This morning, when Businessweek unveiled its list of Best Undergraduate Business School Programs, I was eager to read it for trends in the ever-evolving field of business education.
What's most fascinating about the list, overall, is its affirmation of business as a topic worthy of undergraduate curricula. Sure, there are liberal arts traditionalists who believe undergrads should only study classic subjects and disciplines, such as history, English, chemistry, and biology. But like it or not, business is here to stay as an academic topic--and it begins at the earliest stages of college.
The top five schools on the list are, in order: Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business; University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce; Cornell University's Dyson School of Applied Economics; Boston College's Carroll School of Management and Olin Business School at Washington University. The ratings were based on a mixture of student assessment (30%), academic quality (30%), employer opinion (20%), median salary after graduating (10%), and feeder school to MBA programs (10%).
To their credit, Businessweek's editors picked up on an interesting pattern, even though it meant admitting that their top five undergrad programs were hardly operating in the shadow of elite MBA programs:
A top-notch undergraduate program may not go hand-in-hand with a best-in-class graduate school, and vice versa. Notre Dame ranked 20th in our most recent MBA rankings; Carroll and Olin ranked 48th and 31st, respectively. Cornell and Virginia have top 10 MBA programs, but they're run separately.
What else does this year's list have to offer? Here are three other interesting morsels:
1. Happiness of the undergraduates matters. In fact, student assessment of the programs counts for 30% of the total score. It is, on its own, as important as academic quality (which also counts for 30%) in the ranking methodology. It's easy to appreciate this factor for one simple reason: You could argue that most students are paying customers. Their assessments are likely to incorporate both their overall happiness and their satisfaction (or lack) with the education they (or their parents) are paying for.
2. Academic quality, while important, doesn't on its own warrant a top-ten ranking. Wake Forest University's School of Business ranked first in academic quality. But it was 11th overall.
3. At the top school, ethics and values are a factor. One reason Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business has been the top-ranked school for five straight years is because of its high student assessment scores, "with B-school undergrads raving about the Catholic university's attention to business ethics and social purpose," notes Patrick Clark in a superb explanatory article. "'People here challenge themselves to figure out how we can use business for a source of good,'" is how Tim Brazelton, a senior majoring in accounting and economics, explains it.
His words, finding their way to the public in an article about the education of tomorrow's leaders, are a reason to stay hopeful about the future of business.