Inner Circle - March 2012

The Rankings Dilemma

Every March Bloomberg Businessweek releases its annual "Best Undergraduate B-Schools" rankings (we were 113th this year), and U.S.News & World Report publishes its "Best Business Schools" rankings of MBA programs(we placed fiftieth among public business schools and ninety-first overall out of 441 programs). What follows is an increase in blood pressure among business school deans. Here's why. Even though I am pleased to announce the U.S.News rankings place our MBA program in the top ten for best financial value, rankings have an impact--both good and bad.

As Andrew J. Policano, Dean of the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine observed in a widely cited article in 2005, rankings have some positive value. They provide prospective students, donors and employers with a reference point in evaluating what a particular institution has to offer. Having said that, they should also know that different rankings use different methodologies and metrics. Bloomberg Businessweek emphasizes student and recruiter satisfaction,Financial Times focuses on starting salaries and salary growth, and U.S.News & World Report relies heavily on the judgments of other business school deans and directors. This raises some serious questions: What does “best" mean? Who should be the judge? Simple metrics such as grade point averages or starting salaries reveal nothing about what students experience, academic programs, campus life, visiting speakers, student organizations, libraries and academic resources, opportunities to study abroad, internship and career placement services--all vital components of a university education. The range of opportunities a university provides students to learn and leverage their education is a much more meaningful measurement to constituents than the opinions of deans at peer business schools.

Getting and maintaining a ranked position is also very expensive. It should be no surprise that the top twenty list of schools and colleges has not changed much in the past twenty years; they dominate in part because they have the resources needed to “manage" all relevant ranking variables. Smaller and less well-endowed institutions without large promotional budgets face a real dilemma: How many dollars should we allocate to our rankings? At what price?

At the same time, the sad reality is that the resources schools and colleges devote to what often amounts to “rankings engineering" are at an all-time, uncomfortable high, often at the expense of scholarships and research support. In addition, some ranking methodologies factor in the two previous years' scores such that the current year's score only accounts for 50 percent the final ranking. The end result is that schools can only move the rankings needle incrementally each year.

At the MBA level, rankings present an even greater challenge for us. During the past ten years, we have strategically integrated experiential learning into our MBA curriculum. This focus has yielded a dedicated student body in four specialized areas (represented by our centers of excellence) and produces graduates who not only want to make a difference but are truly able to effect change in their chosen professions. However, even though our centers have achieved top-tier rankings within their own areas--the Warsaw Center is number one in sports business and the Lundquist Center is twenty-fifth in entrepreneurship--these reputations are not factored into the general MBA rankings. See fact and stats on our website for additional points of pride that differentiate the college.

For us, the bottom line is that, as we work to deliver and enhance the exceptional education in our undergraduate and Oregon MBA programs, we will have our eye on rankings but cannot afford to let them dictate our vision. They will not deter us from our commitment to empower students with the business knowledge necessary to make significant contributions to their professions, communities, and society.

What are your thoughts? We want to open up this topic to dialogue, and have launched a new discussion section on the college's Facebook page as forum for feedback on this and future issues.


Cornelis A. "Kees" de Kluyver
Dean and James and Shirley Rippey Distinguished Professor