2) Duke Fuqua Falls From Grace
In 2014, Bloomberg Businessweek made headlines by ranking Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business as the top MBA program in the United States. Before then, the school’s best performance had come in 2000, when it placed 5th. What set Fuqua apart that year? In a three-part metric in 2014 – which covered employer assessment, intellectual capital, and student experience – Fuqua placed 2nd among recruiters, who lauded graduates for their ability to work collaboratively. At the same time, Fuqua finished 2nd in intellectual capital, which measured faculty publication in top academic journals.
Of course, you could describe 2014 as Bloomberg Businessweek’s year of living dangerously. Somehow, Harvard Business School ranked 8th that year, with Canada’s Ivey School topping the international rankings. Not surprisingly, Bloomberg Businessweek overhauled its methodology in 2015, ditching intellectual capital and introducing an alumni survey and pay and placement metrics to accompany student survey results. The result? Duke Fuqua and Harvard Business School swapped the 1st and 8th spots!
Alas, Fuqua rebounded to third in 2016. Since then, the program has unaccountably slid, eventually landing at 20th in 2019. Seem a bit low? It contradicts a consistent pattern, as Fuqua finished 10th in U.S. News and 11th with The Economist in 2019. Technically, the school ranked 19th according to The Financial Times – but that’s before you remove nine international programs above it.
What has gone wrong? Frankly, a student-run, values-based program like Fuqua doesn’t necessarily translate into Bloomberg Businessweek’s stiff metrics. Notably, the program scored a 47.2 index in Entrepreneurship, worth 15.7% of the ranking’s weight. It also produced a 65.8 in Learning – a metric defined as curriculum being “applicable to real-world business situations; the degree of emphasis on innovation, problem-solving, and strategic thinking; the level of inspiration and support from instructors; class size; and collaboration.” Oddly, that describes Fuqua’s program exceptionally well despite the unusual result. What’s more, Fuqua placed 23rd in Networking at 78.2 – with its best performance coming in Compensation at 89.0…good for 13th overall.
If anything, Duke Fuqua remains consistent, regardless of ranking. That includes Bloomberg Businessweek, where the 2019 scores closely resemble their 2018 iterations. The biggest difference involves Learning, where Fuqua improved from 62.9 to 65.8. Such scores don’t necessarily align with stakeholder sentiment, however. In the 2019 Economist student survey, for example, Duke Fuqua placed 6th in the world. Similarly, it was the 11th most-recommended program by survey respondents polled by The Financial Times in 2018.
In other words, Duke Fuqua should, of course, rank higher. Like Tuck and Haas, it is a culture-driven program that doesn’t value splashy inputs as much buy-in to the supportive and accountable Team Fuqua culture it carefully guards. It is an elusive formula – one that is sometimes as difficult to quantify but often results in its graduates quickly becoming leaders on their teams.
3) Aren’t Top Schools Teaching Anymore?
Business schools market pay, networks, community, travel, transformation, opportunity…basically, everything except salt-of-the-earth teaching. By the results of Bloomberg Businessweek’s ranking, you’d think top MBA programs are meeting students’ needs in every area except for where it matters: Learning.
Yes, Learning is finally given prominence in an MBA ranking. That said, inclusion and execution are rather distinct when it comes to Bloomberg Businessweek’s measure of Learning, as several top MBA programs get short shrift here.
This year, William & Mary’s Mason School of Business again reigned as the top MBA program for Learning. Out of line? Well, there is certainly precedent. In The Princeton Review’s annual survey, for example, MBA students ranked Mason 3rd for Faculty Quality. This finding is reinforced by Poets&Quants’ own alumni surveys – albeit in the undergraduate sector. Here, Mason ranked 1st for Quality of Faculty and Faculty Availability…and 3rd for Academic Advising. No wonder it is described as a “Public Ivy.” It features a teaching culture that places students at its very center.
Virginia Darden claims the runner-up spot in Learning. Known for case methodology and rock star teaching, Darden is a place where the delivery of ideas is given as much importance as their production. Bob Bruner, the school’s former dean, describes a Darden classroom as “High touch, high tone, high octane” – one that attracts a certain type of student and faculty member. As a result, Darden’s 16th-place finish in Learning last year raised red flags, particularly when the school continued to earn the highest marks for faculty quality in The Economist’s student survey.
The ‘Darden discrepancy’ may have been corrected in 2019 – but many others remain. The Jindal School at the University of Texas-Dallas, for example, has historically earned high marks from recruiters and collected more research citations than larger MBA programs. Still, does that mean their teaching is superior to, say, the Yale School of Management? Why does the University of Maryland outperform Carnegie Mellon, a program that is considered a peer to top teaching programs like Darden and Booth? What about the University of Mississippi, which isn’t even ranked by The Economist or The Financial Times? Somehow, Ole Miss outranks MIT. Apparently, Oxford really is better than Cambridge!
That’s why data bits – and not cumulative index scores – are so informative. Here is how Bloomberg Businessweek positions Learning:
“Learning: For the schools’ core mission, we explore the quality, depth, and range of instruction. We focus on whether the curriculum is applicable to real-world business situations; the degree of emphasis on innovation, problem-solving, and strategic thinking; the level of inspiration and support from instructors; class size; and collaboration.”
That sounds reasonable, but what and how are these variables measured exactly? Chances are, we’ll never know until Bloomberg Businessweek releases student and alumni scores, which it did (to an extent) in March and June this year. The 2018 student survey data, for example, included school scores in Applicable Skill Development, Inspiring Faculty, and Right Mix of Faculty. Among alumni, the surveys include Academic Excellence and Innovation and Creativity. Such targeted releases don’t exactly reveal why schools ranked in certain spots, however. Case in point: William & Mary, last year’s #1, only appears in the Top 10 in one category (Inspiring Faculty at #9). In contrast, Jindal, last year’s #3, was ranked 10th in Innovation and Creativity and 6th for Academic Excellence? How did both rank ahead of Darden, which ranked in the Top 10 in four of the five categories where data was released?
Indeed, Bloomberg Businessweek’s Learning component simply lacks credibility. How is this for an upside-down ranking of classroom excellence: Chicago Booth (21st), Yale SOM (25th), Northwestern Kellogg (26th), Stanford GSB (29th), Columbia Business School (31st), MIT Sloan (32nd), Michigan Ross (35th), and – wait for it – Harvard Business School (42nd). It gets even better. The University of Utah, which ranked #2 last year, fell to #22. Rochester Simon rocketed from 45th to 4th. Somehow, Tampa and Baylor cracked the Top 10 last year – and then tumbled to 68th and 73rd respectively in 2019.
In other words, something is seriously askew here. Or, to paraphrase Ricky Ricardo, Businessweek has some splainin’ to do.