Ten Biggest Surprises In U.S. News 2022 MBA Ranking

What goes up must come down? That’s the story at USC Marshall this year

5) USC Marshall’s Momentum Stalls

You could compare the hiring of Geoffrey Garrett to a major coaching hire. When USC Marshall poached Garrett from the Wharton School in 2019, he was expected to put the business school over the top. After all, Garrett’s track record revealed a proven winner: new building projects, high rankings, and strong fund-raising — a school with a sterling reputation, deep resources, and excellence in faculty and across the board. 

You could say Garrett was the academic equivalent to USC Coach Lincoln Riley…just without a 13,000 square foot Palos Verdes mansion overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

So why did the school’s MBA program skid to 19th from 16th last year? Sometimes, For USC Marshall, the new U.S. News ranking could serve as a wake-up call, if not a reminder of how far they still need to go. A three-place drop is not a particularly damning slide, but it does undercut the prevailing view that Marshall is an ‘it’ school clearly on the rise.

Over the past three years, though, you can’t say that Garrett has disappointed.  Just a year ago, the program had boosted their full-time MBA applications by a whopping 66.4%. The school became STEM-certified and a revamped, data-driven curriculum was rolled out. MBA pay increased too, as the program inched up four spots in the all-important U.S. News ranking. That doesn’t count a $20 million dollar gift to start a global supply chain institute. Beyond the full-time program, Marshall built the #1 online MBA program and the #3 undergraduate business school. 

That’s what you call a return on investment! 

Location, resources, alumni — those are three reasons why USC Marshall is expected to eventually rank among the 10-best MBA programs. You’ll find nearly every imaginable industry in job-rich Los Angeles…not to mention a thriving tech and startup ecosystem in Silicon Beach. Beyond the promises of Tinsel Town, Marshall boasts the Trojan Network — they prefer “Trojan Family” — a group of 93,000 alumni hell-bent on providing jobs and opportunities to their younger Marshall brothers and sisters. With leadership racking up successes at Marshall, you have energy and optimism — a sense of purpose and  possibilities…and confidence that your momentum will ultimately take you to the promised land. 

Then again, maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves. 

What happened to USC’s ranking? One culprit is starting pay, which accounts for a 14% weight in U.S. News. Fact is, USC Marshall lost ground, with earnings dropping from $156,581 to $151,964 in a measure where only two Top 20 programs saw graduates earning less than the year before. Besides that outcome, USC Marshall performed well, led by a nine point jump in average GMAT scores. Three-month placement rose by 3.2%, while its acceptance rate dipped by 1.3%. In a year where recruiters scored many rival schools lower in their survey, USC Marshall actually gained .1 of a point with this group.

So let’s not write off the Marshall revival just yet. After all, Coach Sean McVay won a Super Bowl for the hometown Rams this year after getting shredded by the Packers in 2020 (and missing the playoffs altogether the year before). Marshall’s day will come. If anything, the Trojan Family will make it happen, says first-year Ian Hause. 

“I have many family members who have attended other prestigious MBA programs across the country, and even they will admit that the Marshall Family is unique in its love for students and alumni. In 20 years, people won’t remember your grades, summer internship, or first post-MBA job. They will remember Marshall Family. I spoke to an alumnus recently about the Marshall Family and she described it in 3 simple sentences: “We will always take the call. We will always pay it forward. We will always Fight On!” These people love USC and love the Marshall MBA students. We couldn’t ask for a better alumni environment.”   

Employers register their opinions on the best schools in U.S. News’ recruiter surveys

6) Academics and Employers Get Their Say

Let’s get this out in the open. Most academics despise U.S. News’ Peer Assessment. It’s not that asking business school deans and directors about rival programs don’t offer any value.  They are certainly qualified to gauge industry reputation But giving their scores a 25% weight? That stretches credibility.

After all, their insights come second-hand. Most respondents haven’t worked at the institutions they are scoring. They aren’t well-versed in the intricacies of a rival’s curriculum, resources, activities, students, and philosophy. Despite occasional correspondence or site visits, most survey takers aren’t current on peer programs’ new initiatives — let alone the ongoing results and gaps inherent to their ongoing operations. At the same time, any feedback these deans and directors get may be riddled with the biases of the other party. It’s common knowledge that many of the administrators who fill out this survey simply take out the year-earlier results in U.S. News and then fill in the blanks. Bottom line: their scores really don’t measure the true learning that takes place at other schools. At best, they are lagging indicators — ones that provide a built-in advantage to ‘name’ schools. 

Compare that to the Recruiter Survey, which taps into an audience that is quite familiar with a school’s output. Let’s face it: Employers are technically consumers. They hire graduates from schools, believing they possess the right skills and mindsets to excel at their companies. Over time, they can recognize patterns on which programs best deliver on their promises. For that, U.S. News awards them a 15% weight — a full 10 points below a sample that is far removed from the real action. 

Talk about a tale of two segments — and what their opinions really mean. Not surprisingly, the brand name schools collected the highest marks on U.S. News’ 1-5 scale. That starts with the Harvard-Stanford-Wharton triumvirate, which each scored 4.8. The hierarchy is further sealed at 4.7 (Chicago Booth and MIT Sloan), 4.6 (Northwestern Kellogg and Berkeley Haas), and 4.5 (Yale SOM and Columbia Business School). In other words, every school that made the Top 10 also notched one of the 10-highest scores in Peer Assessment. 

Suspicious? You bet’cha!

The correlation between Peer Assessment scores and overall ranking aligns closely for most of the schools on the list. Texas-Dallas Jindal acts as an outlier, ranking 29th overall but just 43rd in Peer Assessment. The same holds true for Rochester Simon, which finished 33rd overall despite a 3.3 average that was also good for 42rd. In contrast, three state schools — Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Maryland — had Peer Assessment scores that were 10-15 spots better than their overall ranking. 

Recruiters followed a similar pattern, though certain outliers are guaranteed to raise eyebrows. While Jindal didn’t enthuse academics, recruiters gave them a 4.1 score — higher than NYU Stern and Virginia Darden. In turn, Buffalo-SUNY and the Stevens Institute of Technology averaged a 3.9, which beat out Texas McCombs, USC Marshall, and Georgetown McDonough. 

One interesting tidbit: Recruiters scored business schools lower than academics. Among the Top 20, this was true in 17 cases, with the remaining three programs (Carnegie Mellon Tepper, North Carolina Kenan-Flagler, and Dartmouth Tuck) producing the same average between academics and recruiters. The biggest difference in opinion involved Jindal (4.1 Recruiter and 3.3 Peer), with Texas A&M Mays and UC-Irvine Merage also earning higher scores from the more demanding recruiter segment. 

Maybe the biggest surprise: Recruiters aren’t all that impressed with the top names. For example, Wharton and Harvard both drew a 4.5 from recruiters compared to 4.8 in the Peer Assessment. And you’ll see that same three point gap with MIT Sloan, Berkeley Haas, Yale SOM, Columbia Business School, Michigan Ross, NYU Stern, Cornell Johnson, and UCLA Anderson. 

Clearly, one segment’s scores are off at the top end of the ranking. Maybe U.S. News should add a student survey as a tie-breaker. 

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