The B in B-School Now Stands for “Battered”

I read yesterday's Financial Times' annual rankings of top business schools with unusual interest. Having represented the B-schools at Duke, UNC and UCLA, I know how important the rankings are. And, having spoken with several friends at top business schools, I knew some were feeling the impact of the recent economic downturn.

But, the FT section revealed a perfect storm in the once rarified world of theWharton-309x310
business schools. Many have lost 25 percent or more of their endowments, forestalling new building initiatives and program expansion. Prospective students, who had ridden out previous economic downturns by seeking the safety of a two-year graduate business degree, can no longer afford the high costs. And, with endowments dwindling, the B-schools simply can't afford to offer financial aid.

As is the case in other, hard hit sectors, the very best B-schools will most certainly improvise and, ultimately, emerge as stronger, more relevant institutions of higher learning. Others, though, will flunk out.

I've always been amused by the importance ascribed to the rankings by B-school administrators. Otherwise smart, sober and sophisticated businesspeople despair if the dear alma mater drops a rank or two in the FT, US News or BusinessWeek rankings. At the same time, students, faculty and administrators alike reenact New Year's Eve on campus should the school do well.

I remember listening to one endless debate among Ph.D's trying to decide whether it was prudent to merchandise the school's recent number three ranking in executive education. They'd not been in the top 20 the year before, so this was a big deal. Some argued for t-shirts, coffee mugs, advertisements, etc. Others, though, worried the school might drop in the subsequent rankings. "We'll look like fools then if we gloat now." The cooler heads prevailed and nothing was done.

I have to believe some of those very same administrators are now debating more weighty issues, such as, "How are we going to attract new students when they can't afford tuition and we can't afford financial aid?" It's a business conundrum only a top business school could truly appreciate.

6 thoughts on “The B in B-School Now Stands for “Battered”

  1. Lunch – Your opinion is protected under right to free speech, which of course is (should be) inalienable. My academic experience – that I actually graduated was a personal accomplishment – have led me to the real world, the combination of which has driven my success to date. They are two different intellectual practices and I don’t believe one pales in comparison to the other. It disparages academic professionals that have nurtured private sector success stories. But, reasonable people disagree. See you in the blogosphere – and keep writing. Sincerely, a beastie boy wannabe.

  2. Good argument and point taken, Mike D (hoping you are a member of the Beastie Boys). You are right…and I know plenty of people that have graduated from a state school that really shouldn’t have passed sandbox 101. At the same time, academic accomplishments are great theory and bolster resumes, but pale in comparison to real world experience. Haven’t you learned more form life than from a book/professor??
    Stereotypes are something we should all try to avoid, but they always seem to creep up into the stream of consciousness.

  3. Allow a counterpoint here, Lunch. I did graduate from b-school. I never discuss it, because the only person to whom it matters is me. I figured out a way to make it cost-efficient too. In good times and bad, this education enriches a lot of people who feel like they need it. And long-term, it’s not the sword, it’s how you wield it. That may not represent the mindset of every MBA grad, but I am far from alone. My point is, don’t feel badly for people who took this path – if they’re talented they’ll determine how to make it work for them when the economy rebounds. Furthermore, allow others to take pride in their academic choices and accomplishments – as long as they don’t exploit it as an automatic prestige moniker.

  4. Great comment, Lunch. I once worked for a real Ivy League wanna-be who, at one senior management team meeting, stopped the conversation cold and said, “We all ought to be ashamed of ourselves. Karen is the only one who graduated from an Ivy League school.” I have no idea what became of Karen, but the rest of us turned out just fine. Aside from post-grad networking (which shouldn’t be underestimated), I’m with you. Ivy leaguers put their pants on one leg at a time, just like us second-tier college grads.

  5. I have been unimpressed by just about every person I have met/interviewed that graduated from an Ivy league or B-school.
    Why not send your child to a wallet- friendly state school (the one you live in, even!) and save? Why not have your child pay half of their college costs so they are actually invested in the process?
    I feel bad for those in graduate school…getting deeper in debt and watching the job picture become more bleak everyday.
    They might have to get a third degree from Chubb Institure or 1-800-Drive-18.

  6. Not only business schools will be affected, Steve, but all levels of education. Just yesterday, Princeton (N.J.) University announced its lowest tuition and fees percentage increase since 1966. The cost of undergraduate tuition, fees, room and board for 2009-10 will rise 2.9 percent at this Ivy League school, to $47,020 – up $1,325 from the current year. And I’m sure others will follow. It’s tough times all around.