Add another recent ranking of the top 50 online MBA programs to the overflowing pile of rankings garbage on the Internet.
Academic Influence created rankings of universities and specific programs based on the “influence” score of their professors and alumni. (More on the methodology soon.) It’s basically the Tik Tok influencer version of academic rankings and a disservice to people trying to make informed college decisions.
It’s not that we disagree with the outcomes — the leading online MBA program is the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, which has topped our own online MBA ranking. It’s the means by which USC Marshall makes it to the top that we take umbrage with.
A CONVOLUTED METHODOLOGY
The issue? We can’t tell precisely how Academic Influence — which describes itself as “a team of academics and data scientists working to provide an objective, non-gameable influence-based ranking for the people, schools, and disciplinary programs that make up higher education” — site ranked the schools.
“Most ranking sites rely on an opaque combination of reputation surveys and arbitrary performance metrics,” Academic Influence reports. It then goes on to link to a convoluted methodology page with no clear explanation of how the actual rankings are compiled, much less the hard data used to build the rankings.
At its base, Academic Influence attempts to rank schools based on the ideas produced at universities and the people — alumni and professors — that promote those ideas. The methodology’s premise is that too much data surrounding schools exist, convoluting how people decipher the rankings, and making it easier for schools to “game” the rankings by manipulating reported data.
“This is why InfluenceRanking consults the largest repositories of open source data on the Web and entrusts their analysis to machine-learning technology developed with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA),” the rankings methodology states, seemingly contradicting its own premise of including too much data. “These databases contain billions of continuously updated data points, which by their nature resist biased manipulation and by their scope contain built-in protections against wholesale gaming.”
HOW IT WORKS — SORT OF
Artificial intelligence is then used to “aggregate scholarly and academic citations from databases such as Wikipedia and Crossref, evaluate links and other semantic information contained in these databases, and weigh their merits against other information sources such as periodicals, journals, and global media outlets.” Then, the machine learning engine looks deeper to “identify people and institutions, locating mentions of them across the Web in 15 different languages, associate those mentions with records of achievement in specific fields of study, map the people that make up an institution, keeping track of independent work done by those people as well as their affiliations with other institutions, and aggregate the influential output of people at an institition, thereby gauging the institution’s influence by disciplinary programs and overall.”
After all of that, Academic Influence never says exactly how the data is used within the ranking. Logic would point to the school with the best influencer score topping the list. Nope. Topping the overall university ranking is California Institute of Technology, which had an overall influencer rank of No. 30 and an “overall school desirability” rank of No. 9. Harvard University, which had an influencer rank of No. 1 and school desirability rank of No. 2 somehow ended up second behind Cal Tech.
WHERE’S CARNEGIE MELLON, INDIANA, AND THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON? REPLACED WITH KETTERING UNIVERSITY, ROOSEVELT UNIVERSITY, AND CAL STATE-FRESNO
Back to Academic Influence’s online MBA-specific ranking: Following USC is Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School — but again, we’re not really sure how, considering Johns Hopkins had both a higher influencer and desirability score. The University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School, Syracuse University’s Whitman School, and the University of Cincinnati’s Lindner School rounded out the top five, respectively.
But then, not surprisingly, things get even weirder.
Texas A&M University comes in seventh. Except Texas A&M doesn’t have a true OMBA program. The University of Georgia, which also doesn’t have an OMBA program comes in eighth. The University of Arkansas (14th in the ranking) also doesn’t have a truly OMBA program (its Executive MBA program requires monthly visits to campus).
But wait, the oddness continues. You won’t find widely considered top schools like Carnegie Mellon University, Indiana University, George Washington University, Lehigh University, Villanova University, or the University of Washington. But you will find Kettering University, Manhattan College, Roosevelt University, and California State University at Fresno.
Be skeptical of all academic rankings — even ours. But this one? Probably not worth your time.