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by Vault Education Editors | April 29, 2011


Rankings, your end is nigh. The time has come for ratings to take their rightful place.

Three b-school professors have proposed a new method of assessing the quality of MBA programs. This model would use a ratings-based model to replace the ridiculously popular rankings-based model, which is widely criticized, among many other things, for skewing the perception program quality by applying uniform standards to a wide range of programs. Rankings create an unfair portrait of schools that must then react by making unwise policy changes out of fear of slipping down the ranks. And while most people intuitively know that rankings are just a guide, they are rarely used as such. (One irony of rankings is that they were once a useful tool due to the lack of obtainable information pre-internet. Now, there’s almost too much information, so rankings are useful in that they aggregate all the data that seems like too much effort to find yourself.)

[If you aren’t familiar with the problems posed by rankings, you can read this New Yorker (subscription necessary), because it’s too large a topic to get into in this post.]

The professors refer to the Tyranny of Rankings, where “academic stakeholders (and even many publishers of rankings) know that media rankings are deficient, but with few alternatives available, they feel stuck chasing the rankings.” As a result, schools misallocate resources and attempt to game the rankings, they write.

To stanch all the rankings-related tomfoolery that goes on, the professors have devised what they think is a good basis for a new Consumer Reports style of assessing school quality. Contra rankings, this ratings system would “allow users to apply their own weighting based on the criteria they view as personally important or relevant to their concerns” (much like Vault’s own ratings-based school search tool).

The criteria for those ratings are as follows.

  1. Curriculum: (a) content, (b) delivery, and (c) program structure
  2. Faculty: (a) qualifications, (b) research, (c) teaching, and (d) overall quality
  3. Placement: (a) alumni network, (b) career services, and (c) corporate/community relations.
  4. Reputation: (a) perceptions of program quality
  5. Student learning and outcomes: (a) personal competency development, (b) student career consequences, (c) economic outcomes, and (d) learning outcomes
  6. Institutional resources: (a) facilities, (b) financial resources, (c) investment in faculty, (d) tuition and fees, and (e) student support services
  7. Program/institution climate:  (a) diversity and (b) educational environment
  8. Program student composition: (a) the overall makeup and quality of students
  9. Strategic focus (a) the quality of the articulated institutional mission and strategic plan 

The professors' hope is that this ratings-based model would give way to a broader, more transparent portrait of school quality that can account for the multidimensionality of schools and highlight the important differences and similarities between programs. And maybe it could help with that whole rankings gaming thing.  

[GMAC, via Businessweek]

Businessweek: How to Use MBA Rankings Responsibly
FT's MBA Ranking 'Represents Everything Wrong with Business Education'

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