A popular book that independently ranks MBA programs will be dropping Harvard Business School and the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School from its rankings for the first time because the two elite institutions have stopped supplying data and contact information for students and alumni.
The decision by the Economist Intelligence Unit not to rank Harvard or Wharton in its ''Which MBA?" book, scheduled for release Oct. 12, exposes growing friction between business educators and the half dozen American and British publications that publish rankings of master's in business administration programs.
Business schools on both sides of the Atlantic pay close attention to the lists, vying to boost their positions and selectively citing them in promotional materials because they help to drive applications, enrollments, and donations. But the fairness, methodology, and value of the rankings have come under increasing criticism in academe.
''It's like a beauty contest," said David R. Lampe, a Harvard Business School spokesman, ''but there's very little meaningful information for prospective students. What really matters is the match between a prospective student's particular ambitions and the particular approach of a school. But these rankings tell you very little about that."
Harvard and Wharton, usually viewed as among the world's leading business schools, decided last year to stop cooperating with the rankings, saying it was expensive and time consuming to circulate surveys and furnish data. The schools also cited concern for the privacy of their students and graduates.
Beyond that, however, is a widespread feeling by school leaders that much of the criteria used by the ranking organizations -- from reputation to the opinions of corporate recruiters -- isn't useful.
Working with other schools under the umbrella of the Graduate Management Admissions Council, a Washington nonprofit group that creates business school admission tests, Harvard and Wharton are compiling their own list of more than 200 data points schools can submit about their programs as an alternative to the media rankings. The audited list is set to be rolled out next spring, though most schools are expected to continue cooperating with the independent rankings.
Bill Ridgers, editor of ''Which MBA?" at the Economist Intelligence Unit in London, a division of the Economist Group media conglomerate, defended his rankings, which are based on factors such as students' assessments of their business education and the salaries they command in the marketplace. The results come from surveys of more than 100,000 business students around the world in the past two decades.
''They look at legitimate things," Ridgers said. ''There's a great demand for this information by students. You've got to remember they're going to be spending $70,000 to go to Harvard. And if you're going to spend $70,000, you deserve to get all the information you can get."
The Economist Intelligence Unit, like other publishers, continued to include Harvard and Wharton in their rankings last year, even after they stopped cooperating with requests to circulate surveys among their students and alumni. Ridgers said his researchers were able to get around the hurdle by contacting students and graduates through other means. This year, when the two business schools also declined to provide data not published on their websites, the Economist decided to drop them, Ridgers said. ''We would have liked to have included Harvard and Wharton, obviously, in our rankings," he said.
Thus far, other publications that rank MBA programs haven't dumped Harvard and Wharton. The Financial Times kept them off a list it published last winter ranking executive education programs, but it has yet to remove them from its MBA ranking. Business Week, US News & World Report, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal have continued to include them.
''We're going to try to get the information on these schools, whether they cooperate with us or not," said Louis Lavell, Business Week's business schools editor. ''Our duty is to our readers, not to the schools."
Robert J. Morse, director of data resources for US News & World Report's annual MBA rankings, said Harvard's and Wharton's withholding of information does not affect his research, which surveys academics and recruiters about schools' reputations. ''The need for student e-mail and postgraduate contact is not part of our methodology," Morse said.
While the ''Which MBA?" book won't be published till next month, the Economist magazine, a sister publication, summarized the rankings in its most recent issue. Leading the list was the University of Navarre, a Spanish business school run by the Catholic order Opus Dei. ''In terms of reputation alone, they probablywouldn't be at the top," Ridgers admitted, saying the book's rankings weigh other factors.
Each publication uses different criteria. And when Harvard and Wharton don't appear at the top of their lists, as often happens, the publications trumpet the surprise winners. That has fueled skepticism.
''Most people who know what they're talking about know that Harvard and Wharton are among the top handful of schools in the world," said Harry DeAngelo, professor at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business, who co-authored a research paper published in July that was critical of the rankings. ''The opinion of the Economist or Business Week isn't going to change that."
Wharton spokesman Michael Baltes said his school recognized it could be punished by the rankers for not cooperating, but chose to stand on principle. ''There was always that possibility that we wouldn't be ranked," he said. ''That was factored into our decision."
Because of the lofty reputations of Harvard and Wharton, it's easier for them to lead a backlash against the rankings, but it's less likely that second-tier business schools scrambling to burnish their brands will follow suit, said Sanford Kreisberg, a Cambridge consultant to students applying to elite MBA programs.
''Harvard and Wharton don't like other people ranking them," Kreisberg said. ''It's that simple."
Robert Weisman can be reached at email@example.com.
How they rank
Different publications use different methods to rank the business schools, and come up with substantially different conclusions.
2005 survey of students and alumni1. TESE Business School/University of Navarre
2. Kellogg School of Management/Northwestern University
3. Tuck School of Business/Dartmouth College
4. Stanford Graduate School of Business
5. International Institute of Management Development
Harvard Business School
Wharton Business School/University of Pennsylvania
Wall Street Journal/National rankings
2005 survey of corporate recruiters1. Tuck/Dartmouth
2. Ross School of Business/University of Michigan
3. Tepper School of Business/Carnegie Mellon University
4. Yale School of Management/Yale University
5. International Institute of Management Development
14. Harvard Business School
|2005 survey of alumni||2005 survey of schools, students|
|1. Tuck/Dartmouth||1. Whaton|
|2. Wharton/Pennsylvania||2. Harvard|
|3. Chicago||3. Columbia|
|4. Columbia||4. Stanford|
|5. Yale||5. London Business School|
2005 rank based on combination of peer and recruiter surveys, grade point average, test scores, acceptance rates, starting salaries and bonuses, employment, tuition, and enrollment.
1. Harvard4. MIT
2. Stanford 5. Kellogg/Northwestern