Big Surprises In Topsy-Turvy 2019 Economist MBA Ranking

HEC Paris soared ten places this year in The Economist ranking to place third ahead of Wharton, Kellogg, and Stanford


The one big difference with the Financial Times is The Economist’s rather significant reliance on student satisfaction, gathered by an annual survey of current MBA students and recent alumni. Those results account for 20% of the ranking. They’re asked to rate the quality of the faculty, the career services staff, the school’s curriculum and culture, the facilities, the alumni network, and their classmates. The methodology takes into account new career opportunities (35%); personal development/educational experience (35%); increasing salary (20%); and the potential to network (10%). The figures are a mixture of hard data and the subjective marks given by the school’s students who are aware that their answers will result in a ranking that could reflect on the reputation of their degrees.

Parsing the student opinion results yield some fascinating insights, whether flawed or substantive. Student ratings of the MBA programs put Chicago Booth first, with a score of 4.65 on a five-point scale, with IESE Business School second (4.58), and UVA’s Darden School third (4.51). Student ratings of the faculty put Darden first with a score of 4.77, just a fraction ahead of Booth with the same 4.77 score, with Harvard Business School in a third-place tie with HEC Paris, both with 4.68 scores.

Those kinds of fractions make for outsized differences in a school’s overall ranking that would cause a statistician fits because the results are so closely clustered together that they lack statistical significance. Yet, the fortunes of business school MBA programs turn on these minute differences in The Economist survey, much to the chagrin of B-school deans and MBA directors.

The roller-coaster outcomes are best shown by examining in a single MBA program’s rankings over a longer period of time. The full-time MBA program at IE Business School, one of Europe’s top business schools in Spain, ranked as high as 16th in the world only three years ago. In today’s Economist ranking, the program is ranked 69th, a difference of 53 places (see below). And three years before it’s highest Economist ranking of 16th, the MBA program at IE ranked 50th. The annual ups and downs defy explanation or justification.


The Economist list is the fourth of the five most influential MBA rankings to come out this year. It follows the Financial Times in January, U.S. News & World Report in March, and Forbes‘ biennial list in September. Stanford Graduate School of Business capped the FT list this year, while Wharton earned top honors in U.S. News. Forbes also put Chicago Booth on top this year. The final big brand list from Bloomberg Businessweek is expected to make its appearance on Monday (Nov. 4). Poets&Quants will then quickly follow with its composite ranking.

Chicago’s dominance in The Economist ranking occurs not because it blows away its rivals on the magazine’s metrics, but rather because it scores well on those measurements across the board. Students gave the highest possible scores for their satisfaction with the overall MBA program while awarding the second-highest scores for the faculty which includes several Nobel laureates. Booth’s average class GMAT scores are fifth-best in the world. Job opportunities are among the best, thanks to a highly rated careers service (which earned the tenth highest scores in the student survey) and an alumni network of 52,500 people, one of the largest in the world. Employment outcomes are outstanding: 96% of students find a job within three months of graduation (tenth best overall). Graduates pocket an average salary of $131,893 (fifth highest in The Economist survey), an 84.3% rise on their pre-MBA paychecks.

Which schools did a disappearing act this year? Henley Business School at Britain’s University of Reading ranked 61st last year. It fell entirely off the list. So did the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business, which was 81st in 2018, and Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business, ranked 83rd last year. The MBA programs at Copenhagen Business School (89), Audencia Business School in France (90), University of Arizona (95), Case Western University (98), and Fordham University (99) also fell off this year’s list.

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