It’s been more than a quarter of a century since Businessweek magazine published the first major ranking of MBA programs in 1988. U.S. News & World Report, which pioneered college rankings, followed the next year. And then, the Financial Times, Forbes, and The Economist all got into the act. Every now and then, The Wall Street Journal would dabble in business school rankings as well. And that’s not counting any number of other players from The Princeton Review to Poets&Quants.

If you asked how many more rankings could anyone possibly want or need, you wouldn’t be alone. Yet, some 33 years after Businessweek’s ranking debut, Fortune has finally gotten into the act as well. Today, the business media brand best known for the Fortune 500 dove head first into the rankings game. Fortune launched the first of what it says will be a half dozen higher education rankings it intends to publish this year.

The first one out of the gate ranks online MBA programs, to be followed by a ranking of full-time MBA options this summer. Other than causing more business school deans additional heartburn, the big question is what can Fortune add to an already cluttered field of players seeking eyeballs on the Internet? The answer, sadly, is not much.

Fortune’s inaugural ranking has a familiar cast of online MBA programs in the top five slots, if reshuffled a bit from existing list from U.S. News and Poets&Quants. The University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School has been awarded first place. On the heels of UNC is Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business in second place, followed by No. 3 Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, No. 4 the University of Southern California’s Marshall School, and No. 5 the University of Florida’s Hough School of Business.

Rounding out the top ten are the online MBA options at the University of Maryland, the University of Pittsburgh, Syracuse University, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Rice University.

But the ranking of 104 U.S. online programs gets much more interesting after this top group, especially when you compare some of these results with those from rival ranking organizations. An example: Fortune ranks the online MBA at the University of Dayton 48th. That is an astounding 144 places better than Dayton fares on this year’s U.S. News & World Report ranking. The long-distance MBA option at the University of West Texas shows up 12th by Fortune’s reckoning, 55 spots above its U.S. News ranking of 67. Kennesaw State’s Online MBA lands nicely in Fortune’s To 25, capturing a rank of 23rd. U.S. News has that program in 94th place, a difference of 71 places. 

The massive differences occur because these two organizations are measuring different things but also because Fortune has chosen a set of metrics that largely fails to measure the quality of online MBA programs or the satisfaction of the professionals who invest in these degrees. Fortune calculates what it calls a “brand score” worth 20{98cae0078f524eff3ab8ec32cf55b261677ef6c8a6ed6e94d92a4234b93f46b6} of the ranking based on a survey of “hiring managers and business professionals” who were asked their opinions of business schools—not online MBAs. It then counts up the number of a school’s alums who occupy a C-Suite position among its Fortune 1000 companies. You can guess who is at the top of that list: Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton, all of which do not offer online MBAs. Bottom line: Nearly 40{98cae0078f524eff3ab8ec32cf55b261677ef6c8a6ed6e94d92a4234b93f46b6} of Fortune’s ranking has nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of a school’s online MBA.

There are deeper problems with this ranking, but I will save you from the boredom of getting into the methodological weeds (you can read a more highly detailed critique here). Suffice it to say that Fortune’s first efforts in the ranking business are not all that impressive and certainly add no value to the market.

Of course, the same can be said of most rankings and our obsession with them. Most of these lists are severely flawed, if not statistically meaningless. They are highly imprecise measures of academic quality mindlessly thrown together by people with little to no direct knowledge of what is being ranked. It’s why so many business school deans express frustration, if not disgust, about the whole business of it.

You can’t blame them. Fortune’s cannonball dive into this space only confirms that the rankings game has pretty much jumped the shark. Sure, these new lists will temporarily bring some twenty-something eyeballs to a brand read by your grandfather, but they will do little to inform an important decision for one’s career.

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