As a long-term MBA admissions professional, I read with sadness the recent suspicion of data discrepancies at Tulane University. Unfortunately, this is an issue that has been reported upon on more than one occasion and at more than one business school.
We all know that rankings are big business – for BusinessWeek, for U.S. News & World Report and other media outlets, but also for the business schools. It’s hard for us to resist the siren song of the rankings. Everyone craves a neat snapshot that defines the quality of your own program compared to that of your competitors.
The pressure to perform well in the rankings is incredibly high. Prospective MBA students carefully read all of the data in the rankings and use it to make one of the biggest professional investments of their lives. Employers of MBA graduates decide which schools to recruit from based on the outcomes of the rankings.
But it goes further than that. Deans report rankings results to university presidents, donors and alumni. Admissions and other administrative leaders can be fired based on the outcomes of the rankings. Far too much relies on data that is subject to either human error or outright manipulation.
And, what is the penalty for falsifying data? A few individuals are fired or reassigned, a short-term PR embarrassment that quickly fades away, and the business of rankings continues as it always has. The NCAA has stronger penalties for breaking the rules than does the academic community of business schools when responding to rankings.
How can journalists claim integrity when they are reporting on data that they can’t be certain is correct? How can business schools, as an academic community, place so much value on an instrument that is not adequately validated? This shabby research would not be tolerated in the academic world, yet all bets are placed on the outcomes of the business school rankings.
I call on BusinessWeek and U.S. News to follow the lead of the Financial Times and immediately begin auditing process to validate rankings data to ensure that what is submitted by business schools, and what is reported upon by your journalists, is accurate data. Until rankings data is validated through a formal external auditing process, accusations of falsifying data will arise from time to time.
And, sadly, business schools and prospective MBA students, will continue to place all their bets on a carnival game that is easily rigged.
From 1997 to 2012, Wendy Flynn led the admissions efforts for the Texas A&M MBA Program, most recently serving as the Director of MBA Admissions for the Full-Time, Executive, and Professional MBA Programs.