With the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on higher education, the leaders of a trio of organizations representing business schools are asking ranking institutions to halt their work and postpone the publication of their lists.
The unusual move by the leaders of the Graduate Management Admission Council and two accreditation agencies—AACSB and EFMD—comes at a time when many schools have extended their application cycles and are deeply worried about the composition of the incoming classes they hope to enroll in the fall. It also occurs at a time of great concern over the employment outcomes of this year’s graduating classes.
In a letter dated April 17th to U.S. News & World Report, the Financial Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Economist, Forbes and QS, the organizations expressed worry over the impact that the coronavirus crisis would have on key data points frequently used to rank MBA programs. As a result, U.S. News said it is reviewing its policies. “The team at U.S. News most definitely understands that these are very challenging times because of the significant and unprecedented disruptions caused by COVID 19,” Bob Morse, chief data strategist for U.S. News. “We’re currently reviewing our strategies for the next U.S. News Best Business Schools rankings and fall 2020 data collection.”
‘WE ARE NOT IN A POSITION TO MAKE A DEMAND. IT IS A REQUEST TO WORK TOGETHER’
“The current crisis will have unknown impacts on key metrics that rankings institutions rely on to create their respective products,” according to the letter signed by GMAC CEO Sangeet Chowfla, AACSB President Tom Robinson, and EFMD President Eric Cornuel. “Graduating students, recent alumni, and companies that recruit business school graduates are all dealing with their own challenges—a fact that on its own stands to skew results in a way that calls the viability of rankings surveys into question.”
They cite a series of COVID-19 impacts that include “increased restriction of student mobility, test center closures, and how corporations will assess hiring plans and growth in a time of contraction; all key metrics across any set of rankings.”
In an interview with Poets&Quants, GMAC’s Chowfla said the letter represents a “request” and not a “demand.” “Our intent is not to interfere with their role in the ecosystem of informing candidates and certainly rankings have a role to play,” he said. “We are hopeful we will get into a discussion. We are not in a position to make a demand. It is a request to work together with them to find the right structure and timing this year.”
THE LENGTH OF THE POSTPONEMENT DEPENDS ON THE RECOVERY
While the letter does not specify how long a postponement should occur, the executives suggest that rankings should be put on ice “to provide business schools worldwide the opportunity to rebound in these tumultuous circumstances.” That suggestion would likely cause at least a year-long pause in rankings, a highly unlikely outcome.
Chowfla noted that the actual time of a postponement is hard to pin down for at least two reasons. “Every ranking is constructed a little bit differently so the impact on the dataset is not uniform. The answer will be different for everybody. Our goal is to raise the issue and start a conversation and the conversation may be a little different and dependent on how they construct the ranking. The other thing is time really depends on having some ability to project how the environment is going to change and that is a very difficult thing to do right now. So these two forces are in play that lend themselves to a discussion.”
Admission consultants say the letter is an attempt to at least temporarily hide data that is potentially embarrassing to the schools. “Schools’ class stats must not be looking good for the class entering in 2020,” said Linda Abraham, founder of accepted.com, a leading admissions adviser. “Rankings force schools to make those numbers public unless all the schools refuse to provide data to the rankings. Clearly the schools don’t want those numbers known and don’t want to be ranked on traditional metrics.”
‘SCHOOLS FEAR SIGNIFICANT DROPS OF 10 TO 30 POINTS IN AVERAGE GMAT SCORES’
At the end of the day, it might not matter, anyway. “Since all the programs are in the same boat, relative to one and other I doubt if the rankings will change dramatically,” added Abraham. “I also question whether the rankings themselves are what are concerning the schools. However, the stats that the rankings publicize and upon which the different rankings are based could change dramatically. Perhaps schools fear significant drops of 10, 20, or 30 points or more in the average GMAT score for the class entering in 2020. Perhaps a .2 or more drop in average GPA.”
Chowfla hinted at those concerns. “There is a fair amount of statistical noise that would be created that would create a little bit of an unfair platform,” he said. “The pandemic declaration has happened right in the middle of an application cycle and there are certain things that happened before and after. Everyone’s deadlines are a little bit different. We view it from a student diversity and selectivity lens and another is a career outcomes lens.”
He explained that both student selectivity—as measured by acceptance rates, standardized test scores, and undergraduate GPAs—along with the international diversity of an enrolled class are primary issues. “Both of them are going to be disrupted because of concerns over travel,” said Chowfla. “Some schools that got an early application deadline might have more applications in than a school that had later application deadlines. And admission decisions may not result in enrolled students. So it adds noise that undermines the goal to provide objective data.
HOW TO COUNT A RESCINDED JOB OFFER IN AN EMPLOYMENT REPORT?
