How Students Rank Their Business Schools

Students at UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School

Students at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School

“The customer is always right.”

Bet you’ve heard that doozy. It’s a lesson that is hard for young people to swallow. Customers can yell, toss insults, and lie. In response, all they can do is smile, nod, and apologize.

So imagine how college administrators and professors must feel. When it comes to education, the roles are reversed: Young people are now the customer. And that requires quite the balancing act. You see, the job of educators is to challenge students, to widen their perspectives, raise their performance, and measure their growth. In short, their curriculum is designed to remind students that they’re not always right. And that can be pretty uncomfortable when students (along with alumni and taxpayers) are footing their bills.


Don’t kid yourself: Most students know they hold the leverage. Schools are chasing them; that much is loud-and-clear. Like any customer, they can take their money (or should I say loan) wherever they choose. What’s behind the construction of those rec centers that’d make Olympic athletes jealous? That’s right: Schools are simply battling to ‘keep up with the Joneses.’ Scholarships? Hey, don’t schools need to attract the best talent? And grade inflation? Well, think of that more as a negotiation.

These days, a school’s mission can be summed up in one word: Sell. What about educate, you say? First, you need cash flow (and Lord knows state legislatures are tapped out). And that means persuading students (and especially their parents) that their “experience” is different. That’s why schools have evolved into brands, replete with million dollar merchandising machines to reinforce status and identity. The job is pump more students onto campus, debt be damned, to cushion themselves from that inevitable day of reckoning.

Keep your enrollments up, rankings high, and coffers plush…that’s the mantra of higher education these days. And a winning football team is just a bonus! Long gone are the days when cash was flush and faculty focused on research and writing. Now, the customer is king. Publish-or-perish? Ha! Try satisfy-or-die.


In the service era, schools must deliver on their promise. Whether students are seeking a ticket to the good life, a journey of self-discovery, or a high tech trade education, schools are accountable for meeting those expectations. And that’s what makes Bloomberg Businessweek’s student surveys so fascinating.  Education isn’t a commodity…and it’s nearly impossible to measure its effectiveness. Sure, professors can grade their students. But that’s just a snapshot. And it doesn’t reflect what students will do with their learning over time. Even more, the grade doesn’t account for factors that can inhibit learning, such as the quality of the teaching, curriculum, fellow students, and facilities.

And those are the types of variables that the student assessments evaluate. As part of its undergraduate business school rankings, Bloomberg Businessweek sent 91,603 surveys out to graduating seniors at 152 institutions (with nearly a third responding). The assessment, which accounts for 30 percent of a program’s ranking, applied a five-point scale to 44 questions covering (in Bloomberg Businessweek’s words) “teaching quality, access to faculty, school facilities, career services, and more.”

When surveys were returned, “a school’s student assessment score [was determined] by calculating the average response to each question among a school’s respondents and then averaging all question averages.” From there, scores were compiled by giving a 50 percent weight to the 2014 student responses and a 25 percent weights each to student assessments from 2012 and 2013.

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