Wharton Tumbles In Forbes’ 2019 MBA Ranking

Booth School of Business Photo by John A. Byrne

What goes up must come down.

That rather ancient maxim wasn’t meant to apply to MBA rankings but it certainly holds true for Wharton’s performance in Forbes new 2019 return-on-investment ranking of the best MBA programs. After capturing first place two years ago on the biennial list, its highest ever showing in Forbes, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School succumbed to gravity, skidding four places to finish fifth this year.

The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business gladly assumed Wharton’s place, rising six spots to a No. 1 finish for the first time since Forbes began ranking MBA programs back in 1999. To capture the top spot, Booth zoomed past No. 2 Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, No. 3 Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, No. 4 Harvard Business School, and of course, Wharton.


The Forbes‘ ranking is entirely based on the five-year gain in compensation reported by MBA graduates after accounting for their opportunity costs (two years of forgone compensation) tuition and required fees minus scholarship help. According to Forbes, Chicago MBAs posted a five-year gain of $94,400, nearly $20,000 more than the $74,800 reported last year. Wharton MBAs, who won last year with a five-year gain of $97,000, slumped this year to just $84,700. According to Forbes, the pre-MBA compensation of Booth students surveyed was $83,000. Last year, the median pay of the same Boothies was $245,000. Stanford’s MBAs actually earned slightly more last year–$250,000–which was the highest compensation five years out, but an adjustment to the compensation formula by Forbes to account for the higher living costs in the Bay Area helped to put Stanford behind Booth.

The biggest gains, however, were achieved by graduates of IMD, the small one-year MBA program in Lausanne, Switzerland, which leads Forbes‘ ranking of one-year international programs. IMD grads, with their lower opportunity costs and tuition, reported gains of $168,900, 44.1% more than Booth MBAs. In fact, six non-U.S. schools with one-year MBA options posted results that bested Booth. Besides IMD, they include INSEAD (with a five-year gain of $154,700), Cambridge Judge ($153,000), SDA Bocconi in Italy ($133,500), Oxford Said ($127,300), and IE Business School in Spain ($104,300). While several U.S. business schools, including Kellogg, Cornell, NYU Stern, Emory, and Notre Dame, have one-year MBA programs, Forbes does not include those programs in its ranking.

Forbes also tracks the performance of graduates from two-year international MBA programs separately. London Business School led this group of schools, with a five-year gain of $93,100, just $1,300 less than the Booth total. LBS was followed by No. 2 HEC Paris, No. 3 IESE Business School in Spain, No. 4 Ceibs in Shanghai, China, and No. 5. ESADE in France.


Among the top 25 U.S. business schools, the other big winners were the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. Marshall jumped a whopping 12 places to solidly finish in the top 25 at 21st, up from 33 two years ago, while the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business climbed seven places to finish 23 from 30th in 2017. The MBA program at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business leaped six places to finish 19th, from 25th two years ago.

The biggest losers? Texas A&M, which ranked 20th in 2017, lost 13 places to finish 33rd this year; the University of Wisconsin’s business school fell 11 spots to end up at 35th, from a rank of 24 two years ago. Brigham Young’s Marriott School of Business managed to stay ion the top 25, by dropped five places to 24th from 19th. In all, Forbes ranked 61 U.S. MBA programs, down from 70 last year. The only newcomer to this year’s list was the University of Utah which entered the ranking in 36th place.

The returns on an MBA investment vary widely. The 61st place MBA program on the list, Pepperdine University, saw a mere $5,200 increase in pay over the five-year time span. That gave Pepperdine MBAs the longest payback on their investment of any ranked program: 4.9 years. Most Top Ten schools had payback periods of about four years, with Michigan Ross the quickest at 3.9 years and Stanford the longest at 4.2.

Among the Top Ten schools, the MBA graduates of the surveyed Class of 2014 showed declines from Forbes‘ previous ranking. The big three–Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton–all declined, with Wharton suffering the largest loss–a $12,400 drop from two years ago versus $3,100 at HBS and $1,700 at Stanford. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the biggest Top Ten gain occurred in favor of Booth, a $19,600 increase over the five-year gain two years ago. Michigan Ross, which nudged out Berkeley Haas to gain a Top Ten spot, saw gains of $8,600, while MIT Sloan improved by $8,400, and Cornell Johnson by $8,300.


This is the third in the five most influential MBA rankings to come out this year. Preceding Forbes was The Financial Times and U.S. News & World Report. Stanford ranked first on the 2019 FT list, with Chicago coming in at seventh on the global ranking. U.S. News crowned Wharton as No. 1, with Chicago, Harvard and MIT in a three-way tie for third place. Next month, The Economist will publish its updated annual rankings and finally, in November, Bloomberg Businessweek will come out with its now annual ranking of the best MBA programs. Shortly following the publication of the full set of these rankings, Poets&Quantswill release its composite ranking for the year.

The Forbes ranking tends not to be as volatile as many other MBA lists. Only seven of the 61 ranked MBA programs either rose or fell by double-digit rates, though ten schools fell off the list entirely, perhaps because Forbes was unable to achieve a response rate of at least 15% on its graduate surveys to the school or the alums had a negative ROI after five years. Disappearing off this year’s list were the University of Iowa, ranked 34th last year, which has since discontinued its full-time MBA program; Boston College (51), Rutgers Business School (52), Babson College (57), the University of Connecticut (59), Temple University (60), the University of Arizona (64), Northeastern University (66), American University (67), and the University of Oregon (68).


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