By DANIEL TAUB
When Business Week's biennial ranking of the nation's top 25 business schools hit the newsstands, USC's Marshall School of Business celebrated its 25th place ranking with wine and hors d'oeuvres at a reception for faculty, staff and students.
"We definitely popped some champagne corks," said Randolph Westerfield, the Marshall School's dean.
Across town, at the Anderson School at UCLA, no such party was held, even though the school ranked No. 12 the highest ranking for a Southern California B-school. There, Interim Dean John Mamer simply sent out an e-mail informing students and professors of the rankings.
What accounts for the different reactions? The Anderson School, which has consistently ranked in the top 25 on the magazine's list over the past decade, made no headway over last year's No. 12 position.
The Marshall School, by contrast, has never before appeared on the list.
"We think it's a validation of the improvement we see in all the various aspects of our business programs at USC," Westerfield said. "We're an ambitious school, and we see this as a stepping stone to even greater levels of success."
The two reactions illustrate the mixed feelings engendered by the rankings of Business Week, U.S. News & World Report and other publications. While schools want to appear on the lists knowing how closely they are followed by prospective students and corporate recruiters alike they seek to avoid placing too much importance on them. After all, an individual school may rank high on one year's list, but then drop down or even completely off the next time.
Even USC's debut on the Business Week list was not all positive: As ranked by recruiters, USC MBAs were given a D in their abilities as analysts, a C as team players and a C in their global view the lowest grades in those categories. UCLA received Bs in all three categories.
"My reaction was that we need to improve the corporate recruiting perception of the quality of the product," Westerfield said. "And we've got nowhere to go but up."
Like the business schools themselves, corporate recruiters pay close attention to B-school rankings not just the list published every two years by Business Week, but also those compiled by U.S. News and various other publications, such as Fortune magazine's recent list of the best U.S. MBA programs for Asians.
"We follow them," said Scott Shane, Arthur Andersen's director of recruiting and university relations for the Pacific region. "We don't live and die by the rankings. We do consider them as we are looking at our complement of graduate school recruiting.
"In USC's particular case, that was affirmation that our strategy was correct in recruiting (there)," he added.
Shane said he is less concerned with magazine rankings than he is with other areas, such as curriculum. Nevertheless, he added, "if you go to my bookshelf right now, I have all of them Business Week, U.S. News & World Report and I have them since they began."
MBA students themselves seem to have a similar reaction.
"When I was looking to apply to business schools, I definitely took a look at (rankings), but I don't think it's the be-all and the end-all," said Intesar Haider, a second-year MBA student at UCLA. "It was one of the factors I was looking at when I was applying to schools. Even now, I look at it, but it's not that important."
"It wasn't a very big deal for me," agreed Sheri Greenberg, who is also in her second year in the Anderson School's MBA program. "I never really looked at rankings when I was deciding what school to come to. For me, it was more important what entrepreneurial bent the school had."
Not everyone is so nonchalant. The George L. Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University, which did not make either list, is working through an accreditation process with the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business partially for the purpose of getting on the U.S. News list, which only includes AACSB-accredited schools.
James Goodrich, the school's associate dean for full-time programs, said Pepperdine wants to attract more students from outside the United States. "The real advantage in ratings is not so much in placing people in jobs, but in attracting students," he said.
Goodrich said students from other parts of the world use the Business Week and U.S. News web sites to look up the rankings of business schools. "In some cases, they don't even know where those colleges are, but they know where they rank on the scale," he said, putting Pepperdine at a competitive disadvantage.
Goodrich expects Pepperdine to be accredited by the spring of 2000, and that he hopes a U.S. News ranking will follow soon after.
"We already are thinking in those terms: 'What do we need to do?'" he said. "Let's just say we've been studying the ratings very carefully as to how they're constructed."
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