Since the 1988 debut of Businessweek‘s MBA ranking, only six business schools have sat atop the 19 different lists over a 31-year span. Each of those rankings contains many surprises and shocks, not least of which was the first place finish achieved by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business five years ago in 2014.
This year’s 2019-2020 Bloomberg Businessweek ranking again shows that the roller-coaster list is still providing lots of dramatic dips and surges. Some 24 schools saw double-digit climbs or falls this year, a level of year-over-year volatility that should inspire little confidence in the results. The most severe downturns were suffered by Purdue University’s Krannert School, plunging 28 places to rank 78th; Baylor University’s Hankamer School lost 27 spots to rank 79th, and Tulane University’s Freeman School loss of 23 places to finish in 69th place.
But there were also dramatic changes near the top of the ranking where schools tend to be more entrenched. Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business soared 17 places to finish second behind Stanford’s Graduate School of Business which retained its first-place finish for the second consecutive year. The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business jumped another four spots this year to claim fifth place, its best Businessweek standing ever. That stunning finish put Darden in front of No. 6 Wharton, No. 7 MIT Sloan, No. 8 UC-Berkeley Haas, No. 9 Columbia, and No. 10 Northwestern Kellogg.
THE BIGGEST SURPRISES IN THE 2019-2020 BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK MBA RANKING
So when it comes to the most unpredictable outcomes on this quirky list, Tuck’s showing in the Businessweek ranking zooms to the top of the ten biggest surprises:
1) How Exactly Did Dartmouth Tuck Reach #2?
In recent months, it had become fashionable to wonder if Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business was still a Top 10 MBA program. In the 2018 Bloomberg Businessweek ranking, for example, Tuck had plummeted from 7th to 19th (after peaking at 5th in 2016). Worse yet, the school had tumbled out of the Top 10 in U.S. News’ ever-influential 2019 ranking. No less crucial, Tuck’s MBA applications in 2018-2019 did a complete nosedive, plunging 22.5%, among the most severe for a prominent business school this year. That drop alone sent the school’s acceptance rate soaring to 34.5% from 23.3% only a year ago. Sure, starting pay packages for graduates were better than ever. Still, Tuck didn’t seem to possess the momentum of a Yale SOM or Michigan Ross. In essence, the program had seemingly grown solid and stable, not imaginative and inspiring.
Well, Tuck is back – as if it had gone anywhere. This year, the program jumped 18 spots to rank #2 in the United States, ahead of Harvard Business School, Chicago Booth, The Wharton School, and MIT Sloan. It is now the highest-ranked Ivy League business school – with bragging rights that extend far beyond the eastern corridor.
Mind you, Tuck has an advantage that few schools can match: Network. Tuck notched a perfect 100 index score in the area, a testament to the enthusiasm and engagement of a legendarily loyal alumni base best known for their generous support of the school fund. This variable accounted for 25.7% of the ranking’s weight. This is all the more important when you consider that Tuck’s Network score was 73.2 last year. In the highest weight – Compensation at 37.3% – Tuck produced its second-highest index score at 93.5 thanks to record-setting pay with the Class of 2018.
In reality, Tuck simply held steady on its strengths in pay and network in 2019. The biggest difference, however, involves Businessweek‘s “Learning” category. Taking up 21.3% of the ranking weight, Learning encompasses the quality of the program’s curriculum, teaching, and skill development. Here, Tuck’s score jumped from 44.3 to 92.3. Considering Tuck’s renown for academic rigor and teaching prowess, this new score feels more like a correction than a new development – though the program has recently rolled out a revised curriculum. While Tuck isn’t a household name for entrepreneurship, it has obviously made strides. The program’s index score in this area nearly doubled from 35.1 to 68.2. In shoring up this area, Tuck was able to leapfrog its peers.
Where next? Well, it would difficult for Tuck to dislodge Stanford GSB from the top spot, particularly with the latter boasting a perfect index score (not to mention a 100 index in Tuck’s Achilles heel – Entrepreneurship). Still, 2019 represents a historic outing in Hanover. Considering that Tuck just reported that the Class of 2019 hauled in another record-setting $170K in starting pay – a $15K bump over the previous year – it’s safe to say that Tuck will notch an even higher index score in the highest-weighted category next year. Question is, can the school continue to make progress in entrepreneurship? That will determine whether Tuck becomes a Top Three fixture – or just a one-year flash.