Aspen Institute MBA ranking reveals greater focus on teaching business & society issues in wake of financial crisis

September 21, 2011

Contact: Nicole Buckley
The Aspen Institute
+1.212.895.8005 |

 Rankings show positive growth in number of courses and research focusing on business and society

New York, NY, September 21, 2011 – The number of business schools teaching MBA students to examine the social, environmental and ethical impacts of business decisions continues to grow, spurred by the global economic downturn, rising student demand and increased faculty willingness to explore those issues, according to the Aspen Institute Beyond Grey Pinstripes, a biennial survey and alternative ranking of business schools released today.

“In all scoring categories used to determine the ranking, business schools have raised the bar,” said Judith Samuelson, executive director of the Aspen Institute Business and Society Program, which conducted Beyond Grey Pinstripes. “There are more courses than ever before with content on social, ethical, and environmental issues, more courses about the role of business as a positive agent for change, more exposure of students to this content, and more research published by faculty on relevant topics.”

This year’s survey marked the first opportunity since the global economic downturn to comprehensively measure the extent to which MBA programs have altered the content of their courses, and whether faculty are pursuing research that questioned assumptions about the role of business in society.

“In the wake of the financial crisis we’re seeing an increased willingness to address these issues,” Samuelson said. “That willingness is coming from a variety of factors, including student demand, faculty readiness and a desire on the part of business schools to clarify what exactly they’re doing to prepare business leaders to serve the needs of society, such as job creation and energy conservation.”

For the 2011-2012 Beyond Grey Pinstripes rankings, 149 schools from 22 countries submitted data. These data included more than 6,000 course descriptions and over 6,000 faculty research abstracts. In addition, the Beyond Grey Pinstripes project team received extensive information on participating schools’ extracurricular activities, institutes and centers, joint degrees and specializations. To arrive at this year’s ranking, the project team spent seven months analyzing the courses and faculty research. 

Stanford University, ranked first in the 2005 and 2007 surveys, bounced back from a #4 ranking in 2009 to rank number one in the 2011 survey. Stanford received high marks for the number of courses with social and environmental content it offers students as well as courses that explicitly address the role of mainstream business in improving social and environmental conditions. It also ranked high in creating an environment in which faculty feel free to explore social and environmental topics in their research.

List of the top 10 MBA programs:

  1. Stanford Graduate School of Business
  2. York University, Schulich School of Business (Canada)
  3. IE University (Spain)
  4. Notre Dame, Mendoza College of Business          
  5. Yale School of Management
  6. Northwestern, Kellogg School of Management     
  7. University of Michigan, Ross School of Business
  8. Cornell University, Johnson Graduate School of Management
  9. University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School
  10. UC Berkeley, Haas School of Business

At top ranked schools, students encounter core courses that deal with social and environmental topics, and can select from an array of electives addressing this content. At all participating schools, social and environmental issues have continued to grow in importance in the business school curriculum. And compared to previous surveys, the proportion of schools offering courses to address these topics in terms of mainstream business decision-making is growing as well.

Despite the gains being made, Samuelson noted there is still work to be done to address the belief among some business educators that the sole role that business should play in society is to maximize profits – as measured by today’s stock price.

“Looking forward,” she said, “we want to expose more fault lines inside business schools that are teaching courses on sustainability on the one hand but teaching about short term metrics and profit maximization on the other, as if we have several planets to burn and not just one.”

Top headlines from this year’s survey include:

  • Schools are adapting their curricula to focus on responsible decision-making in business and to examine the social and environmental context in which business operates and thrives.
  • The core curriculum is changing across disciplines, including finance, accounting, marketing and management, with a striking increase in content on social, ethical and environmental issues in required courses.
    For example, there has been a 38 percent increase in the number of relevant core courses in Finance departments across schools; a 41 percent increase in Marketing departments; a 22 percent increase in Accounting departments; a 57 percent increase in Operations and Productions Management offerings; and a 22 percent increase in relevant core IT / MIS offerings.
  • There has been an increase in the percentage of schools requiring students to take a course dedicated to business & society issues. This figure has increased since the first Beyond Grey Pinstripes survey, from 34 percent in 2001, 63 percent in 2007, 69 percent in 2009, to 79 percent in 2011.
  • Social Entrepreneurship courses are gaining far greater prominence across MBA programs. It’s important to note that most of these courses focus not just on non-profit, mission-based organizations, but on how business models can be adapted in ways that produce companies that intentionally strive to achieve positive financial, social and environmental results. Between 2007 and 2011, there was a 60 percent increase in the number of courses being offered on social entrepreneurship among schools surveyed internationally.
  • Faculty research covering relevant headline topics of the past few years, such as the recession and climate change, increased significantly compared to previous cycles. In the area of finance, for example, project researchers noted more articles published by faculty addressing the impact of Sarbanes-Oxley, disclosure practices and effects of the financial recession. We also saw an uptick in faculty research focused on renewable energy, climate change and carbon markets.

Samuelson said faculty research continues to be mostly theoretical, however, and often fails to address challenges facing business.

“While I understand the inclination of faculty to focus on theoretical issues, it’s important for leadership at top business schools to unleash faculty talents on problems they know business needs to resolve,” she said.

**To arrange interviews with Judith Samuelson, please contact Nicole Buckley at or 212-895-8005.

The Aspen Institute Business and Society Program, along with its Center for Business Education, seeks to create business leaders for the 21st century who are equipped with the vision and knowledge necessary to integrate corporate profitability with social value. To that end, it offers programs that provide business educators with the resources they need to incorporate issues of social and environmental stewardship into their teaching, research and curriculum development.

The Aspen Institute mission is twofold: to foster values-based leadership, encouraging individuals to reflect on the ideals and ideas that define a good society, and to provide a neutral and balanced venue for discussing and acting on critical issues. The Aspen Institute does this primarily in four ways: seminars, young-leader fellowships around the globe, policy programs, and public conferences and events. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit


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