Four years ago, a big change occurred in the U.S. News ranking of part-time MBA programs: The University of Chicago Booth School of Business unseated UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business as the top program, after Berkeley had dominated the ranking for six straight years. Since then — even as a pandemic and other forces have combined to shake up the landscape for the workhorses of graduate business education — little has changed in the upper tier of the annual list, up to and including the most recent ranking, released today (March 29).
Once again, Chicago Booth is number one, followed by Berkeley Haas, and — in their same places as the last five years — Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, New York University Stern School of Business, and UCLA Anderson School of Management. The first surprise occurs at No. 6, where Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business — one of the smallest programs in the entire ranking, with just 86 enrolled students — moved up one place from last year, displacing the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, which dropped to No. 7. The University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business, which had been tied with Tepper, slipped to No. 8.
In the biggest change in the upper tier of the ranking — which overall includes 278 total schools, including 53 in the top 50 (because of ties) — the University of Washington Foster School of Business jumped four spots to No. 10, while three schools that had been tied for 10th dropped into a five-way tie for 11th: Indiana University Kelley School of Business, Ohio State University Fisher College of Business, and the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management.
POPULARITY CONTEST? YES, BUT WITH CONSISTENT WINNERS
U.S. News’ 2023 part-time MBA ranking is based on five factors. By far the most important, accounting for 50% of each school’s rank, is a peer assessment score based on surveys of business school deans and MBA program directors, asking them to rate other programs on a 1-5 scale. Crucially, that makes the ranking very much a popularity contest, one that the same top schools dominate year after year. Chicago Booth’s peer assessment score was 4.6; Berkeley Haas scored a 4.4, less than Northwestern Kellogg’s 4.5, but Haas was able to overcome it by having a much higher average Graduate Management Admission Test score — 705 to Kellogg’s 680.
GMAT scores, along with Graduate Record Exam scores, account for 15% of a school’s overall score, even though U.S. News reports that for the second consecutive year part-time MBA programs reported that fewer than 25% of their fall 2021 entering students submitted test scores, and schools received less credit for those scores in this year’s rankings. Average GMAT score for the top 10 part-time programs is just over 671.
The other three key measures of a school’s score: average undergraduate GPA (12.5%); number of years of work experience of part-time MBA students entering in fall 2021 (10%); and percentage of the business school’s fall 2021 total full-time and part-time MBA enrollment that is in the part-time MBA program (12.5%). Overall, Chicago Booth scored 100, while Haas scored 99, Kellogg 97, Stern 95, and Anderson 92.
Of course, popularity contest or not, any of the top 10 part-time MBA programs could plausibly be said to have the merits of a No. 1. All have highly popular, and most have highly populated, programs at least. Chicago Booth — which tied for No. 1 in U.S. News‘ full-time ranking, also released March 29 — has one of the largest populations in the entire ranking, with 1,257 students, second only to Stern’s 1,481 and one of only four schools with enrollments of more than 1,000. Most aren’t terribly hard to get into, with an average acceptance rate in the top 10 (excluding the top three schools, which declined to provide their rates) of 70.2%; compare that to the acceptance rate at the top 10 full-time programs: 17.5%.
FLEXIBILITY IS KEY
The popularity and strength of top programs like Booth’s, Berkeley’s, and Kellogg’s obscures the fact that, even as full-time programs have rebounded from stagnant application rates, part-time MBA programs are in a period of decline. GMAC data show the proportion of both lockstep and self-paced part-time MBA programs reporting application growth dropping precipitously between 2020 and 2021 (see table above). This helps to explain why even those top programs have added significant flexibility in recent years, as they stave off the economic and other forces leading to downturn at lesser-known programs.
Booth’s program, for example, comes in two formats: an Evening MBA program designed for Chicago-area residents who are able to take weeknight classes, and a Weekend MBA program for professionals from the Chicago area and around the country, 77% of whom live outside of Illinois and travel to Chicago to attend classes. In Berkeley, with 925 students — more than triple the size of the Haas full-time MBA — the Evening & Weekend MBA is perhaps the most friendly program to busy professionals, with a “Flex” option that allows students to take core courses online in the first half of the program.
Kellogg, too, is all about flexibility, offering two schedules — Evening or Weekend — as well as two “paces”: traditional, with core courses coming before electives and graduation happening between 1 1/4 and five years; and accelerated, for students with business undergraduate degrees, who can graduate in as little as one year.
What is not so flexible about these top programs is cost: at Booth, $7,344 per credit, at Kellogg, $7,418, at Haas, $3,533; based on each school’s requirements, all three work out to nearly $150,000. Compare that to Texas McCombs, which is around $117K for the entire program; or Indiana Kelley, which is around $40K per year for out-of-state students — and way less, only $23K per year, if you’re a Hoosier. Go further down the ranking, and you’re bound to find more real gems at bargain prices.
See the next page for U.S. News’ ranking of the top 50 part-time MBA programs in the United States, plus data on GMAT scores, acceptance rate, and enrollment.
Berkeley Haas’ part-time MBA program was ranked No. 1 by U.S. News for six years in a row until 2018. It currently has over 900 students. File photo
Crucially, a school’s part-time score and data are not used in deterring its rank in U.S. News‘ main ranking, which is labeled “Best Business Schools” — something a top-25 dean recently called out as a misleading practice that should change.