What's Behind the Grade

The methodology underlying BusinessWeek's undergraduate business program rankings

Choosing an undergraduate business program is a complex undertaking. For students and parents, many factors come into play: location, academic offerings, cost, and job prospects for graduates, to name just a few. When we launched our undergraduate B-school rankings in 2006, and expanded the number of participating schools this year, we took that complexity into account.

Last year we ranked 61 programs, and this year we added another 32 schools. To decide which programs to add, we asked schools to provide information on their programs, including enrollment, test scores, and starting salaries for grads. We then analyzed that data to identify schools that were roughly comparable to the schools we ranked in 2006. We found 62, giving us a total of 123 programs eligible for ranking. After eliminating 30 programs for poor response rates on our student and recruiter surveys, we were left with a total of 93.

The centerpiece of our ranking is a survey of about 77,000 graduating seniors at the 123 eligible 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. (Wharton, which declined to provide e-mail addresses of students, maintains that media rankings of schools are misleading and suffer from methodology flaws.) Using publicly available sources to locate e-mail addresses, we attempted to contact 689 Wharton business majors. The school's opposition to the ranking resulted in a lower, but still adequate response rate for the school. Overall, 20,628 students completed our survey, a response rate of 26.7%. At Wharton, 139 students completed the survey, a response rate of 20.1%.

In addition to surveying students, BusinessWeek polled 466 corporate recruiters for companies that hire thousands of business majors each year. We asked them to tell us which programs turn out the best graduates and which schools have the most innovative curricula and most effective career services. In the end, 245 recruiters responded, a response rate of about 53%.

To learn which schools' students get the plum jobs, we asked each institution to tell us the median starting salary for their most recent graduating class. In addition, we drew on our 2002, 2004, and 2006 MBA surveys to create a "feeder school" measure showing which schools send the most grads to 35 top MBA programs identified in previous BusinessWeek rankings.

Finally, we created an academic quality gauge of five equally weighted measures: average SAT scores, ratio of full-time faculty to students, 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 counted for 10% each. The academic quality measure contributed the remaining 30%.