An undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business claims the education he is receiving is “grossly overrated and disgustingly overpriced.” He is also asserting that the quality of teaching in at least half of the core classes at Wharton have been no better than community college.
The student, who maintains he is a junior in Wharton’s undergraduate program, identified himself as Jonathan Kahn, in a series of comments on the website of The Wall Street Journal. His remarks are on a recent interview with Wharton Dean Thomas Robertson timed to the school’s recent efforts at re-branding itself.
Kahn’s comments have fueled a lively debate from both supporters and others who take issue with his opinions. Typically, less experienced teachers are put in undergraduate classrooms rather than the flagship MBA program, though Wharton is not known for stellar teaching. A recent analysis by PoetsandQuants of the teaching grades in BusinessWeek’s biennial B-school rankings showed that Wharton faculty have never been in the top 20th percentile of the survey in teaching quality over the 24-year period that BusinessWeek has ranked business schools. The student critic appears an articulate and thoughtful commenter, if an unsatisfied student at Wharton.
CLAIMS THAT ONLY ONE WHARTON PROF WAS BETTER THAN HIS HIGH SCHOOL TEACHERS
“When the Dean of Wharton uses “innovative” to describe Wharton, he is lying,” Kahn told The Wall Street Journal. “I have taken a range of classes from finance to marketing and the entire core that all of us undergraduates are so familiar with, and the basic structure could not be further from innovative. I have taken the supposed best and most enlightening classes inside and outside of Wharton, and have had a single professor better than the average of my high school teachers (and that class was in the College of Arts and Sciences). The basic structure inside the classroom is to get talked at from a Powerpoint that exactly emulates a textbook, and then repeat the answers on an exam in quantitative form with the use of an allowed cheat-sheet. There might be a few problem sets and a group presentation here and there, but nothing else.”
The student went on to write that he would not advise a high school student to come to Wharton. “If a 17-year old had his or her sights set on a consulting or i-banking job and nothing else, I might suggest he or she look into Wharton, though I would not say there’s a clear advantage over Harvard or Princeton. But if he or she wanted to learn more about business inside of the classroom, the best bet would be to go anywhere else, because the quality of at least 50% of my core classes have been no better than community college (and I’ve taken courses at a community college). I don’t discount the value of great student-run organizations and experiences outside of classroom, but that’s not the core of what Wharton does. It does teaching, and it does a very poor job of it.”
Kahn apparently wasn’t the only Wharton student to register that opinion. Another person, under the name Alex Donaldson, wrote that “I was told that my education was expensive and “world-class” because the teachers were better and the classes were innovative and cutting-edge and the rest of the buzzwords. I was duped. A re-branding won’t change that.”
‘INSTEAD OF BAD MOUTHING A WONDERFUL SCHOOL, TRY TO LEARN SOMETHING THERE’
The comment by Kahn and Donaldson have been challenged by several others. Wrote one person under the name Craig Mundo, “I don’t know if any of what you said is true, including that you are at Wharton. Instead of bad mouthing a wonderful school, try to learn something if you are still there.”
Retorted Kahn: “I would agree with you that it’s supposed to be a wonderful school, but reputation does not matter once you’re in the classroom. It’s not bad-mouthing or false to say that the quality of instruction is worse than courses I’ve taken elsewhere, including community college. I also don’t see the point in attacking me by saying “better people” went there. You don’t even know me, but of course better people have gone there and of course they’ve learned. My point is that a Wharton education is not innovative and the instruction is not of high quality. That doesn’t change because smarter people than I go there.
“As for why I don’t transfer to the college — I want business and I want a Wharton degree. That’s why I’m here. I don’t underestimate the value of a Wharton degree, only a Wharton education. I came here to study business and that hasn’t changed. My point is, and the feeling with a lot of students here, is that you suck it up with the bad classes and the horrible teaching, and you get a degree. It’s sad, but it’s the truth.”