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With the usual fanfare, US News has released its 2016 Graduate School rankings.  What are the most important takeaways this year?  Here's one -- we need a more sophisticated method of evaluating our education.

Here we go again.

With the release of its 2016 graduate school rankings, the US News and World Report sets the merry-go-round awhirl once again with breathless murmurs about who’s up and who’s down (answer; no one relevant) and the usual circular debates as to why a few lower tier schools have leapt around the rankings like overcaffeinated gymnasts.  Yes, it’s the same data as last year, folks, all laid out in a tidy, digestible table so that people can know, to a numerical certainty, just how superior they are supposed to feel to the person sitting next to them.  Isn’t that a relief?

Well forgive us for speaking truth to power (it’s kind of our thing), but we here at Forster Thomas feel compelled to break the orthodoxy and say, in no uncertain terms, the unspeakable –

Do we really care anymore?

After the first few weeks of click frenzies die down, will these rankings really tell you anything about your target school the last five years of rankings did not? Do they illuminate, in any meaningful way, the graduate school process?  After all, most top MBAs already know what schools, or at least what universe of schools, they’re applying to.  For them, year-to-year rankings don't matter much.  If Stanford takes first three years running, or HBS drops to 8th place, that might turn some heads, but little changes?  Not really.  

Case in point: Columbia hasn’t ranked higher than 7th for five years, yet many people choose Columbia over MIT, Kellogg, and Booth despite what the rankings say.  The same goes for NYU and Duke over Darden and Ross, probably because of the schools undergraduate prestige and name recognition, although that hasn't yet helped Yale, which is now tied with Fuqua and is solidly in the top 14, despite having the lowest employment numbers by a fairly wide margin.

On the whole, the US News rotisserie simply reinforces the prejudices applicants already carry around inside their heads. The methodology, after all, is largely based on reputation. Is it any surprise that creating a ranking system that reinforces reputation essentially operates as a self-fulfilling prophecy?  And lest we forget, that reputation knife cuts both ways.  If US News shakes things up too much, they'll look out of touch (imagine if Darden jumped to #4), but they have to reshuffle the chess pieces to make headlines. 

Stanford displacing HBS at #1 headlines, but it doesn't make change.  Alternate ranking systems in recent years have tried to do just that, upsetting the orthodoxy completely.  We have covered some of the most interesting ones right here on our blog. There have been some attempts to calculate value for money, and to more heavily weight employment numbers.  Certain ranking systems emphasize international prestige, which can be important for students who want their degree to translate overseas. 

Why does an organization with US News’ resources try, for instance, interviewing all the deans of the schools, or making an in-depth examination of faculty or the effects of cluster size on student learning? Then, at least, each year’s rankings would tell us something new -- augmenting the previous year’s knowledge rather than supplanting it.

But the US News rankings, at least for business school, are still trapped in a world where the most valuable currency is chatter, and superficial metrics take the place of serious, in-depth investigation of the schools.