Administration Survey Question Raises Controversy -- Dean Stacey Kole Responds

Dean Stacey Kole

Dean Stacey Kole

Every year, Booth administrators send a survey to students in the Full-Time MBA Program to get a sense for how the institution is doing. This year’s survey for first-year students, sent out by Deputy Dean Stacey Kole, included a question which has generated a lot of discussion and controversy. That question is: “Based on your first year experience, who in the Class of 2015 do you hope to take a class with next year?” Following that prompt were three drop-down selectors which each included the name of every single first-year student in the Full-Time MBA Program.

There may have been several reasons for the strong student reaction to this question. It may have seemed that the school was trying to pry into students’ social lives, trying to find out who people were friends with or who was most popular. Or maybe it seemed like yet another evaluation, like so many others this past year judging students against their peers, with perhaps more rejection waiting on the other side. However, according to Dean Kole, none of these was the school’s intent.

The survey question is part of the administration’s ongoing effort to gain other types of data (beyond grades and GMAT scores) to evaluate Booth’s admissions decisions. The question is related to an exercise from Dean Kole’s class, Managing the Workplace. “I ask each student to rank each person on a 1-5 scale,” Dean Kole said, “And the question is ‘how much is the person contributing to your learning?’ They rate every member of the class. Typically, if a student doesn't know someone's name, they will give that person a three. You know who is there to hear him- or herself talk, and who is going to say something that you remember hours later.”

The survey question is also based off of work done to assess how successful Booth students are down the road. Dean Kole spoke of a study that Professor Marianne Bertrand conducted several years ago to determine which criteria were the best predictors of Booth students’ future wealth. “The two most powerful predictors of future wealth are 1) A’s in finance classes and 2) verbal GMAT scores,” Kole said. However, she said that over the last several years, they have been looking for more ways to predict future success. (Dean Kole acknowledges that future wealth is not the only way to define success.) “All I’m trying to do is come up with supplemental measures of performance,” Kole said.

In response to the student reaction to the survey question, Dean Kole’s email revealed that a similar survey had been sent out to faculty members asking them to predict which students in their classes they believed would be successful in the future. Again the goal was gaining as much supplemental data as possible. “[Deputy Dean] Rob Gertner and I are sending out emails to faculty and asking who the people to watch in those classes are. If we thought the answer was simply grades, we wouldn't even ask the question,” Kole said. She went on to say, “Post grade non-disclosure, the incentive to invest in non-grade activities is even higher… The faculty instinctively want to reward the top academic performers.”

The student reaction to the survey did catch the administration by surprise. Dean Kole has mixed feelings about the response. “I really love the fact that students are thinking deeply,” she said, “I do really worry about the skepticism. One of the things that I think separates this place from other institutions is the strong working relationship between students and the administration. When you go off for your internship this summer, you'll sit down for dinner with [Dean] Julie [Morton] and I if you're one of the 16 cities we go to, and other schools just don't do that. I do these breakfasts and lunches. The door is open.”

To answer a question that many have asked: the information is not shared with students, meaning that if you were selected by a fellow classmate or a faculty member, you will not find out about it.

In past years, Kole says the response rate to surveys has been around 85%, but is worried that the survey this year will not fare as well. The plan is to learn from this experience when crafting next year’s survey, and Kole is open to student input: “If you have a question that you think would be a better question, send it to Dean Kole,” she says.