BEHIND THE RISE OF UT-DALLAS
Lisa Shatz, the assistant dean and director of MBA programs at the University of Texas-Dallas, says the school benefits from many of the rankings on the market because their students do well in the methodological categories. “Our students are so smart and have high GMAT scores and high GPAs,” she says. The GMAT class average last year was 675, while the average grade point average was 3.4.
Besides that, Shatz says the school has done at least two things recently that she thinks could be the reasons beyond the big leap in rankings. First, UT Dallas was “wise in predicting students would want a smorgasbord of skills to pick from.” Because of the school’s size, Shatz says, they were able to create a “system” of specialized masters degrees, certificate programs, electives, and boot camps for specific technical skills. “In addition to the MBA, our students have a lot of those technical skills in things like analytics and that kind of stuff that makes them more marketable,” she says.
Secondly, Shatz says, those skills have helped with salaries as the graduates have been increasingly attractive to employers. “And we are disadvantaged by salaries. We live in one of the lowest-cost urban places in the country and the rankings don’t adjust for that,” Shatz points out. In 2019, the latest year for which figures are available, the average starting salary was $102,214, with foreign nationals landing higher starting pay than U.S. graduates, $105,667 versus $100,488, respectively. The average sign-on bonus last year, reported by 59% of the class, was $22,500. Foreign nationals did significantly better than U.S. graduates here as well, landing average signing bonuses of $33,571 versus $13,889 for domestic MBAs.
By enrolling a small class of just 50 full-time MBA students, the school has greater control over some of the ranking metrics. Out of last year’s student cohort, 62% submitted a GRE score instead of a GMAT.
Being based in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area comes with its perks. The area has grown, as has demand for UT Dallas’s MBAs, Shatz says. “At the end of the day, MBA students want visibility, they want employers, they want experiences. And all those things are right here. Within 20 minutes, we can pull executives from 20 different Fortune 500 companies.”
Shatz says the school has focused on awareness in the community and with employers, which has included getting alumni into some of the key companies in the area. “Early on, I think we were a bit of a hidden gem and now I think the secret is out,” she says.
PITTSBURGH HAS BEEN ‘CENTRAL TO ALL FORMS OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT FOR GENERATIONS’
Like UT-Dallas, Pittsburgh’s Katz School also boasts a small incoming cohort of full-time MBAs, just 62 students last fall. Sara B. Moeller, the associate dean of graduate programs, says increases in average salary among its graduates have helped its ranking gains. “We have been fortunate in that the quality, enthusiasm, and energy of our students coupled with an emphasis on staff, faculty, alumni, and community partners mentoring students, broadening their career horizons, has resulted in great employment opportunities,” Moeller says. The average starting salary of an MBA grad from Katz last year was $92,212, with an average sign-on bonus of $15,581.
Plus, Moeller adds, a continual evolution of new experience-based learning programs and new courses and programs has allowed the school to keep students prepped for an ever-changing market place and the ability to stay agile — something increasingly attractive to employers.
Akin to UT Dallas and the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, Moeller says being located in Pittsburgh has been an advantage. “If you think about it, Pittsburgh has been central to all forms of economic development for generations,” Moeller explains. “We were the frontier to American commerce — a jumping-off point to the Mississippi. George Washington got his start here. Pittsburgh was central to the Industrial Revolution with the Carnegies, Fricks, and Mellons. Now we’re in the Fourth Industrial Revolution — one in which technology is enmeshing the physical, biological, and digital realms. Pittsburgh is at the center of this with health science, health technology, robotics, autonomous vehicles, and energy.”
GEORGIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, WITH AN EMPHASIS ON THE ‘TECHNOLOGY’
Georgia Tech’s Senior Associate Dean of Programs, Jonathan Clarke says the school’s rise can be attributed to at least three main factors. The school’s intersection of business and technology is one. “The nature of work has evolved in drastic ways over the last 10 years, driven by digital disruption, global crises, accelerated connectivity, and increased competition,” Clarke says. “Our MBA grads are equipped with all the right skills to thrive in this type of environment, having focused their curriculum and experiential learning in fields like digital transformation, tech innovations, business analytics, sustainability, and more.”
Like UT Dallas and Pittsburgh Katz, Clarke says employers have also taken notice of Schelle’rs grads. Over the past decade or so, Scheller’s reputation has grown from outside of the Southeastern U.S. region. “Some of the world’s most innovative employers, especially those located outside of the southeast, are very interested in Scheller because they know our grads have what it takes to succeed in a changing, digital-first world,” he says, noting graduates have increasingly been entering tech, consulting, supply chain, and finance fields. “Our students receive extensive coaching and hands-on career services starting before they even begin the program,” Clark points out.
Lastly, Clarke says the school has worked to increase the quality and diversity of its student body. “We’ve established strategic partnerships with organizations like Forté, MLT, ROMBA, and TransitionVets to increase our reach to special target audiences, and we’ve seen great success from this,” he says, noting the school has also been able to increase its global reach.
SCHOOLS TAKING THE BIGGEST RANKINGS HITS IN THE FIRST ROUND
Of course, many schools have also taken big drops in the rankings over the past 10 years. Taking out the schools that have totally ditched their full-time MBA programs such as Wake Forest, the University of Illinois, the University of Iowa, and others, Temple University’s Fox School of Business’s Global MBA in Philadelphia has dropped the most, from 68th in 2010 to totally out of the rankings in 2019. American Kogod’s full-time MBA program has also dropped from 77th to out of the rankings.
But perhaps the most prominent school to drop from a top-30 spot is Texas A&M’s Mays School of Business, which has dropped 16 spots from 29th in 2010 to 45th last year.
RANKINGS A NECESSARY EVIL? OR ON THE OUTS?
It’s no secret schools don’t exactly enjoy the rankings process.
“There is definitely no doubt that schools have a love-hate relationship with rankings,” says Shatz from UT Dallas. “They’re a lot of work. They keep us busy.”
Shatz calls rankings a good “starting point” for applicants but can get dangerous when students don’t do their own research into schools during the application process because so much data is already published in the rankings.
“Rankings are important only to the extent to which they measure a business school’s ability to improve outcomes for students,” Scheller’s Clarke says. “While rankings can measure some aspects of a program, they can’t capture everything.”
Clarke envisions a world in which prospective students and employers seek quantitative data sets “that haven’t been editorialized or organized into rankings.”
“They can then draw their own set of conclusions based on examining the factors of greatest importance to them,” he says.
Moeller takes a similar stance to Shatz. “Rankings provide a credible signal to help students narrow down a wide field of prospective schools,” she says. “However, rankings only tell a part of the story. Every student should focus on what is important to them, use rankings that reflect their preferences to narrow the field then pick a school that fits their goals.”
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