Posted by fmba
on Sep 23, 2014 in MBA Rankings
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Peculiar results in U.S. News specialty MBA rankings have led to speculation that Jesuit schools may be gaming the system, particularly since they are based solely on a survey of business school officials.
(Poets&Quants) Jesuit colleges are popping up in surprising placesthat is, surprising places on the U.S. News & World Report MBA specialty rankings.
Take Saint Josephs University in Philadelphia, and its Erivan K. Haub School of Business. Haub, according to U.S. News, is 16th-best in America for marketing, beating out Dartmouths Tuck School of Business and Cornells Johnson School of Management, both tied at No. 17. Yet Haub is nowhere to be found on the U.S. News ranking of the top 100 business schools, while Tuck ranks at No. 9 and Johnson is 17th on the list.
Now consider Saint Louis Universitys Cook School of Business, the self-proclaimed Oldest Business School West of the Mississippi. U.S. News anoints Cook 13th best for supply chain/logistics, ahead of Harvard Business School at No. 15. Cook also comes out tied at 14th in entrepreneurship, alongside the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hills Kenan-Flagler Business School, and above Columbia Business School and the University of Virginias Darden School of Business, both tied at 17. Cook is also absent from the U.S. News top 100 business schools list, while Harvard holds the No. 1 spot, Darden sits at No. 11, and UNC-Chapel Hill comes in at No. 19.
Or look at Seattle Universitys Albers School of Business and Economics, 14th in U.S. News specialty ranking for accounting. That puts Albers on equal footing with Northwestern Universitys Kellogg School of Management and U.C. Berkeleys Haas School of Business. Albers makes no appearance in the U.S. News overall top 100, while Kellogg ranks 6th and Haas 7th.
Just three Jesuit schools make the top 100: Georgetown at 23, Boston College at 45, and Fordham University at 92. Those schools hold only five spots between them in the specialty rankings, where theyre often rated below Jesuit schools that dont appear in the overall rankings. In accounting, for example, Boston College sits at 21, beneath Seattle Universitys Albers at 14, Loyola Marymount at 19, and Loyola University Maryland at 20. Remarkably, 15 Jesuit collegesout of 28 in the U.S.hold a total of 29 spots in U.S. News specialty rankings.
Those peculiar results have led to widespread rumors that the schools are gaming U.S. News rankings, especially because they are based solely on a survey of business school officials. But school officials claim the results are less likely a sign of collusion than they are a consequence of familiarity. I dont believe that theres any
nefarious activity of any sort here, but I do think that when youre asking for kind of what I call a beauty-contest vote, youre more likely to vote for the schools that youre most familiar with and that you have an affinity with, says Joe Fox, who started a network of Jesuit MBA programs 30 years ago and is now associate dean and MBA programs director at non-Jesuit Washington Universitys Olin School of Business. Theyre not trying to rig it, it just works in their favor that way.
While U.S. News overall rankings are based on numerous metrics, including GMAT scores, employment rates, and starting salaries, the specialty rankings are derived solely from nominations by business school deans, directors of accredited masters programs, and senior faculty in the schools surveyed. Each respondent can nominate up to 10 programs in each of the specialties. The ranking is based on the number of nominations received by each school, and any school receiving at least seven nominations makes the list. Its to be expected that the schools ranked near the top of the overall list would feature prominently atop the specialty rankings, and they do. Its also to be expected that toward the bottom of the specialty lists, where it takes a mere seven mentions to get on, an outlier or two might appear.
But 14 outliers? A conspiracy theorist might envision a gathering of black-robed Jesuit deans in a dark, candle-lit cellar, murmuring quietly among themselves before uttering solemn promises to support the brotherhood. Perhaps a bit more realistically, and minus the dramatics, the theorists scenario might feature Jesuit deans in black bespoke suits sitting in their offices on a conference call that ends with much gleeful rubbing together of hands by the participants as they confirm their plot to game the system. So, what does the dean of Albers say when asked if his school is appropriately placed in the U.S. News accounting specialty ranking?
Well, I think that anybody that appears in those top 25 has a good program, says Dean Joseph Phillips, Jr. Who is above the other and that sort of nuance, obviously that is a hard thing to figure out.
Phillips essentially agrees with Foxs affinity theory. People, when theyre voting in those processes, theyre voting for who they know, he says. I would never cast a vote for a Jesuit school because its a Jesuit school. Id vote for a school that I thought had a good program.
While Phillips acknowledges that representatives of Jesuit schools get together, he notes that similar gatherings occur among other groups in business education, including large meetings among members of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the primary U.S. B-school accreditation body.
At the Cook School of Business, Director of Graduate Business Programs Suzy Hartmann describes the institutions 13th place for supply chain/logistics, ahead of Harvard by two spots, as a reasonable position.
We have a dedicated center for supply chain management, Hartmann points out, adding that about six courses are taught in that specialty each year, that the school also offers a masters degree in supply chain management, and that the schools departments of operations and IT management has nine faculty members with industry expertise.
Hartmann, who has not yet had a chance to vote in the U.S. News specialty rankings, does not dispute that some schools closeness with each other could affect rankings results. All of the Jesuit schools know each other, but I also know all the programs in the St. Louis area, Hartmann says. Such familiarity is an aspect of virtually any relationship among universities, such as being in the same athletic conference, Hartmann notes.
Like Fox, Phillips, and Hartmann, Dean Hasan Pirkul of the University of Texas at Dallas Naveen Jindal School of Management chalks up anomalous appearances in the rankings to school officials nominating programs theyre familiar with. Its [that] you genuinely know about their programs, says Pirkul, who led the creation of an alternative rankings system based on schools research output. If you know them, then thats perfectly normal to say, Yeah, they have a great program.'
Though theyre based on subjective impressions, specialty rankings have value, Pirkul believes. Peoples opinions matter, Pirkul says, adding that most prospective MBA students take those rankings with a grain of salt. I dont think people blindly pick up U.S. News and World Report and say, Oh, Saint Louis, I better go there.'
Fox agrees that a ranking based on a single opinion survey can be problematic. Theres so much room for squishiness, Fox says. Self-serving voting is another possibility. It would be possible for someone to say, Okay, where are we ranked and whos ranked right around us? and next year we decide not to rank them or rank them lower than we might otherwise think, in an effort to game people around us and maybe increase our position.
My biggest concern is people who put serious weight into these rankings, make decisions about where to choose to apply, where to go to school, what tuition to pay when theres so little tangible, evidence-based information that lies below that ranking.
The dubious validity of U.S. News specialty rankings hasnt stopped the Jesuit schools from using them to promote their school. This is a continuing affirmation of the quality of our masters programs at the Cook School, then-Dean Ellen Harshman crowed in a 2013 Cook website missive highlighting the schools top 20 placement in three categories of the specialty rankings. Haubs Dean Joseph DiAngelo in his online welcome statement calls attention to Haubs performance in the specialty rankings, too. The Haub School
is in an elite category of the best business schools throughout the world, DiAngelo asserts.
At Harvard Business School, which falls two spots behind Cook in the U.S. News logistics specialty ranking, spokesperson Jim Aisner said that he was not familiar with the school and would not comment on its placement. Rankings are one source of information, Aisner says. They should be taken as one source of information. The most important thing, we feel, is the match, the appropriate school for you.
U.S. News chief data strategist Robert Morse says he has seen no evidence of a Jesuit conspiracy in voting for the specialty rankings, but U.S. News hasnt probed the relatively high rankings of Jesuit schools in those rankings. It isnt a very sophisticated ranking, Morse says. I think for how theyre done, they provide useful information for students that these are some of the top programs. Its serving its purpose.