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Do Rankings Really Matter?

The Financial Post has an in-depth article on the dicey world of business school rankings, whether or not they matter to students and if they're a fair representation of an education. It quotes McCombs professor Robert Prentice's suggestion that business schools be ranked on alumni happiness five, 10 and 20 years after graduation:

"Measuring happiness would encourage business schools to focus less on training students for the highest-paying jobs and more on preparing them for careers they will find satisfying in the long term," writes Prentice. "Students must be given the skills to follow their passions and not just to chase the almighty dollar."

This is an issue we've tackled here at McCombs. While we do participate in rankings, we acknowledge it's an imperfect system. Rankings aren't the only thing that matter in terms of reputation, and yet our rankings stories on this blog are often our most read items. (For more on this, read the 2007 Texas magazine article "The Rankings Race.")

What are your thoughts on the rankings game?


#1 Unfortunately, rankings do

Unfortunately, rankings do matter. However, when you say "matter," I guess it depends on what you're talking about. Rankings give a lot more credibility to a school and the graduates who walk away with a degree from the schools. The students who have "Haahhhbood" (i.e., Harvard) on their resume get more glances from recruiters. The network of Harvard alum have much more ability to get someone into the elite situations in society. So, unfortunately, it does matter. UT, like UW (near where I live) are strong schools. Very strong, I'm sure. They also do very well for their graduates in their areas. If you're getting a job in Texas, UT probably would almost be as good as Harvard, but outside of Texas, unfortunately, Harvard would definitely outdo UT on someone's resume. Same thing applies with the UW here in Seattle. When I was in Korea, people started to recognize the UW, but they definitely knew Harvard a lot more. I'm thinking they might be questioning someone who graduated from UT there. So, it does matter in other parts of the world (at least).

#2 There is no inherent problem

There is no inherent problem with the idea of rankings, but rather the issue is transparency in how rankings are derived and what value they are to those who would review them. What makes someone valuable is subjective ... how do you compare a school dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship with a school dedicated to providing the next wave of investment bankers? Both are important contributors to society, but their relative value is best assessed by someone looking for their respective skill sets. The reality that "talent" is too subjective to be automated is the reason myself and several McCombs MBAs developed MBAbenchmark, a platform that takes into account intangible dimensions like athletics and community service when ranking various business school students. It's not the final answer, but it's a unique method by which to empowers people to rank talent according to what's most important to them.

#3 I feel that rankings for most

I feel that rankings for most things are a terrible predictor and are extremely deceptive. Consider the UT basketball teams recent fall from #1 to out of the polls. However, rankings can be somewhat beneficial, just not as the sole measurement when comparing schools. Different people are looking for different things out of their education, so they should definitely take that into consideration and realize that many other factors are important.

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