In this week’s episode of Business Casual, our hosts delved into the latest MBA admissions trends across three of the top business schools, and explored academic controversies within one of them.
They discussed Wharton’s ability to maintain high standards despite a 14% drop in applications, highlighting the consistent quality of top-tier MBA applicants. Kellogg’s robust employment numbers for the Class of 2023 reinforced the enduring demand for MBA graduates.
Additionally, they addressed a controversial case involving a Harvard Business School professor accused of research misconduct, underscoring the importance of due process and equitable treatment within academic institutions. The hosts reflected on the conflict between leadership teachings and the handling of the controversy, emphasizing the need for consistency in upholding values and principles.
[00:00:07.290] – John
Well, hello everyone. Welcome back to Business Casual, our weekly podcast. I’m John Byrne with Poets and Quants. And I have with me my co hosts Maria Wich-Vila Caroline Diarte Edwards. Caroline, of course, as you all know, is a co-founder of Fortuna Admissions, and the former head of admissions at INSEAD, and Maria is the founder of Applicant Lab. We have had a lot of bit of news since we were gone on vacation and other things during this last part of the summer period. First and foremost, I think, and this is of great interest to all the applicants out there, Wharton released its class profile, and what’s interesting about it is that applications to the MBA program last year fell by 14%. That’s more than 1000 fewer applications than the school received a year earlier. But lo and behold, Wharton was able to maintain its record average class. GMAT score its high undergraduate class average for GPAs at undergraduate institutions, and achieve gender parity for the second year in a row with 50% of the class composed of women. And I think it just speaks to the depth and the quality of the MBA applicant pool at the top schools.
[00:01:38.530] – John
Maria, you agree?
[00:01:41.470] – Maria
Yeah absolutely. You know, I think it’s funny. Sometimes people, applicants in particular, understandably so, try to read the tea leaves of what do these trends mean? And this year it’s more people are applying or fewer people are applying. And if there are fewer people applying, does that mean it’s, quote unquote, easier to get in? And the fact is that, no, the standards are still going to be the same. I mean, statistically speaking, from a pure numbers perspective, it might appear to be easier to get in, but the fact that the GMAT scores are remaining the same and a lot of these other metrics are remaining very high, really does point to the fact that it’s never easy to get into a school like Wharton. And so hopefully, if anyone out there is trying to say, well, there are fewer applicants, so I’m going to roll the dice. Yeah, you should roll the dice. No matter what. But don’t expect it to be a vastly different landscape.
[00:02:34.070] – John
Yeah, that average GMAT score 733 for the second straight year and the GPA average was 3.6. Caroline, do you think we’re going to see this at other schools as they begin to report their class profiles?
[00:02:48.250] – Caroline
Yeah, I think that we will see that there was a drop in the last season of application volume, but I think that we will also see that the top schools have done a very good job of maintaining the quality of their class. And as you say, these schools have a really strong pipeline year in, year out of outstanding candidates. And people often make a big story about, oh, application volume is up a bit, or it’s down a bit, and that makes a big difference to your chances of getting in in one direction or another. But it doesn’t necessarily make a big difference because what happens is you have this solid, strong pipeline that is coming through year in, year out. And actually what happens when there’s a spike in application volume, it’s often not the best quality candidates who are throwing their hat into the ring at that point. And I saw that when I was at INSEAD and we saw that during the pandemic as well, that when there’s a surge in application volume, it’s often quite speculative candidates, people who maybe hadn’t planned necessarily to do an MBA, it’s not part of their sort, know, was not a long term ambition.
[00:04:03.050] – Caroline
But suddenly their circumstances may have changed and they think, oh, what am I going to do? Well, perhaps that’s a good idea to head off to business school. And maybe they are not the best prepared candidates, right? Maybe they don’t have the same quality of profile as some of the candidates who have been plotting their path to Harvard or to Wharton or to INSEAD over a number of years. And so those fluctuations in application volume can be a bit misleading because it doesn’t actually mean that there’s a dramatic difference in the competition. And it may actually make more of a difference for schools who are a bit further down the pecking order. But for the top schools, they have this really loyal base of prospective candidates coming through regardless of the cycle. And that’s what we see here that Wharton, regardless of quite a big drop, as you say, in application volume, it has had apparently virtually no impact on the quality of the class.
