When it comes to rankings of part-time MBA programs, the pickings are pretty slim. There’s U.S. News & World Report, which ranks part-time MBAs annually, and then there is Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
Absent from the landscape is The Financial Times, The Economist, and Forbes, which last ranked part-time programs in 2005 when New York University’s Stern School came out on top.
US NEWS’ TOP FIVE: BERKELEY, CHICAGO, NORTHWESTERN, NYU & UCLA
For our money, the better of the two existing lists is from U.S. News. The results seem far more credible than BusinessWeek’s peculiar effort. The top of the U.S. News list is dominated by schools that are consistently rated among the best for their full-time flagship MBA programs: UC-Berkeley’s Haas School, the University of Chicago’s Booth School, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, New York University’s Stern School, and UCLA’s Anderson School.
In head-shaking contrast, BusinessWeek puts Elon University’s Love School of Business, its number one ranked part-time program, ahead of Chicago, Northwestern, NYU, UC-Berkeley, and Michigan, among others. Does anyone even know where Elon University is? (For the record, it’s in North Carolina).
Rounding out the top ten on the U.S. News list for 2013 is No. 6 Michigan, No. 7 Texas at Austin, No. 8 Ohio State, and tied for a rank of ninth place, Carnegie Mellon and Indiana. U.S. News, by the way, ranks BusinessWeek’s No. 1 school in a tie for 69th place with William & Mary, Rutgers, and the University of Delaware.
Most business schools derive prestige from full-time rankings and that status tends to align with all the programs a school offers from Executive MBA and part-time programs to non-degree executive education courses. After all, these programs are more often than not taught by the same faculty and course offerings largely reflect those in the full-time curriculum. So when a specialty ranking fails to synch up in any meaningful way with a full-time ranking, the results should be significantly discounted.
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 325 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 45% in 2013. 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 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. U.S. News has seven schools tied for both 50th and 212th places, six schools tied for a rank of 73, and eight schools at 204.
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.
(See following page for table of U.S. News’ top 25 part-time MBA programs for 2013)