After a one-year pandemic pause, Bloomberg Businessweek today (Sept. 15) unveiled its newest ranking of the best MBA programs. The biggest surprise is that the four business schools ranked from one to four two years ago are exactly the same this year, with Stanford Graduate School of Business taking top honors, Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business in second place, followed by No. 3 Harvard Business School, and No. 4 University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.
But the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School plummeted three spots to rank ninth, its worst showing ever since Businessweek began ranking MBA programs in 1988. Wharton, which has won top honors in the BW ranking four times, had never ranked any lower than sixth in the past. Only three years ago, in 2018, Wharton’s MBA program placed second behind only Stanford. But it slipped four places in 2019 to rank sixth, and this year, the school’s full-time MBA actually shares ninth place with the University of Virgina’s Darden School of Business.
And four schools tumbled out of the Top 25 altogether, including the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, which plunged 15 places to rank 33rd from 18th last time, and the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, which plunged 14 spots to rank 30th from 16th (see Ten Biggest Surprises In Bloomberg Businessweek’s 2021 MBA Ranking).
There were other surprises as well: Howard University’s MBA program jumped 22 places to rank 23rd, its highest ranking ever. Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management declined nine spots from the last Businessweek ranking to 20th; Rice University’s Jones School Graduate School of Business rose nine places to 22nd; and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management advanced five places to rank fifth.
Instead of creating one global list of the best MBA programs, which is the approach taken by the Financial Times and The Economist, Businessweek chose to rank schools outside the U.S. by one of three regions: Europe, Canada, and Asia-Pacific. IMD in Switzerland leads the European schools, followed by IESE Business School in Barcelona, SDA Bocconi in Milan, INSEAD, and London Business School. In Canada, Queen’s University wins top honors, with HEC Montreal in second place. Only five Canadian schools are listed, however, and both Toronto Rotman and the University of Western Ontario’s Ivy Business School aren’t included.
Finally in Asia-Pacific, the number one MBA program according to Businessweek is CEIBs in Shanghai, followed by Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, and the National University of Singapore. Two Indian business schools make this regional list: The Indian School of Business, ranked fifth, and the Indian Institute of Management at Bangalore, placing sixth.
A CHANGE IN THE RANKING PUTS SOME EMPHASIS ON DIVERSITY
Behind some of these big swings in the new list is a change in the way the magazine ranks MBA programs. This year, for the first time ever, it added a fifth set of metrics on diversity. “The context within which we launch the Diversity Index is the historic national reckoning on race that was triggered by the killing of George Floyd,” according to Businessweek. “Our mission in rolling it out is to assess and rank B-Schools based on the degree to which they are addressing the institutional racism and discrimination that have excluded certain minority groups and women from U.S. MBA programs.”
The diversity evaluation, which is weighted 8.6%, rewards schools for recruiting both minority students and women, with additional weight given to underrepresented minorities. It is a major reason why Howard, ranked third in diversity behind North Carolina State and George Washington University, zoomed into the Top 25 for the first time ever. It’s worth noting that the highest-ranked schools on diversity have the lowest number of students. N.C. State has all of 77 full-time MBAs; Florida International has 49, and George Washington 112. That makes them vulnerable to fluctuations which Businessweek freely admits in its methodology. That gives smaller schools a big advantage — and one they could exploit to keep rankings high.
The other four existing indexes remain the same, though their weights have changed with the addition of the diversity measure: compensation (35.7%), learning (25.8%), networking (17.8%), and entrepreneurship (12.0%).
A BIZARRE OUTCOME FOR WHARTON
Businessweek's methodology savaged Wharton. The school's MBA program placed 78th in learning, behind even Hult International Business School which was 17th; Wharton placed 34th in entrepreneurship, 24th in diversity behind Stanford which was ranked 16th and Harvard 17th on that new measure. The school even ranked below its peers on compensation, mustering an eighth place finish behind Stanford, Tuck, Harvard, Booth, Kellogg, MIT, and Columbia.
As is often the case, many schools experienced a dizzying roller-coaster-like ride from the ranking. Some 36% of the 84 U.S. schools that are ranked had double-digit improvements or declines. William & Mary's MBA program fell by 24 places to rank 58th from 34th; American University's Kogod School of Business soared 22 spots to improve its standing to 70th from 92nd. The full-time MBA programs at Miami University and Rutgers Business School did even better, jumping 26 and 25 places, respectively, to rank 46th and 37th.
How to account for the fall of Wharton that is most often spoken of as part of the magical H/S/W triumvirate of the three best business schools in the world? Don't take it all that seriously. The worst score, on so-called learning, attempts to measure "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," explains the editors. It is hard to imagine that Wharton could ever possibly rank 78th if those metrics were accurately captured by the methodology. This is truly a bizarre outcome that becomes far more apparent when you dig into the scores of schools on each of the five indexes.
BUSINESSWEEK RANKS THE LEARNING EXPERIENCE AT MISSISSIPPI BETTER THAN COLUMBIA, MICHIGAN, BERKELEY & MIT
It is more an indication of the frustration that surfaced at Wharton over how the school's leadership initially handled the pandemic rather than a true reflection of the things that Businessweek attempts to measure (see At Wharton, 8 Devastating PowerPoint Slides That Capture MBA Anger & Frustration).
Frankly, the results from student and alumni surveys suggest so much cheerleading from respondents as to leave the ranking without credibility. Does anyone believe that the MBA program at the University of Texas in Dallas delivers the best learning experience? Or that Baylor is second on this important metric and Southern Methodist is third? Businessweek does because the magazine ranks those three schools as the best in delivering a world class learning experience.
Yet, ponder this fact. There are 21 schools ranked higher than Chicago Booth on Businessweek's learning index, and 24 better than Kellogg in this category. Mississippi is better than Columbia, Michigan (40), Berkeley (50), UCLA (53), Cornell (55), and (wait for it) MIT Sloan at 64)? And that doesn't even factor in Harvard Business School at #37. Sure.
KELLOGG STILL LEADS WITH FIRST PLACE FINISHES SINCE 1988
Businessweek says it surveyed 6,640 students, 12,462 alumni, and 853 employers for its ranking. It did not disclose a response rate on those surveys, though the magazine reveals that it got answers from 14,536 students and alumni to a basic, open-ended question: "What is the best thing about your MBA program?" All told, the magazine ranked 119 business schools around the world, 84 of them in the U.S., down from 94 two years ago. Some highly prominent and excellent MBA programs are missing, most notably Washington University's Olin Business School which placed 38th when BW last ranked MBA programs.
This is the 20th Businessweek MBA ranking, which had been published every other year since its debut in 1988 until the editors moved the list to an annual publication schedule in 2014. Over that time, Kellogg landed in first place five times, Wharton and Chicago Booth four times each, Harvard and Stanford three times each, and Duke once. Over the years, the methodology of ranking MBA programs has changed substantially, resulting in lots of ups and downs for the participating schools.