The Best B Schools: Rehashing The Rankings

I appreciate the effort that went into "The best B-schools" (Special Report, Oct. 19). The problem I have with the survey results is that the rankings fail the important "common sense" litmus test. Not to take anything away from the quality of the schools on the list, but to rank four schools ahead of Harvard University and eight schools ahead of Stanford University seems to compromise the value of the survey. Do you really believe that recruiters would give the highest post-MBA median pay and the highest average number of job offers to the two schools they feel are only sixth and ninth best? Do you really think the two schools that can afford to be the most selective are viewed as only No. 8 and No. 13 by students?

Rick MacDonald

San Francisco

You overlooked what we believe to be the most important factor affecting the quality of a business education: the student body. We cannot understand how one can measure the caliber of a B-school without analyzing objective measures of the students at those schools (i.e., GMAT scores, grade-point averages, and overall selectivity).

Relative to Stanford, you stated that recruiters were "frustrated" because many of our grads chose to join smaller, entrepreneurial ventures rather than traveling down more traditional corporate paths. As a result, Stanford's rank was "affected."

So you're saying that because Stanford students are so sought after, Stanford is not as "good" as other schools that generate less competition for their graduates. That seems counterintuitive. Students typically go to business school to have as many options as possible upon graduation, not to be popular among corporate recruiters.

Finally, by failing to survey Silicon Valley startups and the like, you ignore one of the most important and fastest-growing segments of our economy. Why not try interviewing more entrepreneurial ventures and ask them what they think of various MBA graduates? You might discover a very different set of rankings.

Adam L. Fawer

New York

(and 46 co-signatories

from the Stanford

B-school classes of

1998, 1999, and 2000)

Having gone through the Wharton School's job-search process as an MBA student, I am proud that I was successful in landing a job I wanted. However, I had many peers who were not so lucky. In large part, they were hurt by Wharton's own recruiting procedures. Wharton has one glaring flaw in the recruiting process that puts both its students and recruiters at a disadvantage: It does not afford students the opportunity to interview their top-choice firms through an open bidding process. Students bid for interviews (with points that Wharton has allocated to them) in case they were not selected for recruiting through the firm's invitation-only schedules.

While Wharton allows firms to meet students through an open-bid process, it does not require that they do so, unlike most top schools. For the top 30 most-sought-after consulting and investment- banking firms that recruit Wharton students, substantially less than 5% of the interviews occur through an open-bid process. This year, only 10 of these 30 firms will even offer an open-bid option. As a result, students don't necessarily get to interview with their top-choice firms, and firms may be denied the opportunity to talk to students who are most interested in them.

Almost all of the next 11 ranked schools in your survey do better than Wharton on this account, many requiring all firms to have open-bid schedules and some designating that at least 50% of all interviews be open-bid. Wharton has been aware of this problem for years yet has taken no action to correct it. Until Wharton corrects this flaw, it has no business being your No. 1 school.

David Morris

Wharton MBA Class of 1995

New York

It seems inconsistent that the University of California at Los Angeles ranks No. 1 in terms of its placement office, and yet the school merits only an 18th-place finish in your poll. UCLA has a relatively small class size of just over 300 students, which is less than half that of first-place finisher Wharton. Since you claim to have given the smaller schools "an upward adjustment to counter any possible bias," it must just be a coincidence that the top six schools in your poll also happen to be the top six schools in terms of size--again. This correlation was also apparent in your 1996 survey data, which provides further evidence of a big-school bias. As for the graduate poll, if my experience was any indication, it is easy to see why UCLA consistently ranks near the top: I got an excellent education, the ideal job after graduation--and I got to live at the beach.

Kenneth F. Broad

San Mateo, Calif.

In "How we kept the data unsullied" (Special Report, Oct. 19), MBA students at the University of Texas at Austin were characterized as trying to "game" the recent rankings, and the school was penalized as a result. Your article misrepresents our program and discredits the improvements our administration, faculty, staff, and students have made during the past two years.

There has been a large jump in student satisfaction since your last survey, but it was not driven by a memo circulated by student leaders. If it had been, then it is not likely we would have also seen triple-digit growth in the graduating class gift, or independent surveys indicating high student satisfaction.

