Ten Biggest Surprises In Businessweek’s 2023-2024 MBA Ranking

The latest 2023-2024 MBA ranking from Bloomberg Businessweek is chock full of surprises–and that has always been true of this list of the best full-time MBA programs since its launch in 1988. It was the first of the regularly published MBA rankings, a decade earlier than the Financial Times and more than a quarter century after Fortune got into the clickbait game. Needless to say, no existing ranking is a perfect indicator of the quality of an MBA experience and no ranking is flawless, least of all this one from Businessweek.

In fact, for the third year in a row, a prominent academic, Yale School of Management Deputy Dean Anjani Jain, has raised serious questions about the ranking. Because Businessweek skips a step to normalize data in its ranking, Jain believes that how the magazine ranks schools is amiss. By his calculations, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, already ranked a lowly eighth by Businessweek, would come in at a rank of 20th if Businessweek correctly applied the weights to its five core metrics used to rank MBA programs. And while Stanford would still sit in first place, the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business would take over second place, just above its tie in third place with Dartmouth Tuck, the highest Darden’s MBA program has ever been ranked by Businessweek.

For the majority of casual readers of this ranking, the folks who don’t read the footnotes or Jain’s critique, we have sorted through the biggest surprises and takeaways. Say what you will about the ranking’s credibility or lack thereof, but it is a well-intended and thoughtful exercise by the magazine’s editors, unlike some other lists that are not only severely flawed but are intellectually dishonest (see The Absolute Worst MBA Rankings).


1) The Bloomberg Businessweek MBA Ranking: How Credible?

Businessweek magazine pioneered the ranking of MBA programs back in 1988 with a simple notion. How would MBA programs rank if you asked the actual customers what they thought: the candidates who spent two years in a program and just graduated and the companies that hired them? The goal was to essentially create a customer satisfaction measure from which business schools could be compared. There were no admission stats nor salary and employment data in the ranking. Any prospective student could easily find that information in the annual class profiles and employment reports published by the schools themselves. Businessweek wanted to toss in the mix what had then been unavailable: the subjective judgments of the two most important stakeholders in graduate management education.

Over the years, the magazine has changed its way of ranking MBA programs, making its ranking far more complicated and duplicative of other lists and the data that schools already release to the public. And while Businessweek continues to survey employers and graduates, it does so in ways that differ greatly from the original intent of its first ranking. For this latest edition, the magazine says it surveyed 6,574 students, 10,347 alumni, and 713 employers, though Businessweek does not provide a response rate for any of these surveys. As a result, we don’t know how many students, alumni, or employers completed the questionnaires and sent them back to Businessweek to be counted. That is not a trivial affair because journalistic standards require a news outlet to report response rates for surveys. The fact that Businessweek chose to hide these results raises the possibility that the response rates were so low that they could be embarrassing if disclosed.

It certainly doesn’t help the credibility or the authority of this ranking. But neither do the results. Set aside the fact that a leading business education academic, the deputy dean of Yale’s School of Management, believes the ranking is severely flawed (you can read his latest analysis here), and ask yourself these questions based on Businessweek‘s ranking. Does the University of Florida offer MBA graduates the best networking opportunities of any school in the U.S., even better than any M7 program or better than Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, one of the true residential MBA programs with the highest alumni participation rate in fundraising every year? Businessweek’s ranking insists that no school beats Florida on its networking index.

Or consider the magazine’s learning index which Businessweek defines its attempt to measure “the quality, depth, and range of instruction, focusing on the curriculum relative to real-world business situations; emphasis on innovation, problem-solving, and strategic thinking; mentoring and support from instructors; class size; and collaboration.” Which MBA program beats all others on this metric? According to Businessweek, it’s the MBA experience at William & Mary, followed by the University of Georgia, and the University of Maryland. Those three schools are well ahead of Harvard, ranked 26th, just ahead of Hult International Business School. Wharton, by the way, ranks 55th, well behind the University of Mississippi’s business school, ranked 36th, and North Carolina State (38), Charleston (41), and Tampa (42).

Then, there is the magazine’s diversity index. Who tops this metric? Howard University, the historically black research university based in Washington, D.C. How is a program with all black students diverse?

Even something as simple to measure as compensation isn’t simple at all when Businessweek tackles it. The number school in its compensation index is not Stanford, Harvard, Wharton, or Columbia. It’s Dartmouth Tuck. Yes, Tuck MBAs graduate with strong starting salaries but the median starting pay at Stanford, Harvard, and Wharton does exceed the median at Tuck which wins because the magazine is measuring other things besides pay in its index.

Our big takeaway is not surprising: Read the ranking for its entertainment value but do not rely on it to make any informed decisions about which MBA programs to target for admission.

2. Lies, Damned Lies & Statistics

Attributed to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, the statement that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics is apropos with this ranking and many others. Disraeli used the phrase to suggest that statistics can be manipulated to support any argument or position and that they are often used to mislead or deceive people.

We are not accusing Businessweek of deliberately misleading people, but it is important to note that in most cases, the difference between and among the ranks assigned to an MBA program are not statistically meaningful. The underlying index numbers for the programs (see table below) are so closely clustered together that you can’t legitimately justify a rank of 12th for one school and 15th for another.

Look at it this way: With an index score of 86.8, Stanford is ranked first. Chicago Booth, ranked second, has an overall score of 85.7, while Tuck and Darden are tied for third place with scores of 85.6. So the difference between second and third in this ranking is a mere .1 on a scale in which the highest score is 86.8 and the lowest is 58.7, for a program ranked 75th. And, of course, the range is much smaller for the programs ranked in the Top 20, the difference between that 86.8 and 79.2, or a mere 7.6 points top to bottom.

Truth is, the variance among schools is so slight that it’s patently ridiculous to make a distinction based on the scoring from Businessweek‘s methodology. It’s more likely that such differences are the result of chance or sampling error–not anything real or meaningful. This is one reason why year-over-year ranks can differ greatly, even when MBA programs don’t change at all over that timeframe.

Generally, the greater the variability between scores, the more likely a finding will be significant. You can then feel confident that it’s real, and not a matter of coincidence, sample size, or error.

In most cases, this ranking fails the significance test because those differences aren’t great enough to be reliable.

How The Overall Program Scores Are Clustered Together

MBA Program Rank Overall Index Score
Stanford Graduate School of Business 1 86.8
University of Chicago (Booth) 2 85.7
Dartmouth College (Tuck) 3 85.6
University of Virginia (Darden) 3 85.6
Columbia Business School 5 85.5
Harvard Business School 6 85.2
Northwestern University (Kellogg) 7 84.9
University of Pennsylvania/td> 8 84.7
University of Michigan (Ross) 9 84.6
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan) 10 84.1
University of California-Berkeley (Haas) 19 84.1
New York University (Stern) 12 83.8
Cornell University (Johnson) 13 83.3
Duke University (Fuqua) 14 82.5
Yale University School of Management 15 82.3
Emory University (Goizueta) 16 81.7
University of Southern California (Marshall) 17 81.5
Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper) 18 80.7
Rice University (Jones) 19 79.6
Georgia Tech (Scheller) 20 79.2

Listen To Our Business Casual Podcast: Fortuna’s Caroline Diarte-Edwards, Applicant Lab’s Maria Wich-Vila, and Poets&Quants Editor-in-Chief John A. Byrne offer a candid conversation on the ranking and how prospective students should use the ranking to inform their selection of MBA programs

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