By David Brindley

Staff Reporter

Local business schools received a big boost in bragging rights last week when U.S. News & World Report released its annual graduate school rankings.

Both the Anderson School at UCLA and the Marshall School at USC rose up the magazine's business school rankings ladder from last year's scores. Anderson earned its highest ranking ever, breaking into the top 10 to tie for No. 8 with Dartmouth College's Tuck School. That makes Anderson the highest-ranked public school in the country, edging out UC Berkeley and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, which tied for 10th place. Last year, Anderson was ranked No. 17.

USC's Marshall School, meanwhile, rose to No. 23 from No. 34 last year.

Among the top 50 business schools, Southern California boasts three, with the University of California at Irvine placing No. 43 on the list. The business schools at Stanford University and Harvard University tied for first place in the rankings.

Much of the jump is attributable to Southern California's robust economy. U.S. News determines the rankings based on a school's reputation, the ability of its graduates to land a job, and how selective it is in admitting new students. Of the three scores, both UCLA and USC made important strides in graduate placement, which accounts for 35 percent of a school's overall rank.

The strong local economy not only is creating more jobs, it is creating higher-paid positions as well. UCLA, for instance, placed 98.9 percent of its 1997 graduates, up from 82.2 percent for the previous class. The median starting salary was $75,000 a year, up 15 percent from 1996.

"The West Coast is hot right now and you see a bounce effect in the rankings from a stronger economy in California," said Mary Lord, a senior editor who heads up the graduate business school rankings at U.S. News.

Officials at both the Anderson and Marshall business schools agreed with that assessment, but also pointed to stronger academic programs and growing awareness of the schools' ability to produce top business leaders and successful entrepreneurs. In the national rankings of specialties, Anderson placed fifth in the country in entrepreneurship and Marshall placed sixth.

"Our reputation has been improving," said John Mamer, Anderson's interim dean. "You are seeing some reflection of the quality of our school in the rankings."

While Business Week publishes its own business school rankings every other year, the annual ranking from U.S. News is arguably the most widely known and is eagerly anticipated among prospective students and recruiters alike.

Students looking to get the biggest bang for their tuition buck, in terms of landing a job upon graduation, may be persuaded to consider attending schools that are nationally ranked. Likewise, company recruiters may pay more attention to those graduates coming from top-ranked schools.

"It's important to be in the top tier," said Randolph W. Westerfield, dean at USC's Marshall School. "It translates into increased visibility and a better applicant pool."

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