stern and Virginia Darden at 13, Carnegie Mellon Tepper and Texas McCombs at 17, and Emory Goizueta and USC Marshall at 20. 

This year, the ties are far less amusing. Perhaps that’s because many came in threes – and touched the most storied programs in the MBA landscape. Harvard Business School and Chicago Booth each tumbled out of their perch, tying MIT Sloan for 3rd. Northwestern Kellogg, Columbia Business School, and U.C. Berkeley Haas were bunched up at 6th like a car wreck. Duke Fuqua and Michigan Ross? Both 10th. Dartmouth Tuck, NYU Stern and Virginia – they huddled up at 12th. USC Marshall replaced Texas McCombs as Carnegie Mellon Tepper’s roomie at 17th. That’s OK, McCombs just paired up with North Carolina Kenan-Flagler at 19th. It’s bad enough to miss the Top 20, but Emory Goizueta, Indiana Kelley, and Washington Foster had to scrunch together at 21st.  

At their best, rankings produce a sharp contrast, a set of tiers based on hard data and precisely measured expert opinion to give users a clear indication of potential value. In this regard, U.S. News is failing. In many ways, schools have mastered the system. Like a disenchanted teen, they simply study to the test, churning out metrics that show just how closely they’ve watched their rivals and integrate ranking considerations into their decisions. 

In short, U.S. News must take a close look at its stale methodology. Say what you will about The Economist – with its myriad variables producing bi-polar, roller-coaster results that confound conventional wisdom – but there aren’t ties there. The Financial Times ranking, far more steady, didn’t see a tie in the 2019 ranking until 31st. With U.S. News, the ties simply make the ranking less credible, with readers needing more contrast across lines of measurables to make better decisions. Question is, will U.S. News be open to a fresh take, one perhaps less geared to reputation (i.e. peer assessment) and more towards student growth and satisfaction. The wheel may not be broken at U.S. News, it is dribbling a lot of air. Time to patch it up and rotate guys.   

Rice-MBA

MBA students at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business

8) When Will Rice Jones Take Flight?

Three years ago, the Jones Graduate School of Business was the toast of the MBA universe. They had vaulted into the Top 10 of Bloomberg Businessweek’s ranking, buoyed by high scores in satisfaction surveys given to employers, students, and (especially) alumni. After that, Jones was no longer the biggest secret in Texas, especially not when over 80% of students received sizable financial aid packages (a staple of Rice University itself). 

Led by Dean Pete Rodriguez, Jones has laid out an ambitious agenda in recent years. Pairing old school academic rigor with intensive personal attention, Jones has crafted a distinctive MBA program suited well to employer needs. In recent years, the school has ushered in required global experiences and employee-sponsored projects to provide students with both real-world experience and a broader view of business dynamics. The school has also launched an online MBA program – MBA@Rice – slated to boost resources available to full-time MBAs. Not to mention, the school is planning to add another section to the full-time program, boosting enrollment by 20%. 

On top of that, Jones hosts the world’s largest startup competition. That doesn’t its Houston location, home to a dozen Fortune 500 firms, including many of the world’s top energy providers.

You get the gist. Unfortunately, these grand plans haven’t translated into a rankings bonanza. After rising from 33rd to 23rd from 2016-2019. Jones hit the wall, tumbling back to 26th in 2020 – in a three-way tie to add insult to injury. That should come as no surprise as you dig through the data. On the plus side, Jones is attracting top talent. Technically, Jones endured a five-point drop in average GMAT with the Class of 2020. Still, that 706 average bests six Top 20 programs in the U.S. News ranking. Employers are certainly impressed with Jones talent too. The program’s placement rate was 94.5% — which would place it above 16 Top 20 programs. 

Alas, hiring and paying are two different functions. In 2018, Rice Jones MBA grads landed $129,950 pay packages – lower than any Top 20 program. One reason: Just 17% of 2018 grads reporting their pay chose consulting – and earned a below average $124K package to boot in the field. While Jones grads scored high in the GMAT, their undergraduate GPA – 3.32 – ranked 44th among Top 50 programs. That may be a reflection of selectivity. 39% of applicants were able to snap up a spot in the Class of 2020, which would’ve been the 4th-highest acceptance rate among Top 25 schools. 

By increasing its class size, Jones’ acceptance rate will ultimately fall. Still, pay remains an albatross – one that will pull its ranking down lower than it deserves. 

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.