How Legit Is This New Online MBA Ranking?



Business school rankings have become as common as UFO sightings a few years ago—and more often than not lists that purport to measure the quality of an MBA experience is an unidentified flying object of sorts.

Even at the highest level—the five most influential rankings of MBA programs by U.S. News & World Report, The Financial Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Economist and Forbes—they are filled with substantial flaws, intellectual dishonesty, and downright stupidity by people who design the often senseless methodologies.

But at least in those rankings, you know exactly what is getting measured. The inputs and outputs are fairly transparent, along with the weights applied to each metric used to crank out the ranking. Which leads us to the most important advice for every applicant looking at a ranking: If there is little to no transparency in a ranking, it has flunked the smell test. Pay no attention whatsoever to it because the “ranking” is little more than an attempt to generate clicks on the Web. Nothing more. Nothing less.


That’s the case with the latest ranking by the Princeton Review, published yesterday (May 12), of online MBA programs. This is the first time the test prep company has ranked online offerings. Its ranking of the best business schools and programs for entrepreneurship has long been considered by many “the laughing stock” of all the rankings. So there’s little surprise that this new list of online programs would be any different.

Here’s the basic problem: The Princeton Review fails to disclose exactly how it is ranking these programs so no ONE really knows what exactly is being measured. The organization vaguely says the ranking is “based on comprehensive surveys conducted in the 2014 academic year of students and administrators at MBA programs offering at least 75% of their program of study online.”


The most detail you get into the methodology is reduced to two vague sentences:

“The survey for school administrators, which evaluated more than 30 fields, covers admissions selectivity, graduation and retention rates, faculty training and credentials, technological infrastructure, student indebtedness, and career outcomes among other items.”

“The survey for students, which also evaluates more than 30 unique fields, allows students to rate their faculty, their fellow students, career preparation, academics, the technology platform, and overall satisfaction with their programs.”

How Two Online MBA Rankings Compare

School Princeton Review Rank U.S. News Rank
North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler) 1 1
Indiana (Kelley) 2 1
IE Business School 3 NR
Arizona State (Carey) 4 4
Temple (Fox) 5 1
Florida (Hough) 6 4
Rochester Institute of Tech (Saunders) 7 25
Thunderbird 8 21
Texas-Dallas (Jindal) 9 6
Northeastern (D’Amore-McKim) 10 36
James Madison 11 12
Auburn (Harbert) 12 10
North Dakota 13 32
North Texas 14 47
Hofstra (Zarb) 15 41
South Dakota (Beacom) 16 41
Nebraska-Lincoln 17 21
Syracuse (Whitman) 18 57
George Washington 19 44
North Carolina State 20 9
West Georgia (Richards) 21 44
State University of New York-Oswego 22 57
Memphis (Fogelman) 23 66
Nevada-Reno 24 29
Washington State (Carson) 25 21

Source: Poets&Quants analysis of U.S. News and Princeton Review 2015 rankings of online MBA programs

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.