Wharton Stays On Top Of 2015 U.S. News Ranking

rankingsThe University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School held on to its status at the No. 1 undergraduate business school in the nation in U.S. News & World Report’s new 2015 ranking of the best colleges published today (Sept. 9). MIT and UC-Berkeley were tied for second place, while the University of Michigan’s Ross School took fourth, and New York University’s Stern School of Business came in fifth. The only change this year among the top five undergraduate programs was a two-place slippage by Michigan which had been in a three-way tie for second last year.

But the big winners among the new Top 25 schools are Michigan State and the University of Georgia, which both climbed six places to finish 21st where eight different undergraduate business programs are in a dead tie. The business schools at the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin also did well, each rising three spots this year to both earn a tie at a rank of 15.

Indiana University’s Kelley School is the only Top 10 entry to gain two places, finishing at a rank of eighth. The University of Southern California’s Marshall School also edged up two spots to gain an improved ranking of 11th. Losing ground in the latest updated ranking is Ohio State University’s undergraduate business program, which fell four places to a rank of 20th, and the University of Maryland, down three places, to 21st from 18th last year.

A SIMPLE RANKING METHODOLOGY BASED ON PEER ASSESSMENT

Compared to U.S. News’ overall ranking for national universities, its undergraduate business program list is a stripped-down, no frills version. It is based entirely on the magazine’s survey of business school deans and senior faculty, many of whom vote on the basis of a program’s reputation–not its true quality. Critics argue that these rankings are little more than a popularity or beauty contest. Asking college officials to rate the relative merits of other schools about which they know nothing, they say, is a particularly empty exercise because a school’s reputation is driven in large part by U.S. News’ own rankings.

Still, these peer assessments collected by the magazine represent a rough guide to the business school landscape. If a parent or applicant was in the position to ask the deans and professors the same question, they would most likely give significant credibility to the answers. U.S. News surveys two officials from each school accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. In the spring of 2014, participants were asked to rate the quality of all programs they were familiar with on a scale from 1 (marginal) to 5 (distinguished). None of the schools on the list achieved a perfect score of 5. The highest score went to Wharton at 4.8. Some 38 percent of those surveyed responded, a two percentage point improvement over last year in the response rate.

The methodology results in numerous ties up and down the list. There are a half dozen schools tied for the rank of 45th and five schools tied at 29th. Even more astonishingly, U.S. News lists 11 different schools placing 51st in its survey. Those ties essentially demonstrate the inability of respondents to significantly differentiate the programs from each other, making the ranking less valuable to users. This gets incredibly silly.All told, this year the magazine assigned numerical ranks to well over 400 different undergraduate business programs, with 39 schools placing at the highest posted rank of 391.

U.S. News asked those same respondents for nominations of the 10 best programs in business specialty areas such as accounting, marketing and finance. The magazine said that programs receiving the most mentions in each area are ranked in descending order. A school or program had to receive seven or more nominations in a specific specialty area to be listed. Texas, Illinois, Brigham Young and Notre Dame were the top schools in accounting, while Babson, MIT, USC, Indiana and Wharton took top honors in entrepreneurship. Wharton, NYU Stern, Michigan, MIT, and UC Berkeley were at the top in finance. 

As is often typical on these lists, the further down you go the more likely you are to see bigger swings–largely because the differences among the schools are statistically insignificant. So small changes can make bigger changes than expected. Among the Top 50, the University of Pittsburgh’s business school saw the single largest improvement in its ranking–a full ten-point jump to 39 this year from 49 last year. Babson College saw a healthy five-place increase, finishing with a rank of 29th from 34 a year ago.

Southern Methodist University’s business school too the biggest beating among the Top 50 programs. It dropped seven places to 45th, from 38th last year.

(See following page for this year’s ranking of the top undergraduate business programs)

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.