When The Financial Times and The Economist rank Executive MBA programs, an unusual and often peculiar pattern tends to emerge. Joint EMBA programs involving two or more schools often rank more highly than the standalone programs of the individual business schools. The University of Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management EMBA program, for example, is ranked 24th by the FT, while two of Kellogg’s partnership programs rank higher. The Financial Times ranks Kellogg’s joint EMBA with Hong Kong University of Science & Technology best in the world, and its partnership with WHU Beisheim in Germany 18th. The Economist, meantime, ranks Kellogg’s joint EMBA with York University’s Schulich School of Business first, while placing Kellogg’s standalone program eighth.
How come? Mainly, it’s the result of ranking methodologies that put a lot of emphasis on the post-EMBA compensation of graduates as well as the international composition of the enrolled students. Joint programs tend to be products of international hookups between schools that naturally attract a more geographically diverse crowd of executives and managers. Those students tend to be older and therefore more highly paid because they have more work experience. The UCLA-National University of Singapore joint EMBA, ranked third by The Economist, fares better than the standalone offering at UCLA (13th) or the NUS (43rd). Executives in the UCLA-NUS program have, on average, three years more work experience and earn close to $40,000 more than the UCLA single-campus alternative.
So the fact that the joint program is assigned a higher rank than a standalone model does not mean that these EMBA programs are better organized, taught by better professors, or even have students of higher caliber. It’s merely a function of ranking systems devised by journalists who have never attended a business school. In fact, most academic insiders will tell you that joint programs can often be difficult to coordinate between two or more schools’ faculty and often lack cohesiveness. It’s one of the reasons why the University of Chicago’s Booth School and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, two of the world’s best EMBA programs, refuse to strike partnerships with other schools. They believe the highest possible quality of an EMBA program can only be assured if it is conceived, taught and delivered by one school and its faculty.
THE MOST HIGHLY RATED OF THEM ALL? KELLOGG’S PROGRAM WITH HONG KONG UST
The most significant advantage of a joint program is that you’re far more likely to study with a wider range of culturally diverse people and to do so in regions of the world that are unfamiliar to you. In any case, there are a good number of joint programs over the years that stand out. Some 16 of the top 100 EMBA programs ranked by The Financial Times in 2013 were partnership offerings, while eight of the top 62 EMBAs ranked by The Economist are joint programs. All told, there are 19 joint programs ranked by either publication or both. There’s little alignment between the FT and The Economist on these programs, by the way. The Economist‘s No. 1 program in its debut EMBA ranking in 2013 was Kellogg/York, which was ranked 26th by The Financial Times. The FT’s No. 1 program is the Kellogg/Hong Kong UST partnership, which is ranked sixth by The Economist.
Given our own belief that joint EMBAs are rarely if ever as good or better than the best standalone programs, we have kept them out of our overall ranking of the top Executive MBA programs. Instead, we offer this composite list for prospective students that show how the joint programs compare with each other. The best of the bunch, according to our composite ranking, is the Kellogg/Hong Kong UST program. In fact, Kellogg has three of the top five on our composite list (see below).
Each year, the school’s program with Hong Kong UST attracts a highly impressive group of managers and executives, 41% of whom have the title of either director or managing director at their companies. From 1998 to 2014, some 840 students have passed through the program which tends to be more dominantly male. Only two in every ten students here are female. The average age of a EMBA in the program is 37, with 14 years of work experience and an average annual total compensation of $257,758. Roughly 55% of the students are non-Asian, with 9% from mainland China, 14% from Hong Kong, and 22% from other parts of Asia.
Not surprisingly, the top joint program commands a premium in the market. The cost of this program for the latest entering class is $155,000, making it among the most expensive Executive MBAs in the world.