The latest MBA Rankings – What They Say And What We Miss

MBA Rankings

The fall season of MBA rankings arrives a little late this year. I think that was also the case for Easter, but I always get confused about full moons, equinoxes and the combining of lunar and Gregorian calendars.

So the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) got to fire the first Anglo-Saxon shot of the 2010 academic year (America Economia published in late August). Up next will be BusinessWeek in October, the FT in late January ’11, US News & World in the Spring and then a gap before Forbes publishes it’s bi-annual ROI ranking. With a lack of common data from one publication to another it is no wonder schools struggle with the staff resource to respond to each ranking survey.

The latest results come at a tense moment for business schools and their graduates, particularly in the US and London. The convulsions and crisis in the financial markets has seen business schools responding with emergency career coaching sessions and appeals to alumni networks to identify alternative job opportunities.

The EUI is not alone in collecting data for their ranking to assess new career opportunities, increase in salary and diversity of recruiters. At BusinessWeek the student survey is distributed three weeks before graduation, usually in early May, and is live for three months. The recruiter survey is distributed in early July and is live for two months. It has been a turbulent period for both groups. BusinessWeek considers amongst other criteria the satisfaction levels of students and recruiters. It will be interesting to see how the surveys assess the responsiveness of Careers Services to the current crisis.

Compiling the FT 2011 survey is underway, with surveys going out to graduates to prepare for their January publication. Given that “Weighted salary (US$)” and “Salary percentage increase” together contribute 40% of the FT rank for each school we might see some movement in the next set of results. Schools like Columbia Business School, Chicago GSB and London Business School have traditionally placed high numbers of their graduating students in financial services, and these schools have had a better year than last.

This plays out in the  EIU ranking, with a return to strength from U.S. business schools after several years where European business schools surged ahead.  The strength of the euro, combined with their students having more years work experience, positively influenced graduating salaries, and those schools that did not overly depend on the financial markets for graduate hiring fared better.

The need to place rankings in a context is not lost on the team at the EIU. As they acknowledge in the preamble to last year’s ranking, “The rankings should form only part of a student’s selection process. It is equally important to look at issues such as school culture, employment prospects and areas of speciality. To gain a rounded picture, it is essential to look at several different rankings. No two rankings will seek to measure exactly the same things, so be sure you understand the methodology of the survey and whether or not what is being measured is an important consideration for you.”

Ironically it seems that they more rankings you have, the more balanced an overall picture a candidate can gain, provided they study and understand the methodology being used in each case.

So will schools agree with the EIU assertion that “business schools themselves are slowly coming around to the idea of rankings too. It is fair to say that at first they were antipathetic to them—after all, no one really likes to be graded by outsiders—but now many recognise rankings as a legitimate tool for prospective students.”

Like them or loathe them, the media rankings of business schools look set to stay.

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