Personal Finance

Business schools with the highest return on investment

Business schools with the highest return on investment

Ranking MBA programs has become a cottage industry for U.S. News & World Report, Princeton Review, the Financial Times, the Economist and Businessweek. They use reams of academic performance statistics and self-reported salary data to create their lists.

Online lender SoFi, a CNBC Disruptor, approaches the task of ranking business schools like a gimlet-eyed banker. SoFi rated MBA programs based on verified salary and debt from more than 60,000 people who applied to refinance their student loans with the company.

While elite schools still dominate SoFi's rankings with high average salaries, lesser-known programs, such as Brigham Young University, offered graduates a better value when you consider salary-to-debt ratios.

Disruptor SoFi makes borrowing easier

Looking at the average salaries of its borrowers, SoFi's rankings cover the same territory as many other measures of B-school prestige.

The University of Southern California and Georgetown are the only schools that SoFi selected not found in U.S. News' top 20 business school list. SoFi's top three MBA programs ranked by average salary — Columbia, Wharton and Stanford — are unchanged from last year's list, and all but two schools also appear on U.S. News' top 20.

SoFi's list gets more interesting than conventional MBA rankings when you look at salary-to-debt ratios. Nine of the 10 schools ranked by such a formula don't appear on U.S. News' top 20. These programs cost less than elite ones, and the average graduate from a majority of the schools with high salary-to-debt ratios ends up with a six-figure salary.

Stanford is the outlier, taking third place on both the highest salary and best salary-to-debt lists compiled by SoFi, which was founded by four students who met at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

SoFi also identified the 10 worst MBA programs that had lower average salaries than their average student debt. Half of the programs on the list are from for-profit colleges, which have been scrutinized by regulators for their high student debt loads and low graduation rates.

Critics of business school rankings say that they trivialize the value of education. Researchers at the University of Southern California and the University of Rochester summarized the problem with b-school rankings in their academic paper "What's Really Wrong With Business Schools?":

"U.S. business schools are locked in a dysfunctional competition for media rankings that diverts resources from long-term knowledge creation, which earned them global preeminence, into short-term strategies aimed at improving their rankings."

Lists like SoFi's may cause prospective students only to consider "their later salary instead of questions of whether they learn anything or become better or more ethical business leaders," said Cathy O'Neil, a former Wall Street quant and mathematics professor at Barnard College, who is the author of "Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy."

Good points, but do aspiring MBAs go to business school for the knowledge or the money?