Several School of Management students and faculty said they disagree with recent study findings that attribute the success of SOM graduates to their school’s prestigious reputation rather than the quality of its education.

The study, released last month by the University of Maryland, examined the differences between business schools that generally receive publicity and high rankings in the media and high-quality business schools that may lack name recognition. The study found that students who graduate from more prestigious business schools tend to earn significantly higher salaries than their peers upon graduation. Students at higher-quality business schools also tend to earn higher salaries than their peers at lower-quality institutions, but the difference in earnings based on quality is not as substantial as the difference based on prestige.

University of Maryland professor Ian Williamson, who conducted the study with Professor Violina Rindova and doctoral candidate Antoaneta Petkova, said 1,600 professional business recruiters were asked to evaluate 107 American business schools, examining factors contributing to a school’s prestige and quality. Williamson said the Yale School of Management was ranked better in terms of prestige than it was in terms of quality.

“Yale emphasizes a range of alternate but equally prominent social factors that contribute to its prestige, such as media coverage, high rankings and a faculty that publishes recognized research,” Williamson said. “This produced tangible financial benefits, especially to those students attending a well-known institution.”

As of 2000, when the study was conducted, the average starting salary for an SOM graduate was $85,371, Williamson said.

Two key factors in his study that determined institutional quality were students’ GMAT scores and the number of years that faculty members spent teaching, Williamson said. Out of the business schools studied, Yale was ranked 9th in student GMAT scores but 71st in faculty teaching experience, he said.

Williamson said prestige was measured using three factors — high rankings in the media, number of prestigious degrees earned by faculty and faculty publishing output. The Business Week business school ranking used in the study pegged SOM at 20th in the nation in 1998. More recently, the SOM has climbed in national rankings, earning the title of fifth best U.S. business school from both the Wall Street Journal and Forbes Magazine in September 2005. The Financial Times placed SOM as ninth in the nation and 11th in the world in January 2006.

Williamson said Yale came second in his study’s ranking based on the number and prestige of degrees awarded to its faculty, which he believes contributes substantially to the high salaries earned by SOM graduates.

“Yale’s big competitive advantage in driving up the salaries that its graduates command lies in hiring faculty from very prestigious institutions, which allows the school to be more well-known to recruiters,” Williamson said.

But SOM Professor Barry Nalebuff said Yale’s quality education and support system has a more significant impact on student success than does Yale’s reputation alone.

“We do a great job both in helping people learn while they’re here and in helping them find opportunities when they graduate,” Nalebuff said.

The quantity of original research published by SOM faculty earned the school a rank of 35th in that category, Williamson said. While these factors of prestige were central in helping to determine a graduate’s starting salary, Williamson said, factors of quality also had an impact of a smaller and more indirect nature.

SOM students had mixed reactions to the study. Ola Sawyerr SOM ’07 said she thinks that while prestige is important to some individuals, it is not the main factor in many students’ decision to attend a certain business school.

“Of course you want to be in a place where you carry the brand and recognition of your school with you when you graduate,” Sawyerr said. “Name matters to a certain extent, but the character of the school itself is most important. You want to be in a school where you fit and where you feel a connection.”

Sawyerr said that her own decision to attend Yale was based upon the personable faculty and the perception that Yale would be a good fit for her personality and academic interests.

Chris Rush SOM ’06 said while he believes there is an element of recognition at work in attracting students to SOM, he attributes graduates’ success in the job market to Yale’s focused career guidance.

“I’m not sure I agree with the argument that Yale’s brand name recognition gets its students jobs,” Rush said. “The school also has access to more resources and is able to provide extensive support to students, both academically and when it comes to finding jobs.”

Nalebuff also said viewing the salary earned by a Yale graduate does not take into account the increase in graduates’ salaries as a percentage of what they earned before attending business school.

“Many of our students start out in the non-profit sector and they see a high increase in their salaries as a percentage term upon graduation,” Nalebuff said. “In this case our students are in a situation somewhat different from students at other schools, who tend to send many more students into the private sector. You need to control for those variables.”

According to data compiled by Business Week in 2000, average pre-MBA pay for Yale SOM students in that year were $41,000 but rose to $81,000 upon graduation.