Chat Transcript: Undergrad B-School Rankings

BusinessWeek editors recently discussed the 2008 undergraduate program rankings with an online audience. Here's the chat transcript

During a live chat event, BusinessWeek recently announced the results of its 2008 undergraduate business program rankings (BusinessWeek, 2/28/08). Although the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania held onto the No. 1 spot for the third year running, it had more competition from the No. 2 McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia than ever before.

After counting down the top programs in the U.S., BusinessWeek B-schools editor Louis Lavelle (LouisBW) and staff editor Geoff Gloeckler (GeoffBW) fielded questions from reporter Francesca Di Meglio (FrancescaBW) and an online audience. Edited excerpts of the conversation follow:

Trif: Why are the ranking release dates getting earlier and earlier?

GeoffBW: Good question. The first year we did the ranking, we released the results in early April, and we found that was a little late for high school seniors looking to make a college decision. With the earlier release—before most schools' spring breaks—students have more time to make decisions. I think this date (late February) is where we will stay.

Milne: Has the methodology changed at all from last year?

LouisBW: The methodology hasn't changed at all from previous years. We still rank the schools based on five pieces of data: the student survey, a recruiter survey, median salaries for graduates, the number of grads who end up at top-ranked MBA programs, and an academic quality score that consists of test scores, faculty-student ratios, and several other measures.

vpasquale: In 2007 there were 100 schools ranked. Are you only doing 50 in your magazine this year?

GeoffBW: For each of the three years we have done the undergraduate rankings we have only listed 50 schools in the magazine. The other ranked schools appear at This year we have 96 schools actually ranked. This is the most we have ever had. The other schools that are not ranked this year did not meet the response-rate numbers we were looking for either from the students or recruiters.

jerryyu: How do these rankings compare with last year's list?

LouisBW: The big news this year is the University of Virginia. It really gained on Wharton. The ranking is based on an "index" number, and the No. 1 school always has an index number of 100. Last year Virginia was way behind with an index number of 92.7. This year it was 99—a virtual dead heat.

TheMT: You tend to have quite a bit of variance in your rankings for individual schools from year to year as opposed to other sources (for example, U.S. News). Can you explain this?

GeoffBW: Our ranking is based on nine different metrics, with the most weight being given to the students, the recruiters hiring them, and the quality of academics in the program. Because of this there is a lot of room for movement. If you compare our rankings from year to year there is some movement, but not a lot (with a few exceptions of course).

GoldenGoose31: How far ahead are Wharton and Virginia from the rest of the pack?

LouisBW: The No. 3 school, Mendoza College of Business at Notre Dame, had an index number of 96.7 (to Virginia's 99). After that, the numbers take a big dip, so the top three schools form a cluster of their own.

tommyj22: What were the critical factors that prompted the College of Business Administration at Northeastern to fall eight spots this year?

LouisBW: There was really only one. Northeastern fared poorly on our recruiter survey this year. Last year it was ranked 32 out of 90-plus schools on the recruiter survey. This year it was 65.

Austin: Has anything changed/improved at the University of Michigan Business School in the last year? Was the new school building [anticipated to be up in fall, 2008] put into consideration for this year's rankings?

GeoffBW: New buildings and other facilities usually come out in the student responses. We've found that, typically, students are happier when their buildings and classrooms are state-of-the-art. Clearly a school with a brand-new building and lousy professors and career services is not going to fare very well, but it is a big factor.

cooljoenyc: Fordham jumped from No. 34 to No. 27 this year. Any reason for it?

LouisBW: Fordham did a lot better on our recruiter survey. Last year it ranked 42; this year it was 13th.

Austin: It appears as if Cornell University's Undergraduate Business Program and the Haas School of Business at UC-Berkeley seemingly traded positions this year. Can you explain this?

LouisBW: Cornell did better on academic quality this year, and Berkeley fell in both the recruiter survey and academic quality.

jmrao: What was the most surprising finding from the student surveys?

GeoffBW: For the most part, students seemed happy with recruiting, and I think the starting salary numbers are a big reason for this. At the top 25 schools, the average starting salary went up $3,000 to $54,445. Not bad at all.

rpb28: How do you come up with the grades used to assess certain criteria, such as teaching quality?

GeoffBW: Those letter grades are based on specific questions on the student survey. The letter grades are not reflected in the ranking.

Atmosphere: What school had the highest starting salary for graduates?

LouisBW: That would be the Sloan School of Management at MIT with $61,118. A bunch of schools, including Wharton, Michigan, and the Stern School of Business at NYU, hit the $60,000 mark this year.

dsirjue: How many additional schools were ranked and when will that list be released?

LouisBW: We ranked 15 new schools this year, including schools that participated in the rankings for the first time, and schools that have participated in the past but were not ranked in previous years because of poor response rates.

vpasquale: It is indicated in the rankings listing that the School of Management at Binghamton University had the biggest jump in rankings. Any one thing in particular to which this is attributable?

