Undergrad Business Rankings Have Positive Effect on B-Schools

A new dissertation details the positive effects of U.S. News undergraduate rankings on b-schools.

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The U.S. News undergraduate business school rankings are having a number of "very positive outcomes that can favorably affect the nature of undergraduate business programs." That is one key conclusion from " Behind the Curtain of the Beauty Pageant: An Investigation of U.S. News Undergraduate Business Program Rankings," a 2010 dissertation by Pam Perry, Associate Dean and Director, Undergraduate Programs at the University of Arizona Eller College of Management.

Perry's paper analyzed the U.S. News undergraduate business school rankings to determine what impact they were having on business education. It joins a rapidly expanding body of literature on college and business school rankings that analyzes the impact the rankings have on colleges, universities, prospective students, and their parents.

Based on a detailed analysis of U.S. News survey respondents, Perry concludes that the stability of the top 50 undergraduate business rankings have had a positive effect on business eduction. Below are some of what Perry calls "the good behaviors" from the rankings:

1. Because over the last twenty years the U.S. News undergraduate business program rankings have changed very little, the stable membership in the top 50 [greatly reduces] the competition and provides an "annual pageant" with little negative fall-out, as ranking outcomes are small and movement is insignificant.

2. Contrary to popular belief, the mysterious, "black-box" sentiment of this perception-based scoring provides little significant reason to "game" the [ranking] ballot. According to my subjects, the U.S. News peer-based ranking systems do not yield the gaming behavior that other kinds of ranking rubrics encourage. [See U.S. News's undergraduate business school ranking methodology] .

3. Top positioned schools seem to be on their best "big brother and sister behaviors" when interacting with second-tier schools, given that thousands of school administrators can vote. Without this ranking, these highly ranked schools might fall into the pattern of creating their own affinity groups and becoming very exclusive in their interactions.

4. Because most are uncertain about how to influence reputation, schools employ direct marketing and communication strategies. While some report annoyance by over the top cross-marketing, others are grateful for the exposure to best practices.

5. Given the appeal of rankings to stakeholders, especially students, the competition for top marks [in the ranking] has created a market-driven model of consumer service [at b-schools].

6. This ranking is good for creating prestige for business schools in large science universities where traditional science research and large grant contracts garner most attention in budget and resource decisions. The annual ranking announcements get business schools regular features in local and state press, resulting in stakeholder attention.

7. The U.S. News ranking is extremely clever to enlist the judging efforts of both the strategic big picture [b-school] deans that are well connected to faculty and the dedicated operational associate deans that are more dedicated to their schools through students, recent alumni, and other relationships.

8. Faculty can be the big winners in this ranking game. As a result, well-known faculty become brands themselves and often attract other star faculty while brightening the reputation of a given school.

What is U.S. News's take on these conclusions? Rankings are here to stay and will remain controversial. The debate over the unintended consequences of rankings and whether they have a good or bad impact on academia will continue. However, it's clear that some believe that rankings can have a favorable effect on institutions and students.

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