UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business again claimed first place in U.S. News & World Report’s 2015 ranking of the best part-time MBA programs in the U.S. A familiar cast of big brand business schools dominates the top of the list, with Chicago Booth, Northwestern Kellogg, New York University’s Stern School, and UCLA’s Anderson School rounding out the top five.
At a time when enrollment in many part-time MBA programs has been declining, the new U.S. News ranking, published March 10, is still a reminder of the popularity of evening MBA programs. Enrollment in part-time programs vastly exceeds full-time or distance learning MBA offerings despite a falloff at many schools.
In fact, even the highly ranked programs have not escaped drops in enrollment. Four of the top five ranked programs show lower part-time enrollments from two years ago. Part-timer students at New York University’s Stern School has fallen to 1,696 from 2,031 just two years ago. Despite the decline, NYU’s part-time program remains the largest in the nation, followed by the University of Chicago, with 1,378 students, and St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, with 1,211 students. Only five schools have part-time enrollments that exceed 1,000 students. The other two are the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the University of Minnesota, with 1,185 and 1,122, respectively.
UCLA ANDERSON IS THE ONLY SCHOOL AMONG TOP FIVE NOT TO REPORT DECLINING ENROLLMENT IN PAST TWO YEARS
The only school in the top five to buck the downward trend in enrollment has been UCLA’s Anderson School which reported 920 part-time students, up slightly from 867 two years ago. Just outside the top five, Michigan’s Ross School of Business has also been able to increase enrollment in the past two years, going to 445 part-time students from 366.
Other highly ranked schools on the list include No. 6 University of Michigan, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Texas at Austin, both tied for seventh, No. 9 Ohio State University, and the University of Minnesota and Southern California University, both tied for tenth place.
U.S. News uses five different criteria to rank part-time MBA programs, the largest of which is a survey of business school deans and MBA program directors at some 323 part-time MBA programs. The survey, which asks business school officials to rank programs on a five-point scale with five being outstanding and one being marginal, had a response rate of 41%. It accounts for half of the ranking’s weight. Average GMAT or GRE scores, years of work experience, and part-time enrollment each account for a weight of 15%. The remaining 5% is devoted to undergraduate grade point average of the latest entering class. Only U.S. schools are ranked.
THE FLAWS IN THE METHODOLOGY
The flaws in the methodology are obvious. Most deans and program directors have only a vague sense of the quality of another school’s part-time offering so the survey has little more than the authority of a popularity poll in high school. Using average GMAT scores is troublesome because many very good programs no longer require the GMAT so the scores they collect and average are going to be artificially high. Giving more points to a program merely because it has a large enrollment has nothing to do with quality. In fact, one could easily argue that schools with massive part-time enrollments are just money makers for the schools with scant attention paid to quality.
Even worse, U.S. News puts a numerical rank on 212 part-time programs when the available data could never support a credible ranking that deep. In fact, ties among schools are ever present, an acknowledgement that the underlying scores are so close that many assigned ranks are statistically meaningless. To be eligible for the part-time ranking, a program needed to be accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International and have at least 20 students enrolled part time in fall 2014; 290 part-time MBA programs met those criteria and were included in this ranking.
Nonetheless, it’s helpful to have some sense of which schools are doing the best job in the part-time MBA business, however imperfect the actual results may be. U.S. News labels its ranking 2016, though it is published in 2015 and based on 2014 data.