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The Business School Building Boom: How Do MBAs Rate Their Facilities?

Business schools are spending millions developing their campus locations. But how do MBAs rate their facilities? The results are surprising - and have little to do with MBA Rankings.

By  Seb Murray

Mon Jan 27 2014

Campus life for the next generation of business school students is set to be a comfortable one.
When it comes to MBA programs, campus location is an important factor. Students will spent months' away from home, out of work and leave tens of thousands of dollars in debt. 
Both alumni and applicants cite job prospects and peer networking as key considerations when it comes to b-school programs. But location too is equally important. 
The majority of MBA alumni chose to stay in the region they graduate in to look for work. At HEC Paris, the majority (44 per cent) of their 2011 MBA class landed jobs in France after graduation. At London Business School (LBS), 47 per cent of their 2012 MBA cohort stayed in the UK for work after graduation.
At China Europe International Business School, 82 per cent of their 2013 cohort of overseas students are working in the Asia-Pacific region.
But how to students rate their b-schools' physical presence? According to a recent survey, it is hard to tell. The report, published by The Economist, rates the top-100 business schools in the world based on their students' assessment of the "facilities and services on offer".
ESMT European School of Management and Technology, considered the 30th best MBA program world-wide, is ranked first by students for facilities. The University of Bath School of Management is ranked second, with the Tuck School of Business ranked third.
Cranfield School of Management is also in the top-ten, ranked 9th by its students.
These rankings go a long way to explaining the considerations MBA applicants make when weighing up their options - and show that architectural setting is becoming increasingly important. 
There has been a rise in what commentators call the "MBA building boom" - a raft of leading schools are spending millions developing their campuses and opening new buildings. The life of the b-school student is becoming one of luxury.
Portland State University's School of Business Administration is planning a $60 million project that will triple its available space on campus. Yale School of Management unveiled a new $243 million campus earlier this month, while Harvard Business School just spent $100 million on a new building for its executive education programs.
Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management announced a similar $220 million campus development last year. 
But according to these new campus ratings, MBA Rankings have little to do with the quality of facilities.
Harvard Business School, considered the best full-time MBA program by most influential MBA Rankings, came just 27th on facilities when assessed by its students. Although this may say more about personal choice and a "picky intake" than the school itself.
In comparison, Tuck, which is ranked 20th by the Financial Times for its general MBA program, beat many higher-ranking schools when it came to facilities - and Tuck MBAs have long praised the excellent campus location for enhancing their experience. 
The Economist notes that the survey looked at facilities in a broad sense, rather than just buildings. And each student may have interpreted the term "facilities" differently. It's also important to note that one student may not have visited many other campuses, making comparisons difficult.
Penny C. Paquette, Assistant Dean for Strategic Initiatives at Tuck, says that the campus environment creates a "close knit" community at Dartmouth. "Tuck students don't scatter after classes are over, whether they live on or off campus. Our physical facilities help build a sense of community," Penny told BusinessBecause.
"The relatively small size of our student body means that each student can receive personal attention: the faculty and staff go out of their way to support our MBA students doing everything from answering questions on a Sunday night before an exam the next day to loaning them a pair of shoes when theirs get socked in the rain."
Many business schools are prepared to spend millions to enhance their campus and this may explain the inconsistencies in rankings. Imperial College Business School, for example, has just spent a £20 million donation on building their new Brevan Howard Centre for Financial Analysis. 
Yet the big-spenders aren't scoring as highly when it comes to student satisfaction. Yale and Kellogg - two of the biggest spenders this year - were ranked 75th and 77th on facilities respectively. 
Nnanna Anyanwu, an MBA student at Cranfield, says finance isn't as important. "Having the finances available is not key. What is key is that the design and structure of these facilities are designed to enhance the student learning experience, keeping the atmosphere professional yet personal," he said. 
Penny from Tuck agrees. "Many schools spend more on their facilities than Tuck. Look at all the new complexes that are being built," she said. "That said... Tuck is able to deliver one of the world's best MBA programs in an unmatched setting, that provides opportunity for total immersion for the two years spent here.
"Beautiful, state of the art buildings are important but how people interact within those spaces has a huge impact."
Enjoying the experience is more important than state-of-the-art or posh campuses - although many business schools see their physical facilities as an important selling point in a crowded market. 
Cranfield students cite their location, close to London but still outside the city, as important. Places for students to kick-back outside of study are also a consideration. "Certain schools, especially those within major cities, might have little latitude in terms of how much customization can be carried out  to their facilities," said Nnanna.
"Some institutions may have modern and sophisticated facilities, but that may however not satisfy the needs of their students."
The size of the cohort may also reflect how the facilities can benefit students. Cranfield has a smaller-than-average class size, around 70, while Tuck is renowned for tight-knit small groups compared to other US schools, with about 270 students currently enrolled in the graduating class of 2015. 
"The cohort size is deliberately kept within a specific range, and facilities have been put in place to effectively serve this. This may not apply to the other business schools, where the sheer size of the cohort might affect the adequacy of their facilities," added Nnanna. 
Penny agrees that it's more about "feel" than top-notch facilities. "In every way, our physical campus and the way Tuck’s faculty and staff interact with students fosters a sense of community and collaboration. It is the place where lifelong relationships are created - perhaps the most lasting legacy of the Tuck experience," she added.
With the rise in online and distance learning, it could be a risk developing campuses to such an extent - even if the majority of funding doesn't come from university coffers.
Sally Blout, Kellog's Dean, told The Economist earlier this month: "Our industry is about to transform itself. And you have to decide whether you are in or out of face-to-face education."
It is true that business schools are changing. Although the lure of learning and networking in plush establishments is unlikely to diminish anytime soon. 
Bloomberg Businessweek describes the building boom at top schools as an "arms race". Yet these finely crafted facilities don't seem to translate into student satisfaction - yet, anyway.
To see the full list of facility rankings, visit: http://www.economist.com/whichmba/mba-rankings/facilities