GeoffBW: You are correct. It jumped from 74 to 40. The reason can be attributed to one thing: Recruiters. The school finished 79th in the student survey, but 11 in the recruiter survey. This has a lot to do with the school's proximity to New York City.

marscup: Which schools had the highest student satisfaction?

GeoffBW: Virginia and Notre Dame are No. 1 and No. 2 when it comes to student satisfaction. Recruiters might not like them as much as Wharton, but you would be hard pressed to find a happier bunch of students.

SusanP: What were the critical factors that prompted the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown to fall eight spots this year?

LouisBW: Georgetown fell because of lower levels of student satisfaction. The job placement grade for Georgetown was a B, so that might have been a factor. Last year it was an A+.

CNI: For a third straight year, the Goizueta Business School at Emory University has been in the top five. What are some of the strengths you have perceived in Goizueta?

GeoffBW: The Emory student body and faculty are a very close-knit group. The program is the perfect size for students to have access to faculty and feel important. The facility is beautiful, and the Atlanta locale helps in terms of recruiting. In the student survey, Goizueta is ranked No. 3, and it is also ranked highly in areas including internships, faculty-student ratio, and starting salaries.

Hermes1922: Why doesn't the index consider the diversity of the student body, since there is such a high level of interest from companies?

LouisBW: There are a lot of things that could be taken into account, such as diversity, but the more you add the less each one matters. We didn't think diversity of the student body was as important as student and recruiter satisfaction, pay, getting into a top MBA program, and academic quality. It's important, don't get me wrong, But with undergrad programs if you gave extra points for diversity you might be skewing things in favor of schools that draw from very diverse populations, and hurting schools that don't.

tblood01: What do you feel are the best attributes keeping Villanova School of Business in the top 15?

GeoffBW: The first year we did the undergraduate ranking people were surprised that Villanova was ranked so high. Last year was the same. I hate to break it to you, but it seems like Villanova is here to stay. It has good rankings in nearly every one of our measures, with the highlights coming in the student and recruiter ranks (11 and 25, respectively) and No. 5 in the number of students with internships. Not too shabby.

TLC: How much weight is put on the ranking for graduates going into top MBA schools?

LouisBW: It was 10%, same as last year and the year before. That's the same weight we give to pay, and half the weight we give to the recruiter survey. The most important factors are the student survey (30%) and academic quality (30%).

Eric_Frazier: What specific factors led to Wake Forest dropping from 17 to 21 this year?

LouisBW: The recruiter survey was once again the culprit. Last year, Wake ranked 29th in the recruiter survey; this year it was 43rd.

TheMT: Is there a reason you don't include a peer assessment?

GeoffBW: We talked about including one when we were developing the methodology, but after speaking with various deans and administrators we found that peer assessments turned into too much of a popularity contest. Speaking on behalf of Louis and the team, I think we are happy with the methodology we are currently using. I don't see a peer assessment being added anytime soon.

annea: How much of an impact does the faculty-to-student ratio have on the overall rank?

LouisBW: All in all, not much, only 6%. It's part of the academic quality score, which includes five equally weighted measures (the ratio and four other measures). By itself, the ratio isn't enough to move the needle all that much.

Hermes1922: Thanks for your response on the diversity question. Using the same logic, aren't salaries skewed by region and why is that not adjusted as a fairness issue?

GeoffBW: Good question. We looked into this the first year we conducted the rankings in 2006 and found the cost of living issue really wasn't as big of a difference as we had thought—only a few percentage points one way or the other. Because there are so many various industries that undergrads are getting into, the salaries are a lot more varied than with MBAs.

Milne: How many schools participated in the ranking?

GeoffBW: We started with 127 schools. Ninety-six are ranked.

jwhcky15: I'm curious to hear why stand-alone business schools such as Babson and Bentley are ranked relatively low compared to the other top programs. Is it the lack of resources and big-name prestige associated with the bigger universities?

LouisBW: Resources count for something in our ranking—small classes and shiny new buildings will always increase student satisfaction. And prestige drives a lot of decisions companies make about where to recruit. That said, there are lots of ways to make students and recruiters happy without spending a bundle—turning out really smart students is one of them.

trumpeteer71: How much did the number of surveys received from each school differ, and how much did that affect that portion of the ranking?

GeoffBW: We only use response rate in the student survey to decide who is eligible. It does not factor into how the ranking is scored. Once a school passes the minimum threshold (which was about 28% this year), the response rate is taken into consideration.

FrancescaBW: Any parting words, Louis and Geoff?

LouisBW: Thanks to everyone for participating in the chat and showing an interest in the undergraduate rankings.

GeoffBW: If you want more information about undergraduate business schools, check out The Best Undergraduate B-Schools book written by me (cheap plug). I can vouch that it's worth the money.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.