Behind the curtain of the beauty pageant: An investigation of U.S. news undergraduate business program rankings
The undergraduate business program rankings in USNWR are based solely on peer assessments from deans and associate deans of AACSB accredited U.S. business schools. Often these reputation-based rankings are discounted and likened to a beauty pageant because the process lacks transparent input data.
In this study, ten deans and ten associate deans representing top 50 USNWR undergraduate business programs were interviewed. The administrators represent schools with diverse regional locations. Seven of the institutions are public and three are private and all but two universities are AAU member institutions.
The research answers the following questions: how do deans and associate deans define quality in their school‘s undergraduate program and in other schools‘ programs? How are administrators influenced when evaluating the reputation of peer schools? Are competitors treated differently when evaluating academic reputation? What methods are administrators utilizing to influence brand perception with their stakeholder and educational peers?
Business school deans and associate deans emphasized different aspects of an undergraduate program in their description of quality. The deans most valued quality from faculty and research. The associate deans valued the undergraduate experience including sense of community, engagement, involvement, leadership, student services, as creating distinction in a program. The two different perspectives impacted how administrators casted their votes on the USNWR ballot.
Business school administrators are barraged by influences that affect their perceptions about program reputations. Overall the influences on perception included quality of faculty, research, student standardized test scores, resources, characteristics of an institution, professional involvement and social networks including networks with faculty, students, other professionals and employers that provide feedback about schools. Professional involvement (AACSB, conferences, competitions, etc.) and social networks (PhD students, other deans, siblings, friends, students, employers, etc.) provided administrators with important insight into academic reputation. The quality of people that the administrators knew from other schools made a difference in peer schools‘ reputation.
Finally, most schools employ integrated marketing communication (IMC) including taglines, direct marketing, event marketing, feature promotions, customer service and brand messages to influence stakeholders and peers. This study confirmed that everyone in a business school is a brand manager because brand is influenced through numbers of interactions over time with a variety of stakeholders. True to the IMC framework, business schools have moved away from transactional service with students and other stakeholders to a relationship driven educational model emphasizing community, service, personal attention, and long-term involvement with the school.
0688: Business education
0745: Higher education