Another Mind-Boggling MBA Ranking: The Economist’s 2022 List

As odd as it may seem, Harvard Business School won top honors for only the first time in The Economist’s Global MBA Ranking this year

The MBA Program At USC Marshall Slides To A Rank Of 31st From 18th In 2019

Besides the more obvious volatility and sometimes peculiar results of this ranking, there are plenty of stunning surprises up and down the entire list. On a two-year basis, for example, the Cranfield School of Management fell the most, losing 34 places to rank 93rd from 59t in 2019. The University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, which has had remarkable rankings momentum in recent years, fell to 33rd from 18th in 2019, losing 15 ranking spots. UCLA Anderson slid 14 places to rank 20th from sixth in 2019. And again, those big declines are over a two-year period and do not reflect the artificial numerical rankings of 2021 when so many schools failed to participate (see table below on the double-digit decliners).

Another obvious consequence of the return of many U.S. schools this year? Many MBA programs that stayed loyal to The Economist last year saw their ranking gains prove rather ephemeral. The University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, for example, made the Top Ten in 2021, ranking ninth-best in the world, a big improvement from its rank of 20th in 2019. This year, however, the school’s MBA program didn’t even make the Top 25. Instead, it came in 26th, dropping 17 places.

Only two schools bucked this trend. Most notably, the University of Hong Kong’s Business School swam upstream against the strong currents, gaining seven places to rank 43rd from 50th last year, while Mannheim Business School in Germany improved by one spot to a rank of 25th from 26th in 2021.

Still, it’s worth remembering that the year-over-year changes are largely abormal but the two-year outlook represents something of a return to normalcy for many business schools. Italy’s best business school, SDA Bocconi ,is back to normal at No. 13. That’s where it was in 2019 before moonshoting to No. 6 last year. Warwick Business School in the United Kingdom fell from 17th to 28th in the past year, but it was 24th in 2019. Hult International Business School fell from 15th to 37th, yet was 38th in 2019.

How Can Applicants Use This Ranking To Inform Their Choices?

Apart from the often mind-boggling results, how can MBA applicants use this ranking to inform their choices? Some of the most illuminating metrics are the under-the-hood data from the proprietary student satisfaction surveys. Because they are based on thousands of students and alumni, an applicant can gain important insights into what recent classes think of the educational experience they received, the quality of the faculty as measured by students (not research), the new career opportunities that open up due to the MBA, and the perceived effectiveness of the alumni network.

When students were asked to rate their educational experience in an MBA program, IMD came out first, followed by Wharton, No. 3 EMLYON Business School in France, No. 4 the International University of Monaco, and Yale School of Management in fifth place. Keep in mind, however, that according to The Economist, Harvard's MBA educational experience ranks a lowly 81st, a highly questionable result. Wharton, by the way, ranks 71st on this metric, while Wharton and Kellogg came in at 33 and 43, respectively. All of this is hard to believe.

Asked to rate the effectiveness of the alumni network, the number one winner was no surprise at all: Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business. Right behind Tuck was Notre Dame University's Mendoza College of Business, Michigan Ross, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and USC's Marshall School of Business. On this measure, Harvard received the ninth highest scores from its alums, while Wharton was seventh.

And what about alumni opinions of their career service staffs? The University of Florida's Warrington College of Business topped this list, followed by the Indian Institute of Management, UCLA Anderson, Georgia Tech, and the University of Tennessee's Haslam College of Business. Harvard turned up 15th, Wharton seven, and Stanford 26th.

Many Of The Data Points Are Statistically Meaningless

You should also get a laugh from The Economist's ranking of the diversity of recruiters for their MBA students: Wharton ranks #71 and Chicago Booth finished just under 100. Columbia and NYU Stern rank 56 and 82, respectively. Yet, these schools can easily boast having some of the largest number of campus recruiters in the world. Ditto for Harvard Business School, which comes in 27th place on the diversity of its recruiters, even though it has the most extensive list of MBA employers of any business school in the world. In fact, there were more than 160 companies in merely the first three alphabets of A, B and C who hired either a Class of 2021 MBA or a Class of 2022 summer intern from Harvard.

Of course, applicants will have to judge the reasonableness of these rankings themselves. But you can bet the differences among the schools on most of these measures are statistically meaningless and must be discounted--just like the entire Economist ranking--for the different expectations that students bring to each of these schools and the fact that a student or alum is judging his or her own school in a vacuum, without ever having attended any other MBA program. Never mind, that students and alumni are filling out these surveys knowing that their answers will result in a ranking for their schools so they may very well be less than totally honest in their assessments.

The bottom line? This ranking may have more entertainment value than credibility. So it may be a starting point for a fun discussion or bragging rights for students and alumni whose schools fared well. So treat it with a very big grain of salt.

(See the following pages for the full 2022 Economist MBA Ranking)

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.