How MBAs Grade The Top B-Schools

by on January 2nd, 2013

Among The Economist’s top 25 MBA programs, which business schools have the best curriculum, faculty, culture, career center and facilities? And which have the worst?

To rank the world’s best business schools, The Economist collects a wealth of data to help answer those questions, including the satisfaction levels of students and recent graduates who are asked to grade their schools on various dimensions. The Economist says a total of 18,712 students and graduates participated in the spring of 2012.

Although student surveys account for only 20% of The Economist’s total ranking, they do shed some insight into each school’s relative strengths and weaknesses. Of course, in each case expectations play a role in how a student or graduate ultimately grades his or her school on any issue.

Grade inflation from students as likely as it is from the profs

And respondents, knowing that these grades will ultimately be used to rank their schools, may also encourage grade inflation. “One could assert that students are being overly generous with their ratings (a la grade inflation), but one could also just as easily assume that these schools work very hard to keep their students happy,” says Matt Turner, a PhD market researcher at the University of Texas‘ McCombs School of Business, who closely tracks rankings.

So while the grades for the top 25 schools are generally high across the board, they still give users a glimpse of potential problem areas at these highly ranked institutions. In general, what the numbers show (see table on following page) is that students believe these top schools are doing a pretty good job–even after accounting for grade inflation from rankings conscious respondents.

The results are clustered closely together with numerous ties among schools. The highest single score on a scale of one to five, with five being the best, is 4.9, a solid A grade on an old report card. The lowest score, on the other hand, is 3.2, the equivalent of a D-. Mostly, the differences among the schools are slight and often statistically insignificant.

Graduates were least generous when it came to grading each school’s career center efforts. Obivously, hat’s where the rubber hits the road. It’s the reason almost everyone gets an MBA: to land a better job with more upward mobility and higher pay. Graduates were most generious when it came to grading the quality of their school’s culture and their own classmates. Those scores tended to be among the highest awarded.

Worst MBA programs among the top 25: Columbia, Wharton, ESADE

As is typical in any data dump, the best stories tend to be in the extremes.

Among the top 25 schools, for example, the lowest grades for the overall quality of the MBA program were awarded to Columbia Business School, Wharton and ESADE. Those three schools all tied for a score of 4.2. Translated to a letter grade, that’s roughly equal to a B. Not a very good showing for a world class instiution and if an applicant applied with those grades, he would likely get dinged.

In comparison, Chicago Booth graduates awarded their MBA program the best score of any top 25 institution: a 4.8 out of a 5.0, or a grade of A. It’s one of many reasons why Chicago Booth was The Economist’s number one school this year. Booth also fared exceptionally well when it came to its career center, receiving the highest grade of any top 25 school: a 4.7.

The career center getting the worst grade? York’s Schulich

At the other end of the scale, the worst scoring career center in the top 25 belongs to York University’s Schulich School in Ontario, Canada. The school got 3.2, an embarrassing D- score, the lowest grade handed out to any school in the upper quartile of The Economist’s list.

And how do MBA graduates, who have spent two years being graded by professors, now grade the faculty that taught them in the classroom? The best scores were received by the faculty at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School. The professors at Carnegie were awarded an impressive 4.8 grade, higher than any other top 25 school, including the University of Virginia’s Darden which is generally known to boast the best teaching MBA faculty in the world. Darden still did well, scoring 4.7 and tying with the likes of Harvard, Dartmouth, Chicago and, surprisingly, New York University’s Stern School.

Students gave the professors at ESADE the lowest grade

ESADE in Spain was on the other extreme. The faculty at ESADE got the worst grades of any top 25 school: a 3.9 score. In fact, ESADE was the only top 25 school to receive the lowest grades in three of the five core categories measured by The Economist–the MBA program itself, the faculty, and the facilities where it tied with the London Business School in getting a 3.9 from its graduates. The institution which recieved the highest grades for its facilities was Tuck which got a 4.8. No school can top hotel-like dorm rooms at Dartmouth.

As for culture and classmates, two California schools did best. Berkeley’s Haas School and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business won the best grades for this category, a super high 4.9 average on the five-point scale. York’s Schulich got the lowest grade: a 4.1 for the quality of the school’s culture and classmates.

Crunching the numbers for the schools ranked 26th through 50th

We also crunched the numbers for The Economist schools ranked 26 thorugh 50 and compared those grades within the peer group of the next 25 top schools. On a fairly consistent basis, the scores for the second group of schools were lower than the first–but not by very much. The highest single grade went to Cranfield for its facilities–a 4.8. The lowest single grade went to Melbourne Business School, an abysmal 2.8 for its career center. The equivalent of a grade of F, it was the lowest grade of 250 separate grades assigned to the top 50 schools.

The best scoring schools in the second group: Indiana & Yale

The best scoring school in this second group was Indiana University’s Kelley School. Kelley MBAs awarded their school the highest grades in three of five categories: the quality of the overall MBA program, the quality of the faculty, and the quality of the career center.

Yale’s School of Management also looked pretty good, scoring the highest grades in this second group for both culture and classmates and the quality of the professors in the classroom.

The worst? Melbourne was dead last in the grades it received for both its career center and its facilities.

There’s one other factor to consider when looking at these grades. Turner points out that in order to be included in the ranking, The Economist requires a school to have a minimum number of validated responses based on current intake.  If the intake is up to 43 students, 10 validated responses are required.  If 44-200 students, then 25% of intake.  If more than 200 students, then only 50 total responses are needed (50, not 50%). These are probably statistically sound, but still, it leaves open the possibility that a small school with only 10 responses is being put in the same student assessment ranking as a school with 150 responses.”

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