Posted by Joseph Phillips, Jr. on Wednesday, August 3, 2011 at 5:01 PM PDT
In late June I attended a meeting in Washington DC to discuss the creation of a system that helps MBA students select a program. It is being developed as an alternative to the MBA program rankings that have become very prominent and influential.
The meeting was called by the Business Education Alliance (BEA). The chief organizers are three business school deans – Larry Pulley (William and Mary), Tony Hendrickson (Creighton), and Caryn Beck-Dudley (Florida State). They have been working on this for nearly two years and now are on the verge of founding a non-profit organization to provide this tool to aspiring MBA students.
There are lots of rankings out there about MBA programs, particularly full-time MBA programs. We do not have a full-time program, so it is not something I spend much time on. But as far as program rankings in general go, I don’t know of any leader in higher education who really likes them. Still, they are part of our world now, and they are not going away any time soon.
I’ve always been struck by how students, alumni, and advisory boards get excited about rankings. They really get people’s attention. Albers has been fortunate enough to receive recognition in some of the rankings out there, particularly in US News and World Report and BusinessWeek. Still, anyone with any sense should know it is very difficult to compare a few schools vs. one another let alone the 550 AAACB accredited business schools in the US or the more than 13,000 business schools worldwide. All are doing very similar and at the same time very different work. The experience of an undergraduate student in Albers is very different than one at Seattle Pacific University or one at any of the three University of Washington campuses. To try to rank even this small group against one another is very difficult, since the student experience can be impacted by so many different factors, including:
- Students choose to participate in different program opportunities, thus there is no one student experience in a business program. For example, one student could choose to be in our Mentor Program and another not. That will have an impact on their Albers experience.
- Students enter the program at different entry points, for example as incoming freshman, as a sophomore transferring from another school on campus, or as a junior transfer coming from a local community college. Each will yield a different experience.
- Students have different interests, skills and aptitudes, and these may match better in one program than another.
- Not only will it make a difference as to which faculty the student will have in classes, and who the student’s academic advisor will be, but who will be the friends and support group of the student on campus? Two students in the same year and major will have a very different experience based on this alone.
All these factors and more make it very difficult to put much stock in rankings as a tool for selecting the right school to attend.
The approach of the BPA is to identify about 20 factors that describe an MBA program. The inquiring student inputs his or her preferences and an algorithm identifies the programs that best match those preferences. There is also an audit function so that the integrity of the information provided by schools can be checked.
Whether the BPA can pull this off remains to be seen. Stay tuned!