B-Schools: What It Takes To Be Best

This was the year academic quality largely determined standing in BusinessWeek's Best B-School rankings. Tough back-to-basics curricula supplanted breezy courses. Rigorous analytics pushed aside entertaining anecdotes. Both students and corporate recruiters -- the "consumers" of B-school education who vote in our biennial survey -- demanded more value from faculties. When they got it, they pushed those schools higher on the list. The lesson is clear to B-schools around the globe: Business is becoming ever more complex, and students want to prepare to work in the real world.

Take the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, which landed at the No. 2 spot for the third time since the rankings began in 1988. Chicago's graduates were the favorite of companies that hire MBAs. Why? Chicago teaches critical thinking via theory, research, and hard analysis. One issue on campus this year is the ratio of adjuncts (often celebrity CEOs) to full-time faculty. Students love to hear the real-life stories of people who run companies. But the dwindling number of solid, research-oriented professors is a problem. Striking a balance will be a challenge.

One big surprise this year is the rise of B-schools in Europe and Canada. Many recruiters said that these MBAs were as good or better than their U.S. counterparts. Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, jumped into first place in the 2004 ranking of MBA programs outside the U.S. It elbowed aside France's INSEAD by focusing on converting science and high-tech professionals into general managers. Barcelona's ESADE leapt to No. 4, thanks to its training in analytical and communications skills. And ESADE's local rival, IESE, moved up to No. 7.

The competition among B-schools is now global -- and it's getting increasingly heated.

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