When BusinessWeek first began ranking Executive MBA programs in 1991, the magazine settled on a simple formula to identify the best: Ask recent graduating classes and the deans or directors who actually run these programs for their opinions. How did the schools meet the expectations of their students? Which schools did the deans, who compete with each other, think of their rivals in the EMBA marketplace?
In that very first survey, Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management ranked first, after garnering the top spot from the deans and the second most favorable ratings from recent grads. Chicago, Wharton, Duke, and UCLA rounded out the top five that year.
Some 18 years later, in BusinessWeek’s 2009 ranking of EMBA programs Kellogg is still number one—still followed by Chicago and Wharton. But Kellogg’s lead is far slimmer than it had been in the debut ranking. Now, Kellogg is in third place in the dean survey, while it is in eighth place in the graduate poll. Yet, Kellogg has never been lodged from BusinessWeek’s number one spot over all these years.
The methodology hasn’t changed all that much over the years. Initially, the graduate score was composed of two classes of grads (1989 and 1991). BusinessWeek ‘s 2009 Executive MBA program rankings are based on three separate surveys of EMBA graduates—in 2009, 2007, and 2005—and the same poll of EMBA program directors. The 2009 graduate poll was sent to 5,056 students at 83 programs, and was completed and returned by 2,974 graduates (58%); the director poll was sent to 83 directors, of whom 69 responded (83%). Graduates are surveyed on various measures, including teaching quality, career services, and curriculum.
EMBA program directors were asked to list their top 10 programs overall. BusinessWeek assigns 10 points for every school named No. 1, nine points for every No. 2 ranking, and so on. The student survey score is given a weight of 65% in the final ranking, while the EMBA director poll gets the remaining 35% weight.
You can argue with this methodology all you want, but it’s simple, straightforward and easy to understand. (I’ll admit to some bias here because I created it back in 1991 when I was management editor of BusinessWeek.) The flaws are obvious: to the extent that graduates know that their views result in a ranking that could improve or diminish the value of their degrees, they may not exactly complete the survey honestly. BusinessWeek conducts statistical analysis on the results to assure their accuracy.
However, over the years, graduates have pretty much told it as it is. After all, the grads are much older in EMBA programs and generally far more demanding, given the high costs of these programs. Almost all of these students already have jobs so they’re not nearly as obsessed with the rankings of their schools. A good example of the honesty that comes through in this survey can be seen from the results of the 2001 graduate poll. Columbia Business School ranked dead last among the top 25 in the graduate satisfaction poll. Grads complained about an oversize program and disappointing instructors. They rated Columbia teachers as only “average”–with the exception of a few top-notch professors–and criticized the school for failing to foster a sense of community. The result: Columbia’s EMBA program rank fell to 18th from 7 in the debut ranking.