“If you think about it from a career outcomes point of view, something similar is happening. We all know that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a far-reaching economic impact and we are hearing that some organizations are rescinding job offers. Do we count an offer that has been rescinded? Getting all of that sorted out would be very difficult. And schools that traditionally have job offers later in the cycle would be adversely affected. It adds statistical noise which will start creating un-level playing fields. It would add volatility that would not meet the true intent of the rankings in the first place.”
The extraordinary letter, said Chowfla, was initiated by GMAC after calls with business school deans. “We are in an ongoing dialogue with the business schools and one of the many things schools are dealing with are what do the rankings,” he said. “There are other people we would have liked to reach out to to bring on a broader coalition. We just thought it would be better to get the request out there.”
Chowfla said the letter has already resulted in at least a couple of conversations with media outlets to produce the rankings. He declined to name which organizations have been in contact with him. “We have heard from a couple of ranking organizations to request clarification,” he said. “But I can’t comment on the organizations. They need to speak for themselves.” A tweet yesterday from Amy Hillman, dean of the W. P. Carey School at Arizona State University, thanked The Economist for pushing back the deadline for its ranking surveys this year.
‘A PROFOUND ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF THE INFLUENCE RANKINGS HAVE ON B-SCHOOLS’
The business school community has long had a love/hate relationship with MBA rankings. Schools love them when they do well and despise the lists when they are ranked below expectations.
Abraham also believes that schools, including Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, which have waived standardized test scores in extended application rounds could have an advantage in attracting more applicants than schools that have held firm on their GMAT and GRE admission requirements.
“I wonder if waiving the tests for Round 3 or extended rounds isn’t a very savvy move on Kellogg’s part as well as the other programs that have done so,” she said. “It will allow Kellogg to say we are not calculating R3 test scores into their average test score for admitted students on a class profile page if schools are going to have class profile pages for this entering class.”
The action by the GMAT, AACSB, and EFMD also acknowledges the influence that rankings have over graduate management education. As Abraham noted, it is “a profound acknowledgment of rankings’ influence on applicant decisions as to whether and where to apply to business schools. Let’s face it, schools are wrestling with a new, difficult financial reality, the need to completely change their delivery method for an unknown period of time, health concerns, possible lawsuits, and a myriad of other issues.”
The full text of the letter follows:
This has been an unprecedented few months for our world. As we all continue to navigate the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation, our first thought is for the safety and well-being of our frontline healthcare professionals and everyone who continues to be impacted by these difficult circumstances.
The reach of COVID-19 knows no boundaries:
- Business schools and students are dealing with questions of when and how upcoming classes will begin, as all formats shift online.
- MBA and business master’s graduates, poised to join a historically strong job market with record-high salaries for MBA’s, now find themselves dealing with uncertainty.
- While mobility has become a significant issue over the past few years, the current environment has effectively halted cross-border travel, a reality that will not resolve itself quickly. Accepted students face uncertainty about obtaining visas and getting to campus for the start of their chosen program.
- Governments around the world are grappling with how to manage their respective economies; commerce has come to a halt.Business school deans and administrators have always understood the impact outside forces have on their mission to develop diverse, high-level talent in their classrooms. Traditionally, such forces have included economic fluctuations, trade wars, advances in technology, and political factors.The forces we face today are extraordinary.
As industry leaders representing business schools and candidates, AACSB, EFMD and GMAC understand and appreciate the impact COVID-19 has had and will continue to have on the admissions process, coupled with the economic uncertainty for graduates and potential employers. Given this new normal, we need to work together to mitigate the negative impact of the crisis for schools and students around the world. Therefore, we strongly advocate that all rankings institutions postpone their work and publication on business school rankings, to provide business schools worldwide the opportunity to rebound in these tumultuous circumstances.
The current crisis will have unknown impacts on key metrics that rankings institutions rely on to create their respective products. Graduating students, recent alumni and companies that recruit business school graduates are all dealing with their own challenges—a fact that on its own stands to skew results in a way that calls the viability of rankings surveys into question.
While requesting this exceptional delay, our organizations, in line with perspective also shared by MBA CSEA, are also willing and eager to join you in a conversation that will help our community better understand the short and long-term implications COVID-19 will have on business education. These include increased restriction of student mobility, test center closures, and how corporations will assess
hiring plans and growth in a time of contraction; all key metrics across any set of rankings. At the same time, we are seeing business schools respond to the emergent needs of businesses, local communities, and learners in agile and innovative ways that carry the opportunity for new areas of measurement; also a critical aspect of the rankings discussion. We believe a collaborative dialogue will lead to stronger, more valid outcomes in the end, for all stakeholders.
We need to do everything we can to support business schools in this environment, including their current and prospective students. We thank you for your consideration.
Thomas Robinson, President and CEO, AACSB
Eric Cornuel, President, EFMD
Sangeet Chowfla, President and CEO, GMAC