2021 was a historic year for MBA rankings — just not in the way you’d expect.
It started with opt-outs. In January, The Economist endured a full-on boycott of its ranking, with nearly two dozen top programs declining to participate — including every M7 program plus INSEAD and the London Business School. The Financial Times fared a little better, missing the star power of Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton (not to mention MIT Sloan and Berkeley Haas). Apparently, COVID had disrupted inputs and outputs beyond their normal bounds — at least that’s what schools wanted you to believe.
Bloomberg Businessweek was the first to adopt this posture. After canceling the 2020 ranking, the magazine’s editors spent an extra year tinkering with their model. Sure enough, when the new list came out, the ranking couldn’t be replicated, casting doubt on the results. Fortune’s foray turned into much ado about nothing, while Forbes couldn’t even produce a ranking in 2021 — despite it being a biennual affair. And who knew that misreporting rankings data could land a dean in a federal court?
Yes, rankings matter to business schools. After all, business is a numbers-driven game, whether you’re focused on profit margins, the balance between debt and equity, or sales quotas. Rankings mean prestige — bragging rights for alumni and administrators alike. Rankings draw money and publicity — and higher-caliber students and faculty, too. Pet projects get funded and employers flock to campus. In other words, like it or not, rankings validate the most valuable of currencies to business schools: the benefit of the doubt.
Yes, rankings get a bad rap. They are subjective and sometimes lack transparency; you don’t always know what questions were asked and how they were phrased. Sometimes, they place too much weight on inputs like GMAT scores and selectivity and outputs such as starting pay and placement. Often, this happens at the expense of the quality of teaching and support that is more difficult to quantify. Here’s the kicker: what rankings measure reflects a certain value system, one that penalizes programs whose priorities deviate from what is measured. Business school rankings can be self-reinforcing, lagging indicators of progress. At the same time, their complex methodologies can produce indexes where small differences in school scores yield wide statistically meaningless spans in numerical rankings.
In the end, however, they also enforce accountability. They act as a check against complacency, a constant motivator to schools that they — like businesses — cannot rest on reputation and laurels. Instead, they must compete, expand, and serve. For students, they are a starting point: a means to compare and a public check against deception.
Wondering where your favorite schools rank? Here are 68 stories from 2021 that help you understand which programs are surging…and why.
Editor’s Note: Be sure to look out for P&Q’s annual MBA ranking, which will be unveiled next week.
U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT
POETS & QUANTS RANKINGS (2020)
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