There was at least one big surprise in the rankings universe this spring: For just the second time since the U.S. News & World Report ranking of Executive MBA programs was launched in 2011, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania was knocked from the top spot, swapping places with last year’s No. 2, the Booth School Business at the University of Chicago. Wharton was bounced two years ago but rebounded to reclaim No. 1 last year. But that might not even be the most newsworthy development to come out of the annual ranking. The biggest news, if you’re looking at joining an elite EMBA program, is in the data — and in the inexorable rise of tuition costs, which reached new heights in 2018.
Yes, Wharton and Chicago Booth are expensive prospects. Tuition for two years in Philadelphia costs $198,600; in Chicago, $184,000. But those aren’t even the most expensive EMBA programs in the U.S. News ranking. Two schools have eclipsed the $200K mark: Columbia Business School ($202,080), ranked No. 4, and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management ($201,020), ranked No. 3. Two other schools in the ranking cost more than $180,000: No. 7 NYU Stern School of Business ($189,200) and No. 9 UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business ($185,000). By comparison, No. 5 Duke University Fuqua School of Business looks like a bargain at $158,000. An even greater bargain is the cheapest EMBA in the top 10: No. 6 University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, a steal at $129,200.
Altogether, the average tuition for two years at a top 10 EMBA program comes in at $176,399. Hope your employer can help foot the bill.
CRUNCHING THE DATA FOR A CLEARER PICTURE
No. 1, No. 2, No. 10 — all are great schools. Who is on top is less interesting than the big picture of what an elite program looks like. Which school has the lowest acceptance rate? Wharton, at 58.3%, is the lowest in the top 10 and second-lowest, after No. 11 Seattle University’s Albers College of Business (54.3%), for all 25 schools ranked this year. Which school has the highest? In the top 10, that would be Duke Fuqua, at 89.5% — but Marquette University, at No. 13, accepted 100% of applicants for its fall 2017 cohort, and SMU Cox School of Business took in 94.7%. Keep in mind that Marquette’s EMBA enrolled 19 students last fall and SMU Cox enrolled 37. Two other schools are in the 90s when it comes to opening the doors: Notre Dame University’s Mendoza College of Business (91.6%, 89 students) and Xavier University’s Williams College of Business, which accepted 90.9% of applicants but has the lowest enrollment in the ranking, at 10 students. The average acceptance rate for a top 10 school: 73.5% — but that’s only for five schools, as five of there top 10 failed to report acceptance rate data to U.S. News. Altogether, eight schools did not provide acceptance rate data, nor could the information be found in a search of their EMBA program websites.
What does an EMBA cohort look like at the elite schools? Older, of course, though not as old as you may think — the average age for the seven schools in the top 10 that reported data was 36.6, with Columbia coming in at the lowest for the entire ranking, wth an average age of just 32. Two schools breached the 40-year-old barrier: Seattle Albers (46) and No. 17 St. Joseph’s Haub School of Business (40). Because they’re older, the EMBA seekers at these schools have a lot more work experience, as expected: Of the six top-10 schools reporting work experience, the average was 158.2 months, or just over 13 years; the highest in the ranking was 252 months (21 years) at Seattle, and the lowest was at Notre Dame — 116 months, or about 9.7 years.
Another key attribute of these ranked EMBA programs: They are overwhelmingly male, with a few exceptions. The average percentage of women in a top-10 program is just 28.6%; for the entire ranking, 30.7%. The highest female percentage was at St. Joseph’s, a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Jesuit school, which is approaching parity at 47.7% women. Close behind is another Jesuit school, No. 14 Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, with 45.7%, followed by Seattle Albers at 41.7%.
The 2018 U.S. News list didn’t see much turnover from last year, when only 23 schools were ranked. Three new schools made the ranking: No. 20 Xavier University Williams College of Business in Cincinnati, Ohio; and, tied at No. 23, the University of Washington Foster School of Business and Yale School of Management. Only one school was knocked off: Washington University in St. Louis’ Olin Business School, which had moved from 20th two years ago to 14th last year before disappearing in 2018.
A FEW VALID CRITIQUES
Critics of the U.S. News EMBA ranking argue that it basically treats all the ranked programs the same, which is especially true for the two leaders, Booth and Wharton. Wharton has EMBA programs at its home campus in Philadelphia and a satellite campus in San Francisco; classes are held every other Friday and Saturday over two years. Both Wharton programs are a full-blown MBA experience with an intense schedule taught by the school’s best professors, with global modular courses in cities around the world and a global consulting practicum lasting six months with a team of MBAs from a partner institution abroad.
Booth’s approach is slightly different. Like Wharton, the school holds classes every other week on Fridays and Saturdays, but its 21-month program is offered on campuses in Chicago, London, and Singapore. Regardless of the campus, all the Booth EMBA students participate in four one-week international sessions, during which all three campuses meet to take classes, work in groups, and experience the local culture together. The already-high cost to enter the Booth program doesn’t include airfare for residential weeks in such cities as London or Hong Kong.
Other criticisms have been leveled at the U.S. News EMBA rankings. For one thing, 25 is too small a number: Plenty of top programs don’t even make the list. For another, the ranking still relies heavily on a much-derided poll of deans, a method that has been the subject of more than one scathing critique. Poets&Quants has critiqued it, too, for, among other things, giving a huge advantage to a group of Jesuit schools that vote for each other. You can see that advantage at play again in this EMBA ranking, with five Jesuit schools among the 25 total, most of them not well-known schools. And it’s hard to make an objective case that Seattle Albers or Marquette, for all their charms, are a better bet than Yale SOM.
They are cheaper, by a lot: The average two-year tuition bill at the five Jesuit schools is just $79,110. They also have a much smaller gender gap: The five schools’ average percentage of women is 41.5%, which compares very favorably to the percentages for the overall ranking (30.7%) and the top 10 (28.6%). And they could teach some schools on the list — cough cough Kellogg, cough cough Sloan — a thing or two about transparency. None of the five Jesuit schools failed to report key data to U.S. News. See next page for details.