You know something is amiss when it’s a surprise that The Economist’s ranking of the world’s best MBA programs actually puts the Harvard Business School at the very top. Yet, in today’s 2022 Economist ranking, for the first time in the history of this ranking, HBS is No. 1.
A rankings laggard in recent years, Harvard just can’t seem to beat its peers. Even though the vast majority of MBA applicants would choose Harvard over any other school with the exception of Stanford, HBS has placed fifth in U.S. News and third in the Financial Times‘ rankings this year, third in Businessweek, fourth in Forbes, and fifth in Poets&Quants 2021-2022 composite list.
Even so, the top of this year’s Economist list represents something of a return to normalcy after 15 of the top 25 schools, including all of the super-elite M7 business schools, agreed to come back after a 2021 boycott due to the pandemic. Just behind Harvard this year is Wharton in second place, followed by Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management in third. while Columbia Business School and MIT Sloan School of Management round out the Top Five.
MBA Programs In The U.S. Take Nine Of The Top Ten Slots In The 2020 Economist Ranking
In fact, nine of the Top Ten positions are filled by U.S. MBA programs in this global ranking. That’s a big change from last year when half of the Top Ten schools were outside the U.S. This time, only HEC Paris broke what would have been a U.S. sweep. HEC came in seventh, down four places from its second-place finish last year. IESE in Barcelona, Spain, which topped the ranking last year, failed to finish in the Top Ten, sinking to a rank of 16th.
Otherwise, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business came in sixth, Stanford Graduate School of Business took eighth place, the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business finished ninth, and the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business is tenth.
Put aside the fact that The Economist‘s last ranking was a total aberration. After all, every M7 business school from Harvard and Stanford to Northwestern and Chicago, boycotted the list last year. And so did many of the European G8 schools, from INSEAD and London Business School to Cambridge and Oxford.
So it’s obvious that the return of many of these schools in today’s 2022 Economist ranking has caused a major and often shocking reshuffling. Indeed, the business school deans who rolled the dice to play in this game will be shaking their heads at the newest results. On a year-over-year basis, 57 MBA programs experienced a double-digit decline or gain. That represents a remarkable 80% of the 71 schools that participated in last year’s ranking.
Chicago Booth Falls To Its Lowest Rank Ever In The Economist
Not surprisingly, many of these declines are so steep they are breathtakingly silly. The Indian Institute of Management at Ahmedabad fell an improbably 48 ranking positions to end up 99th, from 48th last year. North Carolina State’s Poole College of Management dropped 42 places, and IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, which can rightly boast of having one of Europe’s leading MBA programs, plunged 32 spots to rank 42nd from 10th in 2021.
On an annual accounting, this ranking is an absolute bloodbath for most schools. All told, nine MBA programs on this year’s ranking fell by 30 or more places, while an incredible 29 dropped 20 or more spots in the ranking. That is a level of volatility unheard of, even in a ranking known for volatile results. That is why it is more appropriate this year to assess a school’s rank against The Economist‘s 2019 list when most schools played ball with the British magazine.
Yet, even a two-year look at changes can surprise. the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Its full-time MBA program ranked first in 2019 and 2018 by The Economist, but this year Booth fell into ninth place. That is an abysmal showing for a school that has historically been a big winner in The Economist rankings, winning top honors for nine years and finishing no lower than a rank of sixth place in 2004 and 2005. The school’s decline is likely related to weaker satisfaction scores from students and alumni. Booth went from first place in delivering the top MBA educational experience in the world–as judged by students and alumni–in 2018 to a rank of 41st on that measure this year. In opening up career opportunities, Booth fell to 43rd from 15th. By The Economist‘s reckoning, Booth is now six ranks below its nearby rival Kellogg School of Management.
No less surprising, Washington University’s Olin Business School in St. Louis, which declined to play last year as well but finished in 41st place in 2019, climbed to its highest rank ever in The Economist: 19th, ahead of UCLA Anderson (20), Cornell Johnson (23), and the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business (24). Olin’s dramatic overhaul of its MBA curriculum, which boasts a major increase in global exposure for its MBA students, clearly played a role in the school’s advance in a global ranking.
The Economist’s MBA Ranking Is The Most Topsy-Turvy Of All The MBA Rankings
These kinds of roller-coaster results are nothing new for this ranking. Of the five most influential lists, The Economist has long been known to have the most topsy-turvy ranking of the best MBA programs. For little justified reason, schools unexplainably climb and fall in roller-coaster fashion year after year. It is these kinds of results, however, that is still keeping many European schools away. INSEAD, London Business School, Cambridge, Oxford, and IE Business School in Spain ostensibly decided not to return to the whims of The Economist‘s list. The last time LBS and INSEAD agreed to cooperate in 2019, The Economist ranked their MBA programs 25th and 22nd, respectively. That put Warwick Business School ahead of London!
Despite the unpredictability of this ranking, some business school deans give The Economist credit for weighing the opinions of students so heavily in it. Some 20% of the ranking is based on qualitative surveys of students who are asked to rate such things as the quality of the faculty, the actual program content, the school’s culture, their classmates, and the alumni network. In another unusual twist, the magazine then puts more or less emphasis on each answer based on the importance students themselves place on different criteria. The Economist doesn’t merely weigh a school’s most recent graduating class. Instead, it gives a 50% weight to the latest student surveys, adding in the results of the previous two questionnaires at a weight of 25% each to smooth out the results.
The remaining 80% of the ranking is based on more conventional measures, including starting salaries, job offers three months after graduation. average class GMAT scores, as well as student and faculty diversity. The single most important component is the starting salaries of MBA graduates, not including sign-on or other bonuses. In judging the quality of incoming students, the magazine also ignores the class average GRE score, even though as many as a third of MBA applicants now apply to MBA programs with a GRE score. When all is said and done, The Economist uses more than 20 different metrics to come up with its ranking.
The pandemic has clearly wreaked havoc with this ranking. The Economist used to release its annual MBA ranking every October. But COVID made it difficult for the magazine to produce any ranking in 2020 until three months later in January of 2021 when The Economist ranked just 90 full-time MBA programs. This new ranking is eight months later than the more typical October publication date.