Ten Biggest Surprises In Businessweek’s 2021 MBA Ranking

2) What Exactly Is “Learning?”

Lest you think we put much stock into the “learning” component of Businessweek‘s ranking, think again. Learning accounts for a 25.8% weight in the American ranking. And it’s 25.3% for Europe, Asia, and Canada. That’s quite a chunk! Problem is, the exact nature of “Learning” has confounded academics since Socrates began posing questions in the Agora. Naturally, this nebulous term would create confusion in business school rankings too.

Here’s how Bloomberg Businessweek defines Learning:

“For the schools’ core mission, we explore 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.”

Um…what? 

That may sound all-encompassing on a doctoral thesis, but how does Bloomberg Businessweek do it in practice? That’s the rub. A major downside of the Bloomberg Businessweek ranking is transparency…or its lack thereof. What questions were asked to students, alumni, and recruiters on Learning — and what phrasing was even used? We don’t know, so we have to take Bloomberg Businessweek’s word without access to the underlying data. 

Based on the results, the “Trust us” argument just doesn’t fly.

Let’s start with the Texas trio: Texas-Dallas Jindal, Baylor Hankamer, and SMU Cox. Everything is bigger in Texas and that apparently includes the Learning. These programs produced the three highest index scores in Learning, with Jindal boasting a perfect index score. The Economist offers similar Learning scores in Faculty Quality and Educational Experience. The problem: None of these schools are even ranked among the 100-best MBA programs by The Economist. 

Yes, there are plenty of outliers that defy conventional wisdom in the Learning category. That’s a positive — they can tip off students to investments in programming and commitments to faculty quality that might not ping other instruments. In Businessweek’s Learning category, you’ll find underrated gems like Emory Goizueta, Pittsburgh Katz, and Rice Jones ranking among the 10-best when survey data is collated. Such results are likely to drive the best possible outcome from a ranking: They require applicants to slow down, step back, and take a second look at programs they may have overlooked.

Beyond these schools, the Learning category reflects the worst of rankings: They encourage their audience to scratch their heads and wonder if the results are really credible.  

Case in point: Is Virginia Darden — universally lauded for its elite teaching faculty — really just the 13th-best program for Learning? That same goes for Yale SOM, ranked 14th despite similar plaudits. Are there really 21 business schools — including Tampa Sykes and Hult — with better learning environments than Chicago Booth? How can Carnegie Mellon Tepper, which shares Booth’s affinity for gifted faculty and data-driven decision-making, rank just 27th?

However, the ranking falls apart with the University of Mississippi, which doesn’t rank among the 100-best in The Financial Times or The Economist (and 90th among American programs according to U.S. News). Despite this, Mississippi posted a higher Learning index score than Columbia Business School, Michigan Ross, Berkeley Haas, UCLA Anderson, Cornell Johnson, and (wait for it) MIT Sloan — which could only muster the 64th spot. 

Does Bloomberg Businessweek know something the rest of the industry doesn’t? 

Oh, one more item: Harvard Business School ranked just 37th in Learning. 

Call P&Q traditionalist (at best) or elitist (at worst), but something feels amiss here. With deviations this sharp, maybe Bloomberg Businessweek should cut their losses and start over here. 

Columbia Business School will open a new campus in January of 2022

3) Kellogg and Columbia Solidify Their M7 Spots

They are the legendary M7: Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Chicago Booth, MIT Sloan, Northwestern Kellogg, and Columbia. Esteemed and elite, these “magnificent” household names immediately lend credibility to their graduates. There is a certain mystique surrounding the M7. They sport the deep-pocketed alumni, eye-popping budgets, and lavish endowments that are the envy of their peers. 

Still, Kellogg and Columbia are sometimes afterthoughts on the M7, the candidates most likely to get the boot when Yale SOM lives up to its potential or Darden finally receives its due. This year, Bloomberg Businessweek shipped Wharton into exile. The beneficiaries, of course, became Kellogg and Columbia, which climbed to 5th and 6th respectively. 

No longer an outsider, Kellogg surged from 10th to 5th. CBS followed suit with a three-point bounce to 6th. All the while, MIT Sloan tumbled to 8th while Dartmouth Tuck continued to squat on M7 real estate at 2nd. 

Just five years ago, Bloomberg Businessweek pegged Kellogg and Columbia at 9th and 11th respectively. What’s behind the improvement? It’s easy to pinpoint at Kellogg. Since the last ranking — which came out in 2019 — Kellogg creeped up 3 spots to 5th. At a micro level, over that period, starting consulting pay at Kellogg increased from $147K to $165K. Kellogg grads enjoyed similar bumps in Finances ($125K to $150K), Technology ($130K to $135K), and even Healthcare ($122K to $130K). The school also inched up when it came to Networking (3rd to 2nd) and Learning (26th to 25th). Even more, the school vaulted from 45th to 23rd in Entrepreneurship. In other words, Kellogg improved across the board according to survey takers and school data. 

Columbia Business School’s improvement is rooted more in rope-a-dope. The school didn’t improve in most categories, which means the schools around them lost ground. CBS fell from 6th to 7th in Compensation (despite producing starting pay increases similar to Kellogg).  The school also fell back (ever so slightly) in Learning (31st to 32nd) and Networking (7th to 9th), while adding a spot in Entrepreneurship (20th to 19th).

Can Kellogg and Columbia hold their places next year? Looking at index scores, Kellogg was edged out by cross-town rival Booth by just .2 of a point. By the same token, CBS is a comfortable .9 of a point ahead of Wharton (and .9 of a point behind MIT Sloan). Either way, Kellogg and Columbia’s rightful M7 spots are reinforced with this latest ranking from Bloomberg Businessweek. Let’s see if they can build on their progress.

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