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updated: 11/11/2011 11:36 AM

University of Chicago executive MBA passes Kellogg in ranking

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Bloomberg News

University of Chicago's Booth School of Business dethroned Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management after a 20-year reign at the top of Bloomberg Businessweek's ranking of executive MBA programs.

Kellogg had held the No. 1 spot since the ranking's inception in 1991. It dropped to third place this year because of a decline in student satisfaction, according to a survey of new graduates, one of two measures used in the ranking.

Students completing Booth's program saw their salaries increase by almost $50,000 on average, compared with an average $40,000 for graduates of all executive programs. Graduates lauded its academic rigor, faculty and international component. In the past two years, Booth has increased its focus on career services, providing students with access to successful alumni, including chief executive officers, said Patty Keegan, associate dean of the North America executive program.

"It's not specifically career-coaching, but it's having intimate access to a C-level person connected to the school," Keegan said. Recent executive participants included Dean Curnutt, CEO of Macro Risk Advisors in New York, and John Edwardson, chairman of CDW Corp. in Vernon Hills, Illinois.

Columbia Business School at Columbia University in New York ranked second. IE Business School in Madrid, and the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles, rounded out the top five.

Among part-time MBA programs, Elon University's Love School of Business jumped six spots, taking the lead from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, in Worcester, Massachusetts. The Elon, North Carolina, school was noted for student access to administration, faculty and career services.

Nights, Weekends

Part-time and executive MBA programs differ from traditional, full-time offerings in that they are designed for professionals who intend to work while attending school. Part- time programs target students with about five years of work experience and who live within a 50-mile radius, as classes are offered on weekday evenings. The average cost for a credit hour at the top 30 part-time programs in the rankings is $1,123, and students on average need about 51 hours to graduate.

Executive programs typically target people with more than eight years of managerial experience. Courses tend to take place on alternating weekends and attract students from a much wider geographical area. Average tuition for the top 30 executive programs is about $113,000, according to the rankings.

Rounding out the top five part-time programs after Elon were UCLA Anderson, Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business in Pittsburgh, the College of Business at the University of Nevada at Reno, and the Haas School of Business at University of California, Berkeley.

Tables Turned

The MBA landscape has changed since Bloomberg Businessweek last ranked part-time and executive programs in 2009. At that time, both saw the number of applications slide and schools struggled to deal with the decline. Applications to full-time programs boomed as many of the newly unemployed figured they would wait out the economic crisis in business school rather than struggle to find a new job.

The tables have turned. This year, applications to full- time programs are down at two-thirds of the 199 schools responding to a survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council, owner of the GMAT admission test. At the same time, more than half of part-time and executive programs are seeing at least steady application numbers and more than 40 percent reported an increase compared with 2010.

The explanation is simple -- it's about money, said Mark Rice, dean of business at Worcester Polytechnic.

"The cost of graduate business education is going up each year," he says. "From a return on investment standpoint, if you're committed to doing an MBA in a serious way, the economics are a lot better for a part-time student."

Rankings Methodology

Bloomberg Businessweek based its executive rankings on the survey of new graduates and a poll of executive MBA program directors. The graduates were asked to evaluate their programs from admissions and facilities, to teaching and logistics. Spain's IE Business School scored best in the student survey, and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, topped the director's poll.

The part-time MBA ranking was based on a graduate survey and an academic-quality measure comprising data points such as average GMAT scores, class sizes, and completion rates. Another measure looked at the percentage of respondents who say their program was "completely" responsible for them achieving their goals. Of the 98 participating part-time programs, Elon led in the student survey and goals measure.

The rise in interest in executive and part-time MBA programs comes at a time when students are being asked to foot more of the tuition bill as employers scale back financial support for continuing education.

'Easy Line Item'

Only 19 percent of 2011 executive-program graduates who responded to the survey said they were completely funded by their employer, down 10 percentage points from 2009. At the same time, 42 percent of graduates were entirely self-supported, compared with 32 percent two years ago. The same holds true for part-time students, where 31 percent of respondents said their employer didn't contribute to their tuition costs, down 9 percentage points from 2009.

"It's an easy line item to look at and reduce," said Michael Desiderio, executive director of the Executive MBA Council, a nonprofit trade group based in Orange, California. "As an executive, do I lay people off or do I cut education reimbursement? Those are the kinds of decisions that companies are making."

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