[00:05:14.450] – John
Yeah, really remarkable and a testament to really the quality of applicants at the top schools. And I agree with you that second tier schools, this is going to look a lot different. But at the very top, we’re talking the top 1520 schools, we’re probably going to see equivalent drops, at least double digit drops for last year’s admission season, but pretty good stats overall. Another M seven school reporting a stat is Kellogg. Now Northwestern. Kellogg did a little sneak peek at their preliminary employment numbers and it’s really the first hint at what the job market was like for the Class of 2023. And lo and behold, despite all the talk about, oh boy, is there going to be a recession or not, or MBAs who took jobs with consulting firms who are often asked to delay their start dates and all that. But at Kellogg, which sends more people into consulting as a percentage of the class than just about any school, median starting salary went up $10,000 to 175,000 to start, which is really good news not only for Kellogg, but I think we’re likely to see that elsewhere. And if you look back to pre pandemic days at those median starting salaries, you will see that the increase is on the order of almost 25%.
[00:06:48.690] – John
Really impressive. What does that tell you about the market, maria, I mean, one of the.
[00:06:54.520] – Maria
Principal tenets of capitalism is supply and demand. And it says to me that employers deeply value the value that an MBA graduate from any of these top schools can bring. And so I think this is an important thing for folks to keep in mind once they do get accepted, if they do not get the scholarship support that they were expecting, don’t despair because there’s a really good chance that you’re going to be making pretty decent salary when you graduate. And therefore paying back the student loans will in fact, be pretty feasible.
[00:07:33.030] – John
And not to mention the sign on bonus, which in consulting is $35,000, which that goes a long way to helping pay down your debt or taking a very extravagant vacation and not worrying about your debt, which maybe some people might actually be tempted to do. Caroline, you know, those.
[00:07:55.990] – Caroline
You know, it’s really encouraging to see this data, right, because we have been concerned about what’s happening with the job market. So it’s very impressive to see these numbers. And it’s quite an extraordinary bump that you mentioned, John, from that data that you highlighted, compared to the pre pandemic salary data, so up 25% since the class of 2019, I mean, that’s quite an extraordinary increase. So, again, a wonderful testament to the value of an MBA from a top school. I have heard anecdotally that some graduates from the classes this year have had offers not rescinded, but they’ve had employers have said, okay, we’re not going to bring you on in August or September. We’re postponing for a few months. So I have heard that from some people who are graduating this summer. So I guess that wouldn’t necessarily be taken into account in this data that we’re looking at now, right? Because they would probably still be reporting their packages even if they are not starting immediately. But nevertheless, as Maria said, it’s a very impressive testament to the value of the MBA and the demand that is out there despite a somewhat wobbly job market.
[00:09:19.490] – John
True. In fact, we just have a story right on the homepage today. I’ll just read the headline, which is kind of amusing. Newly hired consultants are getting paid to sit around and watch Netflix. So while many people in the consulting field who took jobs or many MBAs who took jobs in consulting and have been asked to delay their starts are getting some kind of stipend or pay before they actually start work, part of this is an attempt by some firms to say, hey, if you have three, six months of delay, why don’t you volunteer and work for a nonprofit and we’ll pay you what we intended to pay you? In this way you can do some community good. And so that’s what’s kind of behind that. But true enough, that’s not really going to affect the actual numbers on pay and a Kellogg that has not done so the other interesting thing about the Kellogg report is what Kellogg didn’t reveal is the percentage of graduates employed at graduation. And three months later, that’s to come when the full employment report comes out in the fall. Last bit of news we want to talk about is a big controversy over at the Harvard Business School.
[00:10:39.710] – John
Some of you may have read that one of the superstar professors there, Francesca Gino, who is an Italian born behavioral scientist of some note, highly popular at the school among MBA students and her colleagues, was caught up in allegations that four of her research studies had data that had been manipulated in one way or another. There is a blog out there called Data Colada by three business school professors that made these allegations. Harvard Business School put together a three person committee of former and current faculty members to investigate them. They concluded that there was a problem and that research misconduct did in fact, occur in this case. And they recommended that she be placed on unpaid administrative leave, that she be stripped of her title at the Harvard Business School, that she be banned from campus, that she would be prevented from ever publishing again on any Harvard Business School platform, including the Harvard Business Review. And that proceedings should begin to strip her of tenure. Stripping a professor at a business school of tenure is a big deal, and it becomes a bigger deal at the Harvard Business School. Now, what’s interesting about this case is that Gino recently filed a $25 million defamation lawsuit against the dean at Harvard Business School, against Harvard University itself and the authors of the blog that initially made these accusations.
[00:12:26.990] – John
And the lawsuit is filled with the kinds of details that really make you severely question whether she was treated fairly, number one. Number two, whether in fact Harvard and the dean breached her contract with the school on a number of details that I’m not going to really get into here. But meantime, two law school professors have independently at Yale and at Harvard, questioned Harvard’s treatment of her, and both basically are suggesting that she has a good case and Harvard is likely to either settle or lose. Now, this is your alma mater, Maria, so I should give you the chance to talk about this first.
