For the very first time in a quarter of a century of rankings, Columbia Business School has captured first place in the Financial Times Global MBA ranking. But the biggest bombshell in the new 2023 ranking is the complete disappearance of The Wharton School, which claimed top honors last year. It’s the most glaring of many surprises on FT ranking which is celebrating its 25th iteration since launching in 1999.
The Financial Times tossed Wharton out of its ranking after it failed to reach the minimum threshold of responses to its alumni survey. While other MBA programs have suffered a similar fate over the years, that has never happened to as prominent an MBA program as Wharton, particularly because the FT‘s survey requirement is a low bar to overcome for a school with ample resources to track and keep in touch with its alums. Wharton’s absence is an embarrassment for both the school and the Financial Times, particularly for a school that has won more No. 1 places on the FT lists than any other business school (see below table). Wharton’s MBA program has topped this list 11 out of the 25 times it has been published. Wharton’s inability to generate enough responses is a sign of the lingering resentment and anger among alumni who believe the school poorly managed the pandemic.
Yet, there are plenty of other surprises on the list. Only four of the M7 business schools made the Top Ten: Columbia in first, Stanford and Harvard tied in fourth place, while Northwestern Kellogg took ninth. INSEAD lands in second, while IESE Business School in Spain takes third place just ahead of both HBS and the GSB. Italy’s SDA Bocconi, UC-Berkeley Haas and Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Business all make notable jumps into the Top Ten.
THE FINANCIAL TIMES 2023 MBA RANKING CONTAINS MANY SURPRISES
Bocconi moved into sixth place, up seven places from its year-earlier 13th place finish. UC-Berkeley cruised into seventh place, climbing seven spots as well from 14th a year ago. Cornell’s MBA ranking at eighth best in the world is even more dramatic. The school soared nine places from a rank of 17 last year. It is the first time Cornell’s MBA program has made the Financial Times‘ Top Ten. Rounding out this year’s elite group is Northwestern Kellogg in ninth and the Yale School of Management in tenth place.
London Business School, which has won top FT honors on three occasions, plunged eight places to rank 16th. HEC Paris, one of Europe’s finest business schools, fell eight spots to 17th in a tie with the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.
Some of this year-over-year movement may have been caused by significant changes in the Financial Times‘ methodology, the most dramatic in recent memory. The British newspaper lessened the weight it gives to salaries and added a new metric that purports to measure the carbon footprint of a business school. What a school’s carbon footprint has to do with a quality MBA experience is anyone’s guess, but the FT deems it more important than 12 of the 21 metrics counted in this ranking. The 4% weight given to carbon is now greater than the importance given to gender parity, diversity, female faculty, and even international course experience. No less crucial, the FT either altered the weights or subtracted or added new metrics in more than two-thirds of the 21 measurements that go into the ranking.
THIS FINANCIAL TIMES MBA RANKING IS AMONG THE MOST VOLATILE EVER
As MBA rankings go, the 2023 list is among the most volatile ever. Some 17 MBA programs ranked this year were not on last year’s list. Some 30 business schools experiened double-digit swings year-over-year, accounting for 36% of the returning schools. The biggest declines were experienced by Babson College, which fell by 30 places to rank 95th from 65th in 2022, and Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, which dropped 26 spots ro rank 49th from 23rd, its weakest showing in this ranking since 2009 when Carnegie’s MBA program was 51st.
On the plus side, the biggest advances were made by the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business and Queen’s University Smith School of Business in Canada. MBA programs at both schools skyrocketed upward by 28 places, with Maryland ranking 57th from 85th and Queen’s moving up to 71st from 99th. Maryland is no stranger to the roller coaster ride of rankings. In the past six years alone, its MBA program has been ranked 57th, 85th, 52nd, 73rd, 72nd, and 55th by the FT, even though little if anything has changed with its MBA experience.
Among other highlights, more Indian Institutes of Management appeared on the list than ever before: Five of them in all in Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Calcutta, Indore, and Lucknow (see How The Best Business Schools In India Rank). Add in the Indian School of Business, the highest ranked MBA program in India, and the country now has six programs in the Top 100. IE Business School in Madrid also gained its highest rank at 22nd, up 18th from 40th last year, since the Financial Times took the school’s MBA program off its ranking in 2018.
WHY COLUMBIA BUSINESS SCHOOL IS NO. 1
Columbia’s emergence at No. 1 comes in the immediate aftermath of the opening of a new modern campus in Manhattanville along with a new emphasis in the curriculum on climate change. At a cost of $600 million, Columbia can now lay claim to having the most expensive business school campus ever built. The new facilities have put Columbia at the forefront of business education. The impressive layer-cake buildings, outfitted with the latest technology, opened early last year and have dramatically increased the amount of interaction between students and the faculty.
The new focus on climate change is successfully attracting prospective students. “The world is burning, the solutions are time-bound, and we need a new generation of leaders prepared to tackle this generational crisis,” says Chris Scanzoni, a former Naval Officier who arrived at CBS last fall as a first-year MBA. “Columbia University – home to the Columbia Climate School, Center on Global Energy Policy, and the Earth Institute – is cultivating a world-leading community of climate-minded scholars, researchers, and decision-makers. Accordingly, CBS is pivoting to integrate principles of sustainable enterprise into all aspects of its curriculum.”
To reach the tippy top of this ranking, Columbia did not have far to travel. Columbia finished in second place last year, though as recently as 2019 its full-time MBA program was ranked ninth by the Financial Times. But Columbia’s MBA program has ranked in the Top Five for 16 of 24 years worth of FT rankings and had been in second place on three occasions in 1999, 2007, and last year. Columbia gained its FT victory without getting either the top scores or the highest rank in any of the 21 metrics in the methodology but instead performing well across the board. The school’s average alumni salary three years after graduation was $226,359, being only Stanford ($248,669) and Harvard ($235,019). In fact, 12 of the 14 highest paying MBAs are from U.S. business schools. Columbia’s faculty also earned the second-highest rank for published research, second among the 100 schools in the ranking after Harvard Business School. Those two data points alone account for 26% of the ranking’s weighting.
“With the highest percentage of international students of any top U.S. business school, coupled with a near-perfect research ranking, it’s clear that Columbia continues to excel in its mission of attracting a diverse and international faculty and student body, support researching and teaching on global issues,” notes Michael Malone, former associate dean of admissions who is now a co-director at the admissions consulting firm Fortuna Admissions
“But a major factor in Columbia’s success this year seems linked to career mobility and outcomes,” adds Malone. “CBS ranked second among top large U.S. schools in its graduates’ starting salary, and first among top large US schools in graduates’ percentage of salary increase. Combined with a strong post-graduation employment rate, these factors suggest that graduates are enjoying high-level returns on investment in an increasingly unpredictable market. Columbia has added to its traditional strengths in consulting and financial services by building stronger employment relationships in areas including e-commerce, fintech, and real estate.”
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