Booth Ousts Kellogg In New EMBA Ranking

The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business has done it again, this time toppling rival Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in BusinessWeek’s new ranking of the world’s best Executive MBA programs.

Booth, which has also won first place in BusinessWeek’s full-time MBA ranking three consecutive times, ousted Kellogg, which until now was the only No. 1 school in BusinessWeek’s EMBA ranking since it began 20 years ago. Booth had been ranked No. 2 in 2009, the last time BusinessWeek ranked EMBA programs in its biennial list.

Kellogg tumbled to a rank of three, behind both Booth and No. 2 Columbia Business School, which had been ranked fourth by BusinessWeek in 2009. IE Business School climbed into the fourth spot from sixth, while UCLA’s Anderson School jumped into fifth place from eighth in 2009.

BusinessWeek said that while both schools continue to garner the respect of EMBA directors, “the overall satisfaction of Kellogg EMBA graduates appears to have declined–the program ranked 11th in our grad poll this year, down from eighth…One possible reason: support staff and services. In 2009, Kellogg grads awarded the program an A+ in this category. This year they gave it a B.” Nonetheless, it was close: Both Chicago and Kellogg tied each other in the magazine’s poll of EMBA directors who put both schools in second place, while Chicago’s ranking in BusinessWeek’s graduate poll was 10th, just one tiny step ahead of Kellogg at 11.

The biggest fall of any top ten school was suffered by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School which dropped six places from a rank of third in 2009 to ninth place. Wharton was still No. 1 in BusinessWeek’s poll of EMBA directors, but it fared surprisingly low in the magazine’s surveys of graduates–28th place. Georgetown University’s McDonough School also fell six places to a rank of 24 from a rank of 18 in 2009.

This year BusinessWeek gave numerical ranks to 40 schools (No. 40 was UC-Irvine’s Merage School of Business) and listed 26 more in the second-tier, from Boston University to the University of Wisconsin at Madison. As always, the magazine’s EMBA rankings are based on two surveys: of EMBA graduates and the B-school directors of these programs. For the graduate portion of the ranking, BusinessWeek typically combines its last three surveys of graduates to increase the size of the sample and to create more stability in the ranking. The magazine’s new Executive MBA program rankings, for example, were  based on three separate surveys of EMBA graduates—in 2011, 2009, and 2007—and a new poll of EMBA program directors. Graduates were surveyed on various measures, including teaching quality, career services, and curriculum. EMBA program directors were asked to list their top 10 programs overall.

Typically, the differences among the scores on the graduate survey are often small and there is some controversy over how statistically meaningful they are. When graduates were asked if the EMBA program had fulfilled their expectations, for example, Chicago EMBAs had a total score of 4.851 on a one-to-five point scale with five being the highest grade possible. Booth grads gave their school the sixth highest scores on that question. Kellogg EMBA graduates gave their school a 4.636 score which put the school in 30th place on that question alone. The difference between Chicago and Northwestern on the question amounts to 4.4%. Yet it’s such minute differences that determine where a school falls on the list.

Indeed, those tiny differences are common. Graduates were also asked to rate the caliber of their classmates in the Executive MBA program. Chicago EMBAs scored their school a 4.91, a rating that was fourth best, while Kellogg EMBA grads scored their program a 4.705, which put the school behind 29 others on this question at 30th. (For an infographic that shows the scores on 12 key questions, click here). Oddly, the school with the highest score on this question was Villanova, which scored a perfect 5.0, while the EMBA program with the lowest score was the University of Buffalo, which got a 3.875 that put it 76th.

Nonetheless, the BusinessWeek ranking carries considerable influence, and Kellogg’s fall from the number one spot is yet another setback in a series of them–largely at the hands of Chicago Booth. Until this year, Kellogg had captured the top spot in six consecutive rankings in 1991, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2009. And for many years, Kellogg had regularly beaten Chicago in BusinessWeek’s full-time MBA ranking. No school, for example, has been number one in the BusinessWeek rankings more often than Kellogg which has had that honor for five of 11 times over a 22-year period. But Booth has now won three consecutive times and in last year’s full-time MBA ranking Kellogg fell to fourth place, its weakest showing ever.

Some of this year’s biggest winners had been ranked in BusinessWeek’s second-tier last time around and pushed their way onto the top 25 list. No. 16 Thunderbird, No. 20 Washington University Olin School, No. 21 Cornell Johnson School, and No. 23 University of Texas McCombs School of Business all had been on BusinessWeek’s unranked “second-tier” list in 2009. The University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business, which had been unranked, showed up in 17th place this year, while the University of Georgia’s Terry School of Business, also unranked, placed 22nd.

It is inevitable, however, that critics will focus on the minute differences in the graduate portion of the ranking, especially because BusinessWeek chose to reveal the results for a dozen core questions on its survey. On “teaching quality,” the highest score was achieved by Villanova, which had a perfect 5.0, which seems hardly plausible. It was followed by Southern Methodist University’s Cox School (4.983), the University of Michigan’s Ross School (4.971), the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School (4.917), and Washington University’s Olin School as well as the University of Tennessee’s B-school at Knoxville, both tied for fifth (4.889).

Because these surveys are filled out by graduates who know that BusinessWeek will use their answers to rank their programs, it’s very possible that many grads scored their schools much higher than deserved. Each crop of graduates, moreover, enter these programs with different expectations that can have an impact on how they score their schools. A Wharton EMBA student, for example, could have far higher expectations of the school’s EMBA program than a student at Villanova. The result of those differences can affect a school’s scores–and therefore its overall ranking. When those differences are so small as to be statistically meaningless, they can lead to a great deal of misinformation. (See next page for our table of BusinessWeek’s 2011 top 25 EMBA programs).

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