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Recruit Foreign Students More Selectively: Rochester Dean

University of Rochestor Simon Business School dean Andrew Ainslie

University of Rochestor Simon Business School dean Andrew Ainslie

It happens so often: it turns out that the easy fix is not really a fix at all.

For business schools competing strenuously for students, a pool of very bright, high-performing potential applicants appears to offer salvation – and rankings glory. And when that pool contains millions of individual saviors, why, it makes sense to dip right in and start hauling them out.

The problem is, when you’re talking about business schools recruiting foreign students, there’s a stiff price to pay for short-term gains, says the new dean of the University of Rochester Simon Business School, where foreign students, mostly from Asia, make up about 40% of the student population.

MBA program administrators like to bring in foreign students because they can pluck from a massive reservoir of candidates with high GMAT scores, which favors a business school in U.S. News’ annual ranking because GMAT scores account for slightly more than 16% of the weight in its ranking.

Simon, where the average GMAT score is 680, took No. 38 in the 2014 Bloomberg Businessweek rankings, but its student satisfaction ranking was 52nd. Poets&Quants’ recently ranked the school 33rd, up four spots from last year’s 37th place.

SIMON DESERVES BETTER?

For Simon Dean Andrew Ainslie, who started there in July, the school ranks lower overall than it should, considering that Businessweek ranks it at No. 20 for intellectual capital.

“It’s a rock star faculty,” Ainslie says. “I walked through the doors and spent a few months looking at things. We’ve been playing a short-term game.”

In admissions, focusing on high GMAT scores  – and admitting a lot of foreign students who carry those high scores – boosts a school’s measurements in the area of input, which describes the caliber of incoming students, Ainslie notes. Whether those students lack experience and skills that will help them succeed in their careers can fall by the wayside, he says. “The quickest way to get a jump in those metrics is to bring in a class of very-high-GMAT students,” Ainslie says.

Graduate Management Admission Council data put the average GMAT quant score for U.S. students at 33–five points lower than the mean score–while it’s in the 40s for applicants from Asia, including India, Ainslie says. A quant score of 51 to 60 puts a candidate in the 97th percentile.

“The top end of that set of people that come out of China and India in particular is just extraordinary – what a talent pool,” he says.

But if your input consists of large numbers of foreign students – who may be very bright, with high GPAs and GMAT scores, but who lack experience recognized by U.S. firms and may not be able to get visas to work in the U.S. – student satisfaction will likely suffer.

PROFIT NOW, PAY LATER

“That really bites you a couple of years later when the class doesn’t place well and are dissatisfied as a result,” Ainslie says.

Ainslie came to Simon after running the MBA program at UCLA Anderson School of Management since 2010. At Anderson, he’d seen the same issue – the school had heavy-hitting faculty but seemed doomed to “languish in the rankings,” Ainslie says. He and departmental colleagues asked Anderson officials to give them “the latitude to drop five points in GMAT to build a more well-rounded class,” Ainslie says. Average GMAT went from 710 to 705, and “student satisfaction started going up, students started getting placed,” he says.

“You play the long game and after a while you see the benefit on those short-term metrics,” Ainslie says. “That, to me, is much more sustainable, much more ethical, and generally much more reasonable. Students get more, employers get more.”

Simon, in the late ’80s, ranked in the high 20s among U.S. business schools, “within spitting distance of Cornell,” Ainslie says. The implosion of Kodak in Rochester, and downsizing by Xerox and Bausch + Lomb, contributed to Simon’s decline in the rankings, but the school’s intake practices can’t be ignored, Ainslie says. “Admissions strategy is part of it,” he says.

Ainslie doesn’t argue that schools should reduce their intake of international students. But, he says, MBA program officials need to start looking more closely at how prospective international students will do post-graduation. “It really helps if they have experience at a company that American companies will recognize,” he says. “That’s either a truly global company, like Samsung, for example, or perhaps a Chinese or Indian branch (of a major U.S. firm).”

‘THE VERY DIFFICULT SKILL OF BEING FLUENT IN ENGLISH’

English language ability is another important consideration, if schools want to see their graduates getting jobs in the U.S. and giving high marks in satisfaction rankings, Ainslie says.

“We need to find applicants with the very difficult skill of being fluent in English,” he says.