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Behind the Rankings: Kogod School of Business’s Ascent

Facade of the New Kogod School of Business Building

(Photo: Jeff Watts)

In the world of business—and business schools—numbers tell only part of the story.

When the 2010 edition of U.S. News and World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” debuted, the Kogod School of Business was ranked a best-ever 57th in the undergraduate business programs category. It was just the latest coup for the school, which has climbed the rungs of BusinessWeek, the Wall Street Journal and other publications’ rankings in recent months.

The numbers certainly jump out, but they also beg the question, what’s driving them? How has Kogod managed to garner such impressive recognition in such a wide variety of polls?

“It’s really a package,” Kogod dean Richard Durand said. “We build a lot of flexibility in for our students, we push them to take co-curricular activities, and we make sure that with the career center, we place them. It’s a multifaceted approach, but the key is the faculty, staff, and students all are on the same page.”

Each publication uses its own methodology to rank business schools, so Kogod’s consistent presence on a variety of “best of” lists across the rankings spectrum has to be viewed as much more than a coincidence, Durand said.

“It’s a validity check,” he said. “Now people are looking at us and saying, ‘Wow, things are happening there.’”

U.S. News and World Report

The most visible college rankings are compiled and released annually by U.S. News and World Report, which surveys deans and senior faculty of undergraduate business programs to construct its list.

“[Kogod’s] certainly moving in the right direction,” said Robert Morse, director of data research for U.S. News. “It means more of the people who participate in this reputation survey think it’s a better school.”

Essentially, the U.S. News rankings are based solely on schools’ reputations, so for an institution to improve its standing it’s important that the voters know and understand the innovative changes it’s implementing.

Durand wanted to improve AU’s No. 83 ranking from 2008, so he engaged in an outreach campaign to market his school.

“Oftentimes people think about marketing as being just a product or an advertisement, but a major part of marketing is really pressing the flesh,” he said. “It’s one thing to have an excellent program, and I do believe that over the last couple of years we’ve changed our program dramatically, and the rankings are finally catching up to where we truly are as a school of business. But oftentimes reputation lags.”

Durand has served on several committees of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business committees, which accredits the roughly 450 business schools in America.

“Over the last few years I’ve worked with 45 to 60 different business school deans on these committees,” he said. “They know I’m proud of Kogod. The information that we send to them, they’ll open it and read it because they know us.”

When Durand is touting his school’s undergraduate program, he touches on a number of aspects, including joint degree programs with the College of Arts and Sciences in which students can earn a bachelor of science in business and music or business, language, and culture.

“For a school the size of AU, that’s quite remarkable,” he said. “My colleagues around the country are absolutely shocked that we have been able to work so effectively in such a unique way with another school.”

Different Methodologies, Same Results

Kogod is one of a growing number of business schools that has assumed responsibility for the job placement of its undergraduates, Durand said. The creation of its own career center, and emphasis on co-curricular activities in which students develop networking, communication, leadership, and other “soft” skills have proven to be very popular with students.

So when Kogod broke into BusinessWeek’s “Best Undergraduate Business Schools” rankings at No. 28 earlier this year, it wasn’t a surprise. The magazine compiles its list by surveying students.

Forbes magazine put together its 2009 list of best MBA programs, which included Kogod for the first time, by calculating return on investment for former students. When the Wall Street Journal listed Kogod No. 36 among regional MBA programs, it did so after surveying recruiters who hired its graduates.

The global management program, selected as one of the top 15 in the nation in Entrepreneur magazine and the Princeton Review’s ratings, relied on students’ perceptions.

“When you have a lot of different types of measures, and you keep being identified, you can’t attribute it to luck,” Durand said. “Commitment to quality teaching is a global attribute. Our faculty understand the value of good teaching in the classroom. Our teaching evaluations are just incredibly high. As a school, they’re higher than any other institution I’ve been at, and I’ve been a faculty member at six.”

Rankings are not an exact science, and they’re not the be-all and end-all. But like them or hate them, they’re used by students shopping for schools, and they’re here to stay.

“The rankings over time become a reflection of what the world thinks of your program,” Durand said. “Perception’s reality. We can sit here and talk about how good we are, but truth is in the eye of the person doing the evaluation. We are now having people look at us and saying this is a school on the move.”