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Kellogg Tops Economist 2017 MBA Rankings, Displacing Longstanding Leader and Neighbor Chicago Booth

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There’s one thing that might soften the blow of Dean Sally Blount’s announcement earlier this fall that she’ll be leaving Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management at the end of this year. Try Kellogg being named the No. 1 full-time MBA program in the Economist’s 2017 ranking of global business schools, released yesterday. It’s just a small hop from the school’s second-place finish last year, but it’s a big deal to have dethroned rival and neighbor University of Chicago Booth School of Business, which had hung out at No. 1 for five years running.

Though its year-over-year movement was modest, Kellogg’s been on quite a roller-coaster ride since its last No. 1 showing, in 2004. But the past five years have been a steady climb—from 23rd (2013) to 14th (2014) to 7th (2015) to second (2016) and now to first. According to the Economist, some of the factors contributing to Kellogg’s meteoric rise in the rankings include its facilities and collaborative culture. And indeed, Kellogg did open an amazing new Global Hub in the past year specifically designed to drive collaboration. Also cited were its great job placement stats—and the career services and mighty alumni network that help contribute to them—as well as the hefty 72 percent pay bump its graduates enjoy.

Beyond Kellogg’s triumphant dethroning of Booth, other highlights of this year’s Economist rankings include a strong showing by U.S. schools relative to schools elsewhere in the world. American business schools occupied all top 10 slots of this year’s rankings and 16 of the top 20.

There was also no shortage of shifts in rank among many other schools. In the top 10 alone, many schools and their students had cause to celebrate. Harvard Business School inched up a spot over last year to come in at No. 3 (behind Kellogg and the taken-down-a-notch Chicago Booth); the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School soared up eight spots to land at No. 4; UCLA Anderson School of Management jumped from 14th last year to sixth this year; and Columbia Business School sauntered up a couple of spots, from 11th to ninth.

Silicon Valley−area schools Stanford Graduate School of Business and Berkeley’s Haas School held steady year over year, remaining at fifth and seventh respectively. At Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business and UVA’s Darden School, meanwhile, the news was not as good. Tuck slipped a couple of spots, from sixth to eighth, and Darden plummeted from last year’s third-place spot all the way down to 10th. INSEAD—ranked the best business school in the world two years running by the Financial Times—fell from 13th last year to 21st this year as measured by the Economist.

The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business saw one of the greatest jumps among the leading 20, shooting up nine spots, from 21st last year to 12th this year. But perhaps most astounding was the University of Florida’s Hough Graduate School of Business rocketing a full 20 spots, from 40th to 20th. Mind-boggling losses were even more prevalent further down the list, where more than a dozen schools plunged by double digits.

Wild Fluctuations a Hallmark of Economist Rankings
Which begs the question—can a school really change that much in a single year? The Economist itself acknowledged the wild variations in its own ranking. “Rankings are little more than an indication of the MBA market at a particular moment,” read an article the magazine published on its methodology. “Results of rankings can be volatile, so they should be treated with caution,” the Economist itself went on. “The various media rankings of MBA programmes all employ a different methodology. None is definitive, so our advice to prospective students is to understand the ethos behind each one before deciding whether what it is measuring is important for you.”

So how does the Economist arrive at its particular ranking? To start, it conducts a survey of thousands of MBA students about what they considered most important as they decided to enroll in a full-time MBA program. These responses were used to determine the following weighting for four covered categories: opening new career opportunities (35 percent), personal development and educational experience (35 percent), better salary (20 percent), and networking potential (10 percent).

As for the data that inform those categories, it’s based on two surveys. The first is a quantitative survey of schools on things like the salary of graduates, average GMAT scores, and the number of registered alumni, accounting for 80 percent of the ranking. The second is a qualitative survey of students in each school’s most recent graduating class on things like the quality of the faculty, facilities, and career services department, accounting for the remaining 20 percent.

If anything, this year’s results were a perhaps bit less head-scratching than recent years’. For example, two years ago, Stanford wasn’t even in the top 10, coming in at 18th. And last year, Wharton failed to crack the top 10, coming in at 12th. The wild movement of schools—as well as the frequent relatively poor performance of schools widely considered among the very best in the world—causes many in graduate management education to view the otherwise well-regarded publication’s rankings with skepticism.

“These types of fluctuations are pretty ridiculous, and only serve to undermine the integrity of the ranking,” says Clear Admit’s Alex Brown. “While Kellogg and Chicago Booth are terrific programs—and will understandably be pleased to top the rankings—most insiders would place these programs somewhere behind Harvard and Stanford,” he continues. “And to argue that Kellogg is better than Sloan, for all MBA candidates, is simply not correct,” he adds. MIT Sloan School of Management slipped from a 17th place standing last year to 19th this year. “It calls into question the credibility of the ranking.”

Of course, the role that student satisfaction plays in the Economist’s calculus could provide at least a partial explanation of the wild rankings. “When you survey students, you have to factor in that they also have a stake in the outcome of the survey; it creates significant bias,” Brown points out.

“There is a better way, I think, which would be to examine tiers of schools that are similarly competitive,” he suggests.

As always, those of us at Clear Admit encourage applicants to use rankings as just one of many criteria in determining which MBA program may be the best fit for your individual background, needs and goals.

For more of Brown’s thoughts on a tiered ranking system, click here. To view the complete 2017 Economist ranking, click here.