The Financial Times has published their school rankings for graduate business programs. Coming out on top was Stanford University.
So, as a prospective student, should you target Stanford for your business degree? There are suggestions the answer is yes, but a careful reading shows no such direct advice.
Rather, a moment’s common sense leads to the proper reaction: “It’s hard to say if Stanford is really best for me. It depends whether Financial Times have incorporated my values into their ranking system.”
School Rankings at FT.com
Let’s examine how FT.com distill performance across 20 categories to arrive at their final rankings. We quickly discover, unfortunately, the dubious but extremely popular one-size-fits-all weighting scheme. It implies that all aspiring business school students have identical preferences for each of the 20 performance categories.
Below is a detailed look at the points-based weighting behind the FT.com final rankings:
The above point assignments are fixed. They apply to you, me, and anyone else who might turn to FT.com for guidance on leading programs. So, you are correct to ask: What do these fixed weights imply about my preferences? And are those implications accurate?
For example, below are three observations lifted from the points table, and their implications:
Implication#1: You value the volume of published faculty research 5 times greater than whether alumni recommend the program. (Is this true for you?)
Implication#2: For you, value-for-the-money is only half as important as international mobility. (Does this describe you?)
Implication#3: You believe graduates’ starting salary is about 7 times more important than whether graduates say they achieved their MBA-related goals. (Agree?)
It is easy and instructive to compare the points for any two performance categories, and ask yourself: “Does this describe me?” Granted, this exact points scheme must capture someone’s preferences perfectly. However, for most everyone else, a fixed weighting scheme is blunt and possibly misleading.
What Gives? Is there a Better Way?
So, who uses one-size-fits-all school rankings? The principal audience is most likely the schools themselves. And we need only turn to the Financial Times itself for confirmation: their own podcast service, Alphaville, recently interviewed author Will Davies on the topic of expertise, in which the Financial Times interviewer makes a telling observation:
The example that always springs to my mind with this kind of thing is university rankings. Because it seems to capture what’s going on with a lot of expertise — which is that the mechanism of university rankings is still a very powerful force, even if no one at any university believes in them, which they don’t. Because they’re arbitrarily constructed. There’s all these kind of imperfect weightings. You have a conversation with somebody and they’ll say, “These university rankings are nonsense.” And a day later they’ll say, “We’re absolutely delighted — we’re third in the league table.”
There is a better way. Implement Value Ratings. Instead of catering to the producers, Value Ratings give consumers a tailored, personalized ranking of performance that acknowledges their unique Preference Profile.