The student memo does not suggest that the survey be answered untruthfully. Its goal was to point out that the scale and descriptive labels are misleading. Unless your survey methodology is revised, or raw results are published along with the letter grades, students have no option other than to form their own opinions and interpretations of the relative scale.

There is widespread knowledge that discussions of the BUSINESS WEEK ranking scale have gone on at many top schools for years. Your acknowledgement of this reality would have lowered the veracity of your own ranking scheme, perhaps explaining why you ignored the evidence, some of which was forwarded to you earlier this year. Fairness would dictate a full investigation with all schools being treated equally in score adjustments; holding up just a few examples unfairly penalizes the targeted schools.

At our campus, Dean Ramesh Rao and his staff, in cooperation with our dedicated faculty, have gone to great lengths to ensure that the student experience at Texas business school is among the finest in the country. We are proud of our accomplishments but believe your selectivity does injustice to our program and to those who have worked so diligently to create an outstanding educational experience for us.

David S. Naismith

MBA Class of 1999

University of Texas

Austin

Your clinical tone suggests that the student-survey component assesses in some meaningful way the "voice of those who paid thousands of dollars for their education." As a 1988 graduate of the University of Texas (one of the five schools downgraded as a result of alleged student-survey manipulation), allow me to suggest that it does nothing of the sort. The student survey is a dubious measure, even if its data were unsullied, and one that increasingly politicizes and taints your results.

To your credit, the BUSINESS WEEK ranking is the most widely referenced assessment of top MBA programs. Also, its results appear to exert a residual influence upon corporate impressions, outreach, and ultimately salaries. All this makes the integrity of the results not just a curiosity among MBA alumni but rather a matter of public policy. Not surprisingly, the importance of the findings has gradually led students across the country to revise upwardly their opinions of their alma maters.

The notion that only five B-schools have systematically sought to improve their rankings by encouraging favorable responses on this survey is laughable. And penalizing schools and their students, with all the hard-dollar and career consequences that the ranking entails, is unconscionable. Heaven forbid that students who take pride in their MBA experiences and wish to trumpet them via the BUSINESS WEEK ratings should encourage their classmates to do the same. Instead, proud but honest students attending B-schools of lesser stature must fear that too many favorable responses will result in their survey being tossed out, downwardly adjusted, or--worse yet--their school being excluded from the rankings entirely.

J. Cameron Humphries

Manhattan Beach, Calif.

I was disappointed that you excluded part-time MBAs. As a part-time student at New York University's Stern School of Business, I faced the same academic load as full-timers, with the added challenge of factoring a demanding job into my education. What better evidence of management skills than balancing these pressures successfully? By the time I graduated, after attending B-school for four years part-time, I had a better grasp on how to apply what I had learned. There is an inherent snobbery in only featuring those who could afford not to work for two years.

Diana Erani

Norwood, Mass.

Regarding "Is a helping hand really helpful?" (Personal Business, Oct. 19), I would like to clarify the nature of the consulting we do. We assist individuals who are considering applying to graduate MBA programs. Our services range from giving clients a sense of what attributes each program is seeking and providing an objective assessment of an individual's strengths and weaknesses to supplying feedback as to why an applicant may have been rejected.

I want to clarify that at no time in the process do we draft, review, or edit a client's essays before they are reviewed by the school. We will look at essays after the fact but not before a final decision has been reached. MBA Strategies also reserves the right to refuse to work with any client we believe is considering unethical behavior related to the application process--a policy, unfortunately, we have had to enforce.

Sally Lannin

President

MBA Strategies

Edina, Minn.

Here are two observations on your methodology in ranking the top B-schools. Graduates' expectations are proportional to the prestige of the university they have enrolled in. So Ivy League grads tend to be more severe in their evaluations than their peers in less famous schools. And the salaries offered by the recruiters are the most objective measure of the quality of the grads and of their schools, since companies are supposed not to pay more for less.

All in all, it seems much simpler and adequate to elect the salaries as the right meter for ranking, and the "old Harvard" is still No. 1, with $145,000 salaries, more than 10% ahead of the $130,000 of the second ones.

Helio de Lima Carvalho

Sao Paulo