[00:13:11.310] – Maria
Yeah, I mean, as with all things lawsuit, one never knows what is the truth and what is merely yeah. I have no idea who’s right and who’s wrong. I will say, though, that I think whenever any sort of potential, quote unquote crime is committed, whether it’s shoplifting or fudging data in your study or selling nuclear secrets to Saudi Arabia, whatever it is, I do believe in the power of due process. Right. And there is a law and there are laws that need to be followed. And I believe that Harvard Business School did, in fact, have a process in place that was meant to deal with allegations such as the one that Professor Gino encountered, and it’s my understanding from her lawsuit that those processes were not in fact followed in her case. One of the allegations is that, for example, when she finally met with the Dean, he basically said to know you’re not allowed to speak, which is shocking and honestly it’s a little embarrassing. I am not actually very familiar with this Dean who’s been around for only a couple of years. I did not encounter him, so I can’t comment one way or the other.
[00:14:15.640] – Maria
But I do think that it’s a shame that in a school that prides itself on selecting people for leadership potential and on training future leaders, that this does not any situation where you call someone into your office and you say, okay, shut up, you’re here, but you’re not allowed to say anything. I don’t think anyone would say that that’s a good leadership technique. Who knows who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s not lying? Maybe everyone’s lying, maybe nobody’s lying, who knows? But if these allegations are true, it doesn’t sound like it was handled in a fair way that would have been applied perhaps to other professors in similar situations. So that’s disappointing.
[00:15:05.660] – John
Yeah. And that meeting was the only meeting that Dean had with her, even though he had first heard about these allegations two years. Mean, any good leader would have immediately confronted her directly and asked about this instead of waiting to the end when you’re going to deliver a decision and incidentally, then you tell her you don’t have the right to speak. And you bury your head in a piece of paper and read word for word what the punishment is, which is appalling. Absolutely appalling. That occurred. Even if she’s guilty, even if she did commit fraud, that’s not the way you deal with something like this. It’s really unbelievable that something like that could happen. And this is at Harvard Business School where previous deans have taken great pride in running a very tight ship. Process means a lot at the Harvard Business School. There are a lot of rules and guidelines and regulations that have been promulgated with the approval of the faculty and that are followed religiously. Sure, I get that all universities are highly politicized environments, but they’re also in many cases collegial environments and that’s not the way you treat a colleague.
[00:16:23.530] – John
Caroline, any thoughts?
[00:16:26.010] – Caroline
Yeah, I agree. And Maria, you often say I’m very diplomatic and I love the way that you said that telling someone that they can’t speak in a meeting is perhaps not the best leadership style.
[00:16:39.470] – Maria
I’m learning from you, Caroline.
[00:16:42.930] – Caroline
Your time in England this summer was very well spent.
[00:16:46.230] – John
Okay. This reminds me of the scene in Barbie when the Kens take over, come in and they’re brow beaten into being women again and assuming the secondary role in society. Imagine you come in and the man tells you, no, you’re not going to speak during this meeting.
[00:17:08.970] – Maria
Go get me a brusky beer in my mojo, dojo.
[00:17:12.100] – John
There it is. Okay, I know that Maria saw Barbie now.
[00:17:16.010] – Maria
Sorry, Caroline. Go ahead.
[00:17:18.990] – Caroline
The irony of a school that is supposed to be teaching people how to lead and manage teams and train the next generation of business leaders and actually practicing leadership like this is extraordinary. I mean, schools are sometimes not the best practitioners, right? They sometimes don’t practice what they preach. But this seems to be quite an extraordinary example of not practicing what they preach. And I mean, apart from anything else, right? I mean, schools are very concerned about their reputation, and surely he would have been aware of the terrible PR that would fall out of the way he handled this. So I just find it extraordinary that it seems to have been so badly handled. Know this is awful publicity for the school. And as you know, Harvard has so many policies and procedures in place and is so carefully guards its reputation that you wouldn’t expect this to come out of Harvard Business School, of all schools.
[00:18:23.430] – John
Yeah, that’s really true. And after she filed the $25 million defamation lawsuit in US district Court in Boston, eleven days later, obviously feeling pressured by what was going on, the dean sent an email to the faculty. And even in the email, he sort of shifts the onus for the actions that were taken against her on the investigation committee, as opposed to standing up and saying, I believe this was the right thing to do. I made this decision. And it was backed, sure, by whatever conclusion the committee had. But it’s almost like he’s not even wanting to stand up and courageously be a leader in this sense and saying, yes, I made a decision and I stand by the decision. Really sad, but at least we have good news from Wharton and Kellogg. All right, there you have it. That’s the latest stuff that’s happened. We’re looking forward to getting back to our normal routine next week. And thanks for listening. This is Poets and Quants. You’ve been listening to Business Casual.