U.S. News nudges

by Kane Loukas

The Carlson School of Management’s graduate school program continued its climb up the business school rankings by placing 26th nationwide, according to U.S. News and World Report.
The latest business school rankings, which appeared in the magazine’s March 22 issue, pushed the Carlson school up one place from last year. At 26th, the Carlson school is in a four-way tie with Georgetown University, Ohio State University’s Fisher School of Business and the University of Maryland at College Park.
The one-rung climb marks the pinnacle of an aggressive, decade-long improvement effort that has recently brought the Carlson school graduate programs into elite territory.
When judged on academics alone, the Carlson school’s graduate programs come in at 22nd on the U.S. News’ scale, a number proudly bragged about by Dean David Kidwell. With good academics, he said, the school will prosper in the long run, and it shows the school isn’t getting along on just marketing “pizzazz.”
Generally, the Carlson school has made a greater effort to keep its students on the cutting edge of business by periodically reviewing coursework and adjusting it to the needs of the marketplace.
For example, one academic change made in 1993 shifted the academic core into students’ coursework earlier. This way, when students take internships, they have the tools to impress their would-be employers after one or two quarters in school rather than after a year or more.
In addition to improvements in curriculum, the new Carlson school building itself has done its fair share to boost the school’s rankings. On presentation alone, the high-tech classrooms and cushy dining rooms and conference areas make the job of attracting students much easier, said Gary Lindblad, associate dean of the MBA program.
“MBA students will typically visit four or five places,” explained Lindblad. “If a school doesn’t have nice facilities, they might be turned off.” He added that the same goes for recruiters from companies who visit campus looking for new employees; an unattractive school equals less interest in hiring its students.
However, business community interest is high. The median salary for a graduate of a Carlson graduate school program jumped 10 percent last year to $74,000, a number that figures heavily into the U.S. News ranking.
Another sort of interest is also high, or rather high-school. Applications to the 13th-ranked undergraduate program are up 53 percent this year and 40 percent for the two-year MBA program. With a wealth of candidates to choose from, the Carlson school has the luxury to be more selective than before and, with many of the applications coming from overseas, to diversify the student body. The largest increases in applications to graduate programs are from India and China.
The entire increase isn’t because of the school’s improved ratings. Steve Carnes, associate director of the undergraduate program, said he attributes some of the application increases to increased marketing and the 1996 admission of students directly into the Carlson school. Before 1996, a prospective undergraduate could only enter the business school via an application to the College of Liberal Arts.
Still, said Carnes, the increase in applications to the undergraduate program was beyond the Carlson school’s expectations and more than double last year’s 22.3 percent increase. Though he admits he has no evidence as to the cause, Carnes said he believes word is getting around to high school juniors and seniors. “It’s hard to explain a 53 percent increase without the grapevine being pretty good to us.”
Looking forward, Lindblad anticipates that the Carlson school graduate programs will break into the top 25. But there are some weaknesses, at least some of which were recognized by the magazine Business Week. Last fall, that publication’s graduate school rankings placed the Carlson school lower than in 1997.