Did the Wharton School Manipulate Their Reporting to Get Ranked as the #1 Business School?

06/12/2017 02:56 pm ET
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Did Wharton manipulate their reporting so they can be the #1 ranked business school? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Gayle Laakmann McDowell, studied at The Wharton School, on Quora:

Of course Wharton manipulated factors to affect their rankings. All schools do.

Rankings are based off an equation that is more or less predictive of what we expect to see. Then, each school looks at these factors and tries to tweak the numbers as much as it can—offering some smaller classes to tweak the student/faculty ratio, etc.

Every school has metrics that hurt it unfairly. For example, Stanford has a lot of students seeking jobs at startups. These jobs tend to recruit much later, and Stanford students know that they can be picky. Many Stanford are unemployed at a certain point, but this is not indicative of being unable to find a job. This unemployment rate hurts Stanford’s ranking.

Every school has metrics that help it unfairly too. A huge number of Stanford students find jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is very expensive, and so the salaries are high. A 150k salary in the Bay Area is worse than a 125k salary in many parts of the US. These inflated salaries benefits Stanford’s ranking.

US News probably benefits from a little bit of “unfairness” and “unexpectedness” in the rankings. It's what makes people want this year’s list, not five years ago.

As the ranking start to look too unexpected, it loses credibility. US News will probably find a way to “fix” the issue—taking into account salaries, looking at job offers instead of job placement, etc.

In the meantime, all schools are going to game the system. This is pretty much their responsibility. As a Wharton alum, I want Wharton to do this. When Wharton has a better reputation, this helps me.

As far as ranking, all that really matters for you is:

  • How people perceive the schools, in the short and long run, in general and in your field. This is influenced by ranking eventually, but short term switches don't matter much. Regardless of Wharton being #1 right now, people will perceive Harvard and Stanford as better than it.
  • Your recruiting opportunities. Ranking impacts this, but so does location (Berkeley probably has better startup recruiting options than Harvard), alumni relationships, and other things. This is incredibly person dependent.
  • How much you will learn. Ranking kind of reflects this, but there are other factors. A larger school might offer you more options for classes, so you can select the best classes. The style of education can impact it too. Peer learning is a big but complex factors; top schools will tend to have more successful students with more to teach you. So will schools with older students.
  • Personal factors—do you have a partner coming with you? Where do you want to live, during and after school? What school culture will you enjoy?

If you interpret this as my saying to ignore ranking, well, that's not at all what I'm saying. You're going to an MBA program for a piece of paper in hopes that it'll impress people. (You can learn lots of ways, probably more cheaply.) You want that piece of paper to be as impressive as possible.

Ranking actually matters a lot. It's a pretty good proxy for a lot of these factors. But Wharton does not suddenly become more impressive in people's eyes because it's at #1 for a year. Maybe if this went on for 10 years—maybe.

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