U.S. News & World Report. Forbes. Poets&Quants. The Financial Times. Bloomberg. Fortune. What do these sites all have in common?
Business school rankings.
Over the past few months, one highly-ranked law school after another, including Penn’s Carey Law School, have announced their intentions to quit law school rankings. This trend has also manifested in top medical schools, including Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine which joined a mass exodus from medical school rankings.
But what about business schools? What about the Wharton School, which is one of the top-ranked business schools in the U.S. News rankings list?
The methodologies for ranking business schools are inherently flawed. There has been a disappearance of more quantitative data points, such as GMAT and GRE scores, since several schools declared that they are test-optional. Furthermore, as business schools continue to offer unique programs, build educational partnerships, and make their admissions processes more holistic, rankings have become increasingly arbitrary, while fostering a culture of elitism in education.
Furthermore, there is the question of integrity and transparency surrounding data, especially given that such an obsession over rankings can create incentives for colleges and universities to report flawed and misleading data. This already had serious legal ramifications.
Case in point: Moshe Porat, the former Dean of the Richard J. Fox School of Business and Management at Temple University, was sentenced to 14 months in prison and a $250,000 fine in March 2022. The charges? He conspired to deceive students, faculty, applicants, donors, and other stakeholders into paying tuition and making donations with the belief that the school had achieved a legitimately high ranking. However, Porat had in fact submitted false information to third parties.
Wharton is in a unique position to set a precedent in dropping out of business school rankings, given its reputation as one of the most sought-after business schools in the world. Such a decision by an inarguably powerful voice in higher education would be seen as a bold statement not only about the limitations of rankings, but also against the atmosphere of elitism that characterizes many investment banks, consulting firms, and private equity firms. These industries seek to recruit a disproportionate number of graduates from “target schools” like Wharton, which in turn consist of a disproportionate number of students from extremely wealthy and well-connected backgrounds. Students who are not at “target schools” can often face an uphill battle in these specific industries during the recruitment process, so the cards may already be stacked against them no matter how skilled they are or how hard they work.
Some may argue that such a move by Wharton may not have much of an impact on how applicants and employers view Wharton’s prestige, an argument that certainly has merit. However, it is also worth noting the consistent trends that have arisen with other graduate programs abandoning school rankings. Yale Law School and Harvard Medical School both led the way in refusing to supply data to rankings organizations any longer, and other top programs followed suit, dropping out one by one like dominoes.
Additionally, it is important to consider that the companies behind these rankings often do not have expertise in law, medicine, and business, so their methodologies for broadly ranking programs have no academic basis. Therefore, dropping out of these rankings is showing defiance of unscientific comparisons that can dictate the trajectory of applicants’ academic and professional goals.
So what are some alternatives to rankings? One method to assess the quality of business school programs is to gather feedback and data from employers, which can provide valuable insight into the skills and competencies of business school graduates. This can enable business schools to identify the strengths and weaknesses of a program, instead of catering to the confusing methodologies implemented by third-party rankings.
To gather employer feedback, business schools can conduct surveys, organize focus groups, and gather data from exit interviews of former employees who were alumni of such schools. This information and the strengths and weaknesses identified within can then be used to improve the quality of various programs and ensure that business schools are proactively meeting the wants and needs of employers, while also keeping up with trends in the labor market. This also enables business schools to divert resources away from short-term efforts to boost rankings and toward long-term innovation such as the programs and opportunities that are offered.
As one of the world’s preeminent business schools, Wharton is in a unique position to buck the trend of rankings-driven competition between universities. Some may be optimistic and others skeptical about the level of impact such a decision would have, but it would nevertheless bring forward a serious conversation about taking that additional step toward combating elitism in higher education.
KESHAV RAMESH is a Wharton and College sophomore studying finance, statistics, and international studies in the Huntsman Program from South Windsor, Conn. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.