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Adam Pervez Headshot

Calling for Reform in the Financial Times' MBA Program Rankings

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Late last year the Financial Times contacted me to complete their annual MBA survey, which just came out at the end of January. The self-reported alumni data constitute a large percentage of a school's overall score. I couldn't submit my salary data though. I feared my answers would harm my top-ranked school, IE Business School.

I'm an anomaly I suppose. As I've gotten older I've earned less money. My post-MBA salary was a decrease of 50 percent as a result of going from the lucrative oil industry to the fledgling renewable energy industry. Then I gave that up to volunteer my way around the world in search of happiness and inspiration to start my own non-profit organization. I made $900 in 2012, a decline of over 99 percent from my pre-MBA salary.

The FT states in its 2013 ranking methodology that graduates working in the non-profit sector as well as full-time teachers are excluded from the tabulation. I presume it's too difficult to measure these sectors and because the earning potential there is less. Or maybe the FT just doesn't value work in these sectors as highly as it does for investment bankers, hedge fund analysts, or management consultants?

There was much talk after the dawn of the crisis whether the MBA is dead, whether this degree was just a license to perpetuate the worst of human greed. I can't speak for other schools, but IE actively promotes social business and CSR in its curriculum and in an annual forum. It also admits many students it knows aren't going to go off and pursue financially lucrative careers. My cohort is full of people working in the non-profit world (like the World Wildlife Fund), for-profit social enterprises that believe in shared stakeholder prosperity (like Emzingo Group), and I'm volunteering my way around the world on The Happy Nomad Tour. We are either not included at all in the FT's antiquated ranking system, or we are and do harm to our school.

An MBA has evolved past being a corporate feeder program into finance and consulting jobs. It has been venturing into unchartered, but world-changing areas like CSR, renewable energy, entrepreneurship, social business, sustainability, and more for quite some time now.

Governments often can't meet the needs of its people. More and more pressure is being put on social businesses and the non-profit world to fill the gaps and come up with innovative solutions. If there must be a system to rank business schools, shouldn't the graduates' accomplishments be more important than their increase in salary? Shouldn't schools be rewarded in the rankings for admitting the next Jonas Salk instead of being penalized for it? Wouldn't giving even a paltry 2 percent of the score to a category like "percentage of students who pursue non-profit careers" or "percentage of students who start their own company" be more representative of today's reality?

The rankings methodology allots 2 percent for the percentage of female faculty, 2 percent for percentage of female students, and 1 percent for the percentage of females on the school advisory board. This 5 percent for gender diversity and the 20 percent for international diversity show the FT's commitment to a diverse classroom. Now is the time to extend that diversity further.

One thing the financial crisis has taught us is that incentives can be dangerous. The embedded incentives in the FT's ranking system discourage schools from admitting entrepreneurs and as well as career-changers to less lucrative fields. Older students should be avoided since their post-MBA earning potential is less than that of their younger counterparts. Dedicating 40 percent of a school's score to purely financial considerations seems to make a mockery of the fact that many students pursue an MBA as an avenue to higher education. Some even use that education to try and make the world a better place. It's time to reward the schools that admit these do-gooders, who now do so to the detriment of their ranking.