By Matt Symonds,
You might call it the b-school rankings smell test. While the five major media MBA rankings chart the annual rise and fall of MBA programs from Ann Arbor to Austin, the reality is that any league table that fails to list the fabled M7 schools – HBS, Stanford GSB, Wharton, Chicago Booth, Kellogg, Columbia and MIT Sloan – at the top of the list will create the sort of controversy that rankings routinely generate.
So the eighth-annual Fortuna Rankings of MBA Rankings, which combines the results of the MBA rankings published by US News, the Financial Times, The Economist, BusinessWeek and Forbes passes the smell test – again. Since 2011 only two other schools have challenged the predictable world order of aggregated results, with Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business edging out Kellogg in 2011 and MIT Sloan and Columbia in the 2014 Ranking of MBA Rankings, and UC Berkeley Haas sharing 6th place with Tuck in 2016 ahead of MIT Sloan.
The 2018 results see Wharton maintaining the top spot that the Philadelphia school dramatically claimed the year before, reversing a period of lackluster results in 2016. While Wharton failed to rank #1 in any of the four results this year (the biennial Forbes ranking was last published in the fall of 2017), consistent performance among the top schools ensured that in a simple average of all five rankings they narrowly edged out Stanford GSB and Harvard Business School.
A strong case can be made to include Stanford or Chicago Booth at #1, given their respective chart topping position in at least two of the 2018 rankings. After all, aren’t two gold medals worth more than a clutch of silver and bronze? If anything, Stanford GSB is a victim of its own success, slumping in the US News ranking because only 63.9% of graduates had accepted a job within 3 months of graduation. But this seeming lack of placement success is because Stanford MBA graduates are not in a rush, and prefer to weigh up their options among high growth tech startups and lucrative positions in Private Equity, Venture Capital and Consulting. The school recorded record high salaries for the Class of 2017 with a mean average of $144,455 and signing bonuses of $29,534.
Therein lies the inherent weakness of business school rankings. While providing a valuable snapshot of performance across a range of measures – ROI, salary, selectivity, diversity, student and recruiter satisfaction, etc – the different methodologies and weightings used by each ranking can create a confusing picture for any potential MBA applicant. Wild shifts from one year to the next will see schools rise and fall by double digits.
Such were the changes in methodology used by BusinessWeek in their 2018 results that published last week, that they decided not to provide a comparison with results from 2017. As The Economist’s business school rankings editor Jane Shaw explained on a rankings panel at an AACSB Conference in Paris last month, schools in the middle and lower half of a table of 100 schools can be separated by the finest of margins. So how much should we read into the difference of a school that ranks 49th and another that is 61st? Very little, remembering there is every chance that things will change the following year.
No one understands the mechanics and limitations of the rankings better than my CentreCourt MBA Festival business partner, John A. Byrne. The godfather of business school rankings, Byrne devised the first ever MBA league table that published in BusinessWeek 30 years ago, and as Editor-in-Chief of Poets & Quants his assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the various rankings is unmatched. The attendees of the CentreCourt events held in London, New York, Washington DC and San Francisco next year will no doubt have these results in mind as they meet Deans, Admissions Directors and alumni of the world’s top business schools, but nothing replaces such direct interaction to find the best school for you.
The combined results of the Fortuna Ranking of MBA Rankings level out much of the volatility inherent in the individual results of the ‘big five’. While the top seven places are held by the usual suspects again this year, there are fascinating indicators of strong performance throughout the top 30. UC Berkeley Haas has never made a stronger case for inclusion in an M8, while Michigan Ross, UVA Darden and Cornell Johnson have all enjoyed a stellar year with top 10 performances in at least two major rankings.
Within the top 20, UT Austin McCombs and the University of Washington Foster in Seattle show that a location in a dynamic tech-driven economy is reaping rewards for their graduating students. Further down the list USC Marshall climbed four places in a resurgent LA economy, while Georgia Tech, Wash University Olin, Vanderbilt Owen and Minnesota Carlson also put in a strong showing to remind us of the regional excellence of each school.
Sadly for Dartmouth’s Tuck, the momentum they enjoyed as recently as two years ago has faltered. For the first time since we began producing the Ranking of MBA Rankings the school has failed to register a place higher than #10 in at least one of the individual results published in 2018. Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business also dropped this year, but only because of their result in BusinessWeek. Should either school worry? Not really, they both offer among the best MBA experiences on the market, with a level of teaching quality, alumni support and recruiter loyalty to attract the brightest and best in the world. Anyone who has listened to Duke Fuqua’s dean, Bill Boulding speaking about how to solve some of society’s biggest challenges will realize that rankings are a crude measure of the true value of the MBA.
Below are the results for this year’s top 10. You can find the full results of the Fortuna Ranking of MBA Rankings 2018 here, and look out for the European results in December.
|1||1||Univ of Pennsylvania - Wharton||2||3||4||2||1|
|2||3||Stanford Univ GSB||1||4||5||1||2|
|2||2||Harvard Bus Sch||3||1||3||3||3|
|4||4||Harvard Univ of Chicago - Booth||4||1||1||5||7|
|5||5||Northwestern Univ - Kellogg||8||6||42||8||4|
|6||6||Columbia Bus Sch||5||9||9||7||6|
|7||6||MIT Sloan Sch of Mgmt||6||6||14||4||8|
|8||8||UC Berkelez - Haas||7||7||10||6||9|
|9||8||Dartmouth College - Tuck||10||10||11||19||5|
|10||10||Yale Sch of Mgmt||9||11||12||11||13|