By John A. Byrne
January 17, 2012

(PoetsandQuants) — The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School’s pricey executive MBA program maintained its gold standard status in a 2012 ranking by

The prestigious program — available at Wharton’s home campus in Philadelphia for $167,160 and the school’s West Coast campus in San Francisco for $173,940 — again came in first among the best EMBA programs worldwide.

It’s not hard to see why Wharton has kept its lead. The school reports the lowest acceptance rate of any top EMBA program, accepting only four of every 10 applicants. While half the top 20 EMBA programs don’t even require candidates to take the Graduate Management Admission Test, Wharton not only requires the exam — its enrolled EMBA students boast the highest GMAT score of any school — 700 out of a maximum score of 800. Wharton’s students, moreover, already earn an average $186,988 per year in their jobs, while four out of 10 (more than any other top EMBA program) already hold an advanced degree.

A familiar cast of B-school characters follow Wharton on this year’s ranking: No. 2 Chicago Booth, No. 3 Northwestern Kellogg, No. 4 Columbia Business School, and No. 5 New York University Stern.

There were only relatively small changes among the top 10 rated programs. No. 6 UCLA and No. 10 Duke gained one place each over last year’s ranking, while No. 7 Michigan and No. 11 USC lost one spot each. The bigger changes occurred elsewhere on the list. The Thunderbird School of Management’s EMBA program, for instance, rose six places to finish 12th, while the University of Maryland’s EMBA program had a seven-place gain so that its EMBA program came in at 18th.

The new ranking by Poets&Quants measures the overall reputation of these programs by combining the four latest ratings on EMBA programs from BusinessWeek, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, and U.S. News & World Report. By blending these rankings into a composite list, the methodology tends to diminish anomalies that often show up in any one rating system.

The new ranking also takes into account a vast array of metrics to measure the quality of the programs, from surveys of student satisfaction to increases in income attributed to the degree. Each of the four major rankings is equally weighted in this 2012 survey of the best.

These executive versions of the MBA degree, of course, attract an older, more seasoned group of students. Typically, EMBA candidates bring more than a dozen years of work experience and more than eight years of management experience to their programs. Usually, executives can bring challenges at work into the classrooms for help from faculty and fellow classmates.

See also: Top 10 MBA programs in the U.S.

Despite the high costs of these programs, studies have consistently shown that EMBA graduates tend to be more than satisfied. A new study by the Graduate Management Admission Council found that alumni who graduated from an executive MBA program rated their decision to pursue their MBA the most favorably (98%), followed by full-time MBA alumni (95%), and part-time MBA alumni (95%). Alumni of full-time and executive MBA programs also were more likely to view their degrees as a good-to-outstanding value (96% and 97%, respectively) than graduates of any other degree type.

Schools that moved forward in the new 2012 ranking tended to get better ratings in the past year from BusinessWeek, U.S. News and World Report, and The Financial Times. PoetsandQuantsforExecs used those three rankings, along with the 2010 ranking of EMBA programs by The Wall Street Journal, to put together the composite ranking. The schools that had the most dramatic climbs or falls generally fell on or off one of these key lists of the world’s best programs.

Each ranking organization uses a different methodology to measure a school’s executive MBA program. BusinessWeek, for example, excludes partnership EMBA programs among multiple schools. The Financial Times does not rank programs under five years of age, and BusinessWeek also uses the “age of a program” as a ranking hurdle. Three of the four listed sources rank these programs globally in a single list. U.S. News only ranks U.S. programs.

Because of these differences in ranking methods, some very good programs are excluded from our list or, in the case of some partnership programs, they are ranked lower than they might otherwise have been. MIT Sloan, for example, only entered its first class in a new $141,000 executive MBA program in October 2010. By most quality measures, the 20-month program would easily be among the world’s best. Some 40% of MIT’s class of 2013 already have advanced degrees, and 83% boast titles that are director-level and above, with one in four already in the c-suite. The 70 executives in the class average 17 years of experience each, and 39% of them are of international origin. But when it comes to the ranking game, MIT is nowhere because the program is so new.

PoetsandQuantsforExecs also made some slight changes to improve the ranking. Instead of ranking North American and other programs separately, we combined all of them into one global ranking for the new 2012 list. The first non-U.S. school to show up on the list, IE Business School in Madrid, Spain, came in with a rank of 14. INSEAD in France and Singapore, and IESE Business School in Barcelona and Madrid were next with ranks of 23 and 24, respectively.

PoetsandQuantsForExecs also imposed a new eligibility rule: only schools whose EMBA programs are already recognized by at least two of the four most influential rankings of these programs would be eligible for this year’s list. This latter change eliminates potential anomalies that often appear in a single ranking system. Some 55 programs met this requirement.

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