Getting Behind the Undergrad Rankings

BusinessWeek recently announced its first-ever undergraduate business school rankings, with the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania taking the top spot. B-schools editor Louis Lavelle (LouisBW) and staff editor Geoff Gloeckler (GeoffBW) counted down the top 50 and fielded questions from B-school channel editor Francesca Di Meglio (FrancescaBW) and interested members of the undergraduate community. Here is an edited transcript of the chat:

gordo: How do these rankings compare with previous rankings of undergraduate business programs by U.S. News and World Report?

LouisBW: Most other rankings of undergraduate programs simply poll B-school deans and senior faculty. Ours is much more analytical. We surveyed 100,000 students and 2,000 recruiters. We also looked at starting salaries, how many undergraduates find their way to top-ranked MBA programs, and academic quality, which includes faculty-to-student ratio and SAT scores.

HartsShocker: What was the biggest factor in determining the rankings?

GeoffBW: The student survey and academic quality measure. Each one of those counted for 30% of the final ranking.

Kjr2468: What would you rank higher on the importance of an undergraduate business program, career or MBA placement?

LouisBW: Both are really important, and it depends on the person and what they want out of their program. Most students are eager to start their careers as soon as they graduate. For that reason, careers are probably more important than an MBA.

rca: How does a school like Richmond, which has never shown up in a top 50, make the top 25?

GeoffBW: This is a question we've been hearing often. The simple answer is that no one has ever looked at undergraduate business programs in the way we did. In Richmond's case, it received the highest marks possible in teaching quality and was ranked No. 3 in academic quality, which includes items such as SAT scores and the amount of time students spend studying each week.

yipuxia: Corporate opinions are not directly factored into this ranking. What's your take on that?

LouisBW: In fact, they are. 20% of the final ranking comes from a survey of 2,000 corporate recruiters. The ones we surveyed were the ones who hired the largest number of undergraduate business majors at the schools we ranked.

bdef: Where do we find the rankings?

GeoffBW: The rankings will be available in the May 8 issue of BusinessWeek, which will be available on newsstands beginning on Apr. 28. Also, the rankings will have a home on BusinessWeek Online. On the Web site, there will be an interactive table available, so prospective students can rank what they feel is most important.

horatioflex1: What is the purpose of the survey where people can vote? It seems as if the same person voted for the University of Richmond thousands of times.

LouisBW: The voting page is designed to let individual visitors to the Web site weigh-in on their sentimental favorites for No. 1. There was a technical problem with University of Richmond votes that has now been fixed.

HRaoU: You indicated that large and small programs would be featured separately. When will that happen?

LouisBW: In the magazine you'll see that each program is identified as a private or public school and a two-, three-, or four-year program. There's also a column in that table that lists full-time enrollment. Readers can use these features to construct their own personal ranking based on their own preferences.

tatsurosan: How do you reconcile the fact that some undergrad business schools are four years while others are two years?

GeoffBW: We didn't find any need to reconcile for that difference in schools. We judged programs on factors that are common to every program. Everyone wants to know how much they will get paid when they graduate, whether the program is two or four years long. The differences between the programs are listed in the table in the magazine, as well as on the Web site.

hoff1103: Could you go into a little detail on how you weighed starting salaries, SAT scores, faculty-to-student ratio, etc.?

LouisBW: There were five elements to the ranking. The student survey and academic quality rank each counted for 30% of the final ranking. The recruiter survey counted for 20%. Starting salaries and the number of students who go on to top MBA programs counted for 10% each. Academic quality was measured by looking at SAT scores, faculty-to-student ratios, average class size, number of business majors with internships, and how much time students spend studying.

CB27: What were the major factors distinguishing the top 10?

GeoffBW: The top 10 programs consistently ranked in the top in each of the categories we looked at. Each of the top five programs received A-pluses or A's in each of the major categories -- teaching quality, facilities and services, and job placement.

awilkessc: Did what you look for in an undergraduate program differ from what you look for in an MBA program? If so, how?

LouisBW: In our MBA ranking, we only look at student satisfaction, recruiter comments, and an intellectual capital rating. Our undergraduate ranking is much more extensive.

afilis: When applying from a top-15 undergraduate program, how much of an advantage will this give a student trying to get into a great MBA program?

GeoffBW: This is an interesting question that we actually look at in a sidebar in the magazine. What we found is that at most top MBA programs, only about 20% of students have undergraduate business degrees. It might help you in the initial stages of the program, but in the second year students are expected to know the basics.

nyustern09: How did Cornell get to be No. 14 if it doesn't have a business school beyond hotel management?

LouisBW: In fact, Cornell has an American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business-accredited undergraduate business program in its agricultural school. It's not a part of the S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management. And according to our research, it does quite well. When we looked at Cornell, it was a program where student satisfaction was extraordinarily high, and graduates got higher-than-average salaries. What's really interesting is that out of all 61 schools we ranked, Cornell sent more graduates to top-ranked MBA programs than any other school.

Alfio: Where can we find the ranking methodology?

GeoffBW: The methodology is explained in the magazine this week, as well as online (see BW Online, 5/8/06, "Grading the Schools"). Also, there is an FAQ on the site explaining the entire ranking process.