The authors are respectively Dean of USC Marshall School of Business, Dean of Berkeley Haas School of Business and Dean of Cornell SC Johnson College of Business
In recent months, a number of top US law schools and medical schools have withdrawn from the influential US News and World Report rankings. Some schools say these rankings don’t focus enough on issues like the diversity of their student population; others for ignoring the affordability of their degrees and the contributions to society of their graduates.
As deans of three major US business schools, we share the concerns of our law and medical colleagues. Existing business school rankings do not capture well the societal value of the education we provide.
An important task of business schools is to increase the socio-economic mobility of their students. Business school rankings should therefore measure this “social added value”. Today’s rankings focus too much on the past performance of freshmen and too little on how much schools contribute to improving their skills and improving their chances of graduation.
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The problems with existing rankings are all the more worrying given that social mobility is declining. According to Harvard Opportunity Insights, the chances of children in the United States earning more than their parents have fallen dramatically over the past half-century, from 90 percent in 1940 to just 50 percent today.
According to the OECD, the US also has greater income and wealth inequality than any other developed country – and it is at its most extreme in almost a hundred years. Oxfam reports that two-thirds of the more than $42 trillion in wealth created since 2020 has gone to the top 1 percent.
Higher education has long been credited with playing a crucial role in improving young people’s life prospects. But critics now argue that access and affordability challenges have reduced its societal impact.
Nonetheless, we believe that business schools continue to play a crucial role in increasing socio-economic mobility. Rankings of our schools should capture this role. While much of the business school attention is focused on the MBA, we want to focus on undergraduate business programs — the largest single sector of higher education, accounting for a fifth of all degrees awarded in the US and likely higher proportions in Asia and Europe.
Geoffrey Garrett, Ann Harrison and Andrew Karolyi
What Would Better Undergraduate Business School Rankings Look Like?
First, the rankings should focus on the “added value” of undergraduate business programs in transforming the lives of the students they train.
Second, they should use metrics based on easily accessible and comparable data that can be externally validated and independently verified.
Finally, they should limit the focus to input measures (such as GPAs and SATs) that reflect the perceived quality of incoming students, and focus on opportunities, outputs, and longer-term outcomes.
We recommend that student entry metrics focus more on access and affordability. Access measures could include the percentage of students from traditionally underrepresented groups who are the first in their families to attend university, receive state aid, and move from community colleges to four-year universities.
To assess the affordability of undergraduate business schools, we propose that rankings should compare the “sticker price”—i.e., the nominal official price—of degrees to the net price after all scholarships, both need-based and merit-based, have been awarded, taking into account .
Using this baseline of access and affordability, rankings should consider both the characteristics of the education students receive and how well schools help students launch their careers after graduation. This includes experiences students have had outside of the classroom and off campus, their success in gaining internships, and simply securing business credentials beyond the core business degree — such as through dual degrees and business-related minors.
We recommend that data on student outcomes include four-year graduation rates and placement in work or further education three months after graduation. We would also advocate that starting salaries be considered in relation to the student debt burden at graduation.
We believe that the excitement about rankings reflects a concern that they pay too little attention to colleges’ social mission, rather than a belief that rating schools’ characteristics is a bad idea.
So instead of throwing the baby out with the bath water, we advocate a fundamental rethink to align rankings much more closely with the core task of social mobility in higher education. Given the sheer volume of undergraduate business programs in the US and the relatively low ranking of them compared to MBA programs, we suggest they are a good starting point for this shift in thinking.
We are proud of the role that undergraduate programs play in promoting social mobility for the benefit of society, and we intend to work with partners to ensure business school rankings better reflect this impact. We invite a coalition of the willing to join us.