MBA program sees Financial Times ranking dip

The School of Business’s master of business administration program was ranked No. 79 worldwide by The Financial Times Monday – more than a 20-point drop from its most recent position.

The international business newspaper’s ranking – which was determined by collecting measures of 150 schools’ diversity, research clout and the progress of 2008 graduates – weighs salary increases and total salaries for alumni most heavily. GW’s 2008 MBA graduates earn an average annual salary of $104,814, a 104-percent increase from their pre-MBA salaries, according to alumni surveys returned to The Financial Times.

Associate Dean for MBA Programs Liesl Riddle lauded the ranking but cautioned against the significance of salaries as the primary measure of success among graduates. She added that GW MBA graduates often look toward public sector and nonprofit jobs, which skew the ranking’s salary data.

“The [Financial Times] rankings lean heavily on how financially successful people are. At GWSB, we measure our success by how our students and alumni impact their communities, not just by their salary,” Riddle said.

According to respondents to The Financial Times’ survey, 27 percent of students who graduated from GW’s MBA program in 2008 entered the finance or banking industry, 22 percent became consultants and 11 percent worked for nonprofits. The school had a higher percentage of students working in nonprofits than most schools near it in the rankings.

Salaries for alumni in the nonprofit and public service sectors were not considered in the ranking’s methodology.

After the program jumped from No. 85 to No. 57 between 2009 and 2010, the school’s former dean Susan Phillips said the ranking was a testament to its comprehensive curriculum.

A program must be internationally accredited, run for at least four consecutive years and garner survey responses from a minimum of 20 percent of its 2008 alumni to be ranked.

GW failed to reach that 20-percent participation benchmark last year, the business school’s vice dean for program and education Murat Tarimcilar said, pushing it out of the rankings.

Tarimcilar said the business school was more concerned with how it fared against U.S. competition, as it fell from No. 33 to No. 41 nationally in the ranking since 2010. He added that the schools that passed GW since then, like Pennsylvania State University, the University of Iowa and the University of Washington, saw larger average salary increases from their alumni.

Tarimcilar said the 15 non-U.S. MBA programs that entered the ranking since 2010 also led to GW’s slip. The school’s administrators have said they are looking to push the school internationally, most evident by its partnership with Renmin University in China, which launched last fall to offer a master’s of science in finance.

The school’s international business program, widely considered its top program, was ranked No. 9 when The Financial Times listed schools by subject. It was ranked No. 5 in 2010.

For the overall ranking, The Financial Times also considered criteria like the number of foreign and female students and faculty, the number of faculty with doctoral degrees and whether alumni achieved their career goals after graduation.

The top of the list has remained mostly static over the last three years with the Stanford Graduate School of Business, the Harvard Business School, the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and the London Business School trading the top four spots.

Alumni who graduated in 2008 from those four schools saw about a 126-percent increase in salary since their pre-MBA years.

To push back against leading schools’ stranglehold on the highest spots in most rankings, Dean Doug Guthrie said GW has tried to “attract a different kind of student.”

“We’re never going to be competing head-to-head with Wharton or [NYU’s Stern Business School] on sending kids to Wall Street. We will compete with anybody on training students in the most ethical and responsible ways in fields like social responsibility and sustainability,” Guthrie said.

The business school has looked to specialize in ethics under Guthrie, who called for an undergraduate curriculum overhaul last fall to strengthen that area.

When Guthrie took over as dean in 2010, he pledged to raise the school’s graduate ranking. Since then, the school fell in this year’s The Financial Times ranking and nudged up in last year’s rankings in U.S. News & World Report and The Economist.

The school hovered around No. 70 between 2006 and 2009 in The Financial Times ranking.

In another factor to the newspaper’s rankings, the business school suffered a hit this year for its population of female students, which stood at 28 percent – far below last year’s national average of 48 percent.

GW school has looked to expand its master’s programs by launching an online MBA program next fall and an executive MBA program catered to professional athletes.

“If you think strategically about how rankings relate to things like reputation and the attraction of students, the strategy is also about points of differentiation,” Guthrie said.

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