Financial Times 2023 MBA Ranking: The Biggest Bombshell Is Wharton’s Disappearance

Financial Times 2023 MBA ranking

Columbia Business School takes first place in the Financial Times 2023 MBA ranking

THE FINANCIAL TIMES MBA RANKING BOMBSHELL: NO WHARTON ON THE LIST

The single biggest surprise of this ranking, however, isn’t which school ended up at any given rank. Instead, it’s the total disappearance of Wharton, the FT‘s No. 1 MBA program last year and the program that has been in the top spot on this ranking–11 times–more than any other business school. Other than Wharton deciding along with all the other M7 schools not to partake in the FT ranking during the height of the pandemic in 2021, the school has always been on the FT list from the very start in 1999.

Asked about the omission, Wharton released a terse statement to Poets&Quants: “On Tuesday, February 7th, 2023, the Financial Times (FT) informed Wharton that we would not be included in their forthcoming 2023 Global Full Time MBA ranking due to not reaching the threshold for alumni survey respondents for inclusion. To confirm, Wharton provided the requested School-level survey data, as well as alumni contact information for the specified years, in accordance with our data and privacy policies. We also continued our practice of allowing the FT to conduct all alumni outreach related to their ranking.”

Given Wharton’s follow-up, the school’s failure to hit a meager response rate is surprising. The FT surveys alumni three years after completing their MBA. For schools to enter the ranking calculations, the FT usually requires that a minimum of 20% of alumni reply to the survey, with at least 20 fully completed surveys. That relatively low hurdle rate was even made more liberal in this ranking. “This year, because of disruption from Covid, the FT considered schools with a lower response rate,” according to the FT.  For a resource-rich school like Wharton, particularly when the overall response rate on the FT‘s alumni survey was 36%, the response rate miss is a true surprise.

WHARTON’S LOW RESPONSE RATE IS A SIGN OF LINGERING RESENTMENT OVER HOW THE SCHOOL BUNGLED THE PANDEMIC

The decision by Wharton alums to refuse to return the surveys most likely is a reflection of the anger and frustration this surveyed class experienced over the handling of the pandemic. When classes went online in 2020, many MBA students signed petitions asking for tuition refunds. The COVID petition with the most MBA signatures–1,083 or more than double the 473 at Harvard Business School–was at Wharton. The school’s students merely asked in the petition to “begin a dialogue regarding conditions under which Wharton MBA students might receive an appropriate amount of relief of tuition payments or other forms of assistance to compensate for the period during which the school’s operations have been and will be affected by the COVID-19 health crisis during the 2019-2020 academic year.” Nicolaj Siggelkow, vice dean of Wharton’s MBA program, did ot respond to emails or phone calls from Poets&Quants.

Even worse, a survey of Wharton MBA students at the time when most programs had then gone hybrid, with a varying mix of in-person and online instruction, Wharton was the only M7 MBA program that had taken a blended approach off the table. The survey found that 78% of the responding students said they were not excited about the upcoming semester, and 94% of students felt the value of their overall MBA experience was diminished by at least 40%. Asked to rate their expectations for the fall semester on a scale of 1 (would rather defer) to 10 (very excited), 78% of the students rated it five or below. Many students indicated they would defer if they had the financial flexibility to do so.

Wharton’s failure to meet the 20% response rate is undoubtedly a reflection of the lingering resentment of its MBA students who bore the brunt of the pandemic shutdown (see At Wharton, 8 Devastating PowerPoint Slides That Capture MBA Anger & Frustration). Those students were particularly resentful of the school’s leadership. The survey found that 86% of the students felt the Wharton administration had not incorporated student feedback in the decisions that led to online-only instruction and lockdowns in the fall of 2020.

THE BIGGEST LOSERS IN THE FINANCIAL TIMES 2023 MBA RANKING

This year, ten MBA programs had double-digit tumbles in the ranking, yet remained on the Top 100 list. The two schools with the biggest ranking setbacks are Babson College and Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. Babson plunged 40 places to rank 95th from 65th a year earlier, nearly falling off the ranking entirely. Despite a new branding campaign to promote the school and its MBA program, Tepper lost 26 places to rank 49th from 23rd in 2022.

Babson’s decline can be attributed to weaker performance in two heavily weighted categories: average alumni salaries fell to $142,871 from $147,594 a year earlier, at a time when pay went higher at many other schools. Meantime, the school’s research rank also dropped by three places to 83rd from 86th. Babson also got lower scores than last year on career services, aims achieved, value for money, and especially career progress. In that latter category, the school fell from a rank of third last year to 18th this year.

It was a similar story at Carnegie Mellon, where alumni salaries fell slightly to $176,091 from $178,194. The percentage increase in alumni pay from pre-MBA levels also declined to 127% from 136% last year. Tepper saw erosion in several other key metrics including its research rank, slipping three spots to 59th from 56th, its value for money rank, falling to 90th out of the 100 MBA programs from 63rd, and the career progress of its alums, falling to a rank of 83rd from 64th.

THE BIGGEST WINNERS IN THE FINANCIAL TIMES 2023 MBA RANKING

The number of double-digit winners this year was double the size of the losing contingent. Some 20 MBA programs posted double-digit gains, led by the University of Maryland and Queen's University. Both of their full-time MBA programs climbed 28 places to rank 57th and 71st, respectively (see table below). Among the European business schools, EDHEC Business School in France had the biggest advance, improving its position in the FT ranking by 26 spots to end up in 47th place.

Maryland made its big advance on the back of singnificantly improved pay data. Average weighted salaries of its alums rose 11% to $150,997 from $136,250 a year earlier, while the percentage increase over pre-MBA pay was 121%, up from 101% a year earlier.

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