When BusinessWeek launched the world's first ranking of MBA programs in 1988, we created a groundbreaking method of measuring the satisfaction of the two main B-school constituencies: students and recruiters. For our first ranking of undergraduate business programs, we adapted that methodology and added new features to help students and parents with college searches.

But first we needed to narrow the field. We screened 1,400 U.S. colleges and universities for business programs that are accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business and that met three criteria based on test scores, selectivity, and the number of students from the top 10% of their high school classes. Of the more than 90 schools meeting those benchmarks, 84 agreed to participate.

The centerpiece of our ranking is a survey of about 100,000 undergraduate business students at those 84 programs. In November, with the help of Cambria Consulting in Boston, we asked each of those students to complete a 50-question survey on everything from the quality of teaching to recreational facilities.

We also surveyed students at one institution that declined to participate in the ranking: University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. Using publicly available sources to locate e-mail addresses, we attempted to contact 1,464 Wharton business majors. The school's opposition to the ranking resulted in a lower, but still adequate, response rate for the school. Overall, 21,789 students completed our survey, for a response rate of 22%. At Wharton, only 172 students did, for a response rate of 12%.

In addition to surveying students, BusinessWeek polled nearly 2,000 corporate recruiters for companies that hire thousands of business majors each year. We asked them to tell us which programs turned out the best graduates and which schools have the most innovative curriculums and most effective career services.

To learn which schools' graduates get the plum jobs, we also asked each institution to tell us the median starting salaries for their most recent graduating class. In addition, we culled our 2000, 2002, and 2004 MBA surveys to create a "feeder school" measure showing which schools sent the most grads on to 35 top MBA programs from previous BusinessWeek rankings.

Finally, we created an academic quality gauge of five equally weighted measures: average SAT scores, full-time faculty-student ratio, average class size, the percentage of business majors with internships, and the hours students spend every week on schoolwork.

The student survey counted for 30% of the final ranking, with the recruiter survey contributing 20%. Starting salaries and the MBA feeder school measure count for 10% each. The academic quality measure contributes the remaining 30%.

By Louis Lavelle

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