B School Confidential

From UT-Austin to U of H, the best places in Texas to get an MBA.

With Corporate America snapping up graduates faster than you can say “salary plus bonus” and business schools focusing more than ever on providing relevance and value to their customers, it’s no surprise that the ranks of aspiring MBAs are growing. Across the country, the number of people taking the Graduate Management Admission Test ( GMAT)—which is required for admission to many MBA programs—is on the rise. During the 1996-97 academic year (the most recent for which data are available), 12,162 Texans took the anxiety-inducing test, a 15 percent increase over the year before, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council. The average age of B school applicants is also going up: It’s currently 28 nationwide, up from 25 a decade ago. That’s a plus in the classroom, where mature students are sharing their real-world experience, and also good news for employers interested in new hires who can hit the ground running.

Because MBAs are such a hot commodity these days, we decided to take a look at what Texas B schools have to offer and rank the top-ten programs. Our survey of the Texas MBA scene found that this is a great place to get a degree. Granted, the last time we checked, the country’s top MBA programs—Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the J. L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, and the University of Michigan Business School—were all in other states. But Texas is home to at least one nationally ranked top-tier school, the Graduate School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, and several up-and-comers are vying for elite status. Then there’s the money issue. At top schools, tuition, room and board, books, and two years of forfeited income (that is, money you’re not earning but could be) can add up to more than $150,000 for a full-time two-year program. Texas schools, however, are significantly cheaper. In fact, for the price conscious, a Texas MBA can be “one of the great bargains in the world,” crows A. Benton Cocanougher, the dean of the Lowry Mays College MBA program at Texas A&M University.

Because rankings are a necessary evil in the eyes of most business school administrators, we braced ourselves for a collective moan when we called around for statistics, mission statements, and the like. “They’re the bane of almost any dean’s existence,” admits Robert G. May, the dean of UT-Austin’s business school, which is in the enviable position of having been ranked eighteenth in the nation in Business Week’s latest biennial report on the nation’s MBA programs. Nevertheless, with a few exceptions, the schools we contacted were enthusiastic about participating in our survey. In particular, the second-tier B schools—those generally overlooked by Business Week and the other magazine that ranks MBA programs, U.S. News and World Report—were especially eager to strut their stuff.

The methodology behind our rankings is simple. MBA programs were graded in three areas: selectivity of admissions, which counted for 20 percent of the total score; placement, 40 percent; and academic reputation, 40 percent. Of course, every ranking system contains inherent biases. One of ours was to value placement twice as much as selectivity. In other words, we put more emphasis on output than input.

To narrow the field—and to ensure that we focused on the best of the best—we contacted only the seventeen Texas MBA programs accredited by the International Association for Management Education, the nation’s premier accrediting agency for master’s programs in business administration and accounting. ( U.S. News also limits its survey to accredited schools; Business Week does not.) Those programs were asked to provide a wealth of information. To gauge selectivity of admissions, we requested average GMAT scores, grade point averages, and years of work experience for students in the class of 2000; to evaluate placement success, we asked for average starting salaries, the number of job offers received, and the number of graduates employed three months after receiving their degree. Most MBA programs collect this data, so it’s fairly easy to make objective comparisons. Measuring a program’s academic reputation, however, isn’t as straightforward. Here we chose to rely on the experts: the deans and the admissions directors of the programs we surveyed. They were asked to rank the top ten programs in Texas (excluding their own) and to rate the quality of students, teachers, curriculum, and graduates at each on a scale of one to ten.

How did the schools measure up? UT-Austin finished first, which wasn’t unexpected, but other findings were. The race for slots two through four was close, with only six points separating Rice University, Southern Methodist University, and Texas A&M. The University of Houston’s strong showing—it placed fifth—was the biggest shock; thanks mainly to its strong placement record, it outpaced the well-regarded private MBA programs at Baylor University and Texas Christian University.

Read on to learn our up-close impressions of the five best schools, which we visited in search of color and detail. But even if you only glance at the order of the top-ten schools, keep this in mind: Rankings should be used only as a guide. Texas has many fine programs across a range of budgets and GMAT scores; the only one who knows what’s best for you is you. “An MBA education is far too complex to reduce to a number,” warns Robert Duvic, an assistant dean for UT-Austin’s MBA program, who adds perhaps the best advice of all for future job seekers: “Go where the recruiters you want to work for go.”

The Top Ten

Rank/School

Selectivity

Placement

Reputation

1. University of Texas at Austin

1 1 1

2. Rice University, Houston

3 2 3

3. Southern Methodist University, Dallas

4 4 2

3. Texas A&M University, College Station

2 3 4

5. University of Houston

7 5 7

6. Baylor University, Waco

8 7 5

7. Texas Christian University, Fort Worth

9 6 6

8. University of Texas at Arlington

6 10 9

9. University

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