The Business School Grade Problem

Many top M.B.A. programs don’t report student grades outside of the institution. Business schools began this practice at least part to encourage students to take more difficult courses.

But there isn’t much evidence this is working. A new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, such a policy may just encourage laziness. According to the paper:

Self-reported levels of curriculum effort have actually fallen since grade nondisclosure policies were adopted. According to the chairman of Harvard’s MBA program Richard Ruback, “numerous students had claimed that the non-disclosure policy resulted in little motivation to excel.” As a Stanford GSB student puts it, “[t]he grade non-disclosure policy is somewhat of a curse because it inspires a noticeable amount of apathy among the students. Class participation is good enough, but not as great as it could be if students were a little more compelled to prepare.

At Wharton, the amount of time spent on academics fell by 22 percent in the first four years after grade non-disclosure was implemented.23 Moreover, the pattern of courses waved by students was not affected by the introduction of grade nondisclosure.24 Therefore, the idea that grade non-disclosure allows students to take more challenging courses cannot account for the trend in average studying effort among MBA students.

But then, who cares? People go to business school, particularly top business schools, largely to meet other successful people and make connections. People do not go to business school in order to actually learn how to run a business. For that business school is totally unnecessary. And the students are the ones buying this service. As long as one is paying tens of thousands of dollars for a resume builder, eh, it makes sense not to have to worry about grades.

This sort of development might be troublesome at a medical or graduate school, but business schools are purely vocational institutions, albeit ones full of very bright people.

Students do less work while they’re in business school. So what? There’s no indication that these graduates become less effective businessman later on. And that’s really what matters here, isn’t it?

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer