Ten Biggest Surprises In The Financial Times 2023 MBA Ranking

Financial Times 2023 MBA ranking

Cornell University’s full-time MBA program cracked the Financial Times Top Ten for the first time this year

3) Cornell Johnson Is This Year’s “It” School

Every year, a school makes a statement in The Financial Times ranking. Over the years, CEIBS, Yale SOM, and New York University’s Stern School have made moves that caught applicants’ eyes. This year, another MBA program has stood out from the pack: Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management. 

This year, Cornell Johnson surged nine spots, going from 17th to 8th. In the process, the school passed the likes of Dartmouth Tuck, Northwestern Kellogg, MIT Sloan, and the London Business School. Even more, Cornell Johnson earned the highest marks in the measures that matter to students – even if they don’t receive the importance they deserve with The Financial Times.  

The average increase in alumni salary over pre-MBA pay is one of two metrics that carry the biggest weight with The Financial Times: 16%. In this area, Cornell Johnson has shown steady importance. In 2021, graduates saw a 128% jump over pre-MBA income. A year later, that number climbed to 142%. Now, that percentage has grown to 148%. To put that number in context, it was the 14th-best performance in the FT ranking – and the best performance of any business ranked in the Top 10. 

Faculty research enjoys a 10% weight – the second-highest in the ranking. In 2021, Cornell Johnson ranked 25th in this regard. Last year, the school cracked the Top 10 at #9. This year? You’ll find Johnson knocking on the door at 3rd, only behind Columbia Business School and Harvard Business School. While research prowess doesn’t equate to teaching excellence, it does reflect a classroom where students are exposed to cutting-edge ideas and frameworks that can give them an advantage in re-entering the workforce.

Another area of improvement? Check out career services, where Cornell Johnson has improved from 9th to 3rd in two years. That was good for a 3% weight. Here is the topper: Cornell is also first in a new category you wouldn’t expect it to be: alumni network. This measure is defined by The Financial Times as its “effectiveness…for career opportunities, starting companies, gaining new ideas, recruiting staff and giving event information.” Based on student surveys, the Alumni Network counts 4% towards the overall ranking. Even more, it possesses symbolic value – an indication that alumni are upbeat, engaged, influential, and ready to lend a helping hand. 

Alas, Cornell Johnson’s biggest achievement doesn’t even count toward the ranking. In the Overall Satisfaction survey, where the FT surveyed alumni on their MBA experience, the school ranked 2nd to Stanford – with a near-perfect 9.94 score on a 10-point scale. That comes on the heels of 9.57 and 9.73 averages over the past two years. This is hardly an anomaly. In a 2022 survey conducted by The Princeton Review, Cornell Johnson ranked 1st for its Family Friendliness and Campus Environment. It also placed 3rd for classroom experience, administration, and career prospects.

In the same survey, Cornell Johnson ranked third for being the greenest. In the FT survey, respondents pointed out that the school had more work to do in this area. Cornell Johnson finished 32nd for its carbon footprint and 79th for ESG.  It also ranked 70th for international mobility and 76th for sector diversity. Career progress (52nd) and value for money (69th) reflected slight improvements – but still below many of its peer programs. 

Still, the arrow is pointing up in Ithaca. Happy alumni, strong career services, and increasing pay – that’s a recipe for long-term success. Question is, can Cornell take the next step? Maybe a better question is whether Cornell needs to consider the important areas where they already excel.   

4) What Doesn’t Count Is More Important Than What Does Count

If you want evidence of how clueless the Financial Times editors are look no further than a metric that has been collected by the newspaper’s alumni surveys yet never factored into the actual ranking: overall alumni satisfaction. Certainly, whether alumni feel satisfied with the education they received is far more crucial to the quality of an MBA experience than a carbon footprint, or scholarly research that is largely esoteric, or the percentage of women or internationals on a school board of advisors.

But for whatever reason, the FT has been reporting this metric since 2021 but has never included it in the methodology to rank MBA programs.

Now to be sure, there are issues with this data, even though they are no different than the challenges of surveying alumni who know their answers will be used to rank their alma maters. The most obvious problem is getting an honest assessment from alumni who would have every reason not to knock down their MBA degrees in a newspaper survey. That is why the differences in the scores based on alumni surveys are so closely clustered together, often in ways that are statistically meaningless. There are also limits to asking alumni for their opinions. Obviously, a graduate of Stanford knows nothing about the MBA program at INSEAD or Columbia Business School. So they have no basis for comparison.

Nevertheless, alumni opinion does count for something, in the same way, that Yelp reviews of restaurants or Rotten Tomatoes reviews of movies can matter. And if you look at scores over multiple years, it helps to diminish any anomalies that may appear in a school’s satisfaction rating for a single year. So that’s exactly what we did here: We included the latest ranking and score for the top 25 programs by overall alumni satisfaction and also calculated the three-year average for those schools.

Frankly, we like this ranking of the best MBA programs a lot more than the Financial Times list.

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