Current Students Disappointed With HBS

HBS students are dissatisfied with their experience. This is the controversial result of a survey we recently conducted.

Those of us who are taking Managing Human Capital or Business Marketing are familiar with the equation:

Satisfaction = Performance – Expectations.
To measure HBS’s satisfaction score and how it could be improved, we recently polled the classes of 2000, 2003 and 2004. We received over 500 responses, both quantitative and qualitative, from a population whose demographics are very similar to those of the HBS student body.

Respondents were asked to rate (on a scale of 1 to 5) both the value they expected to receive and the value they have received from HBS in the following categories: Classroom Learning, HBS Brand, Professional Network, Find a “Better” Job, and Personal Growth. See the results for current students on page 4.

The current student body (i.e., classes of 2003 and 2004) appears dissatisfied with each category. There is no significant difference between men/women or International/U.S. On average, the dissatisfaction is between 13% – 14% of expectations. For those of you thinking this is too small to be a big deal, we learned in Business Marketing that customers typically “react violently” to shortfalls in their expectations.

According to Professor Das Narayandas (Business Marketing), it can be much more damaging for a company to under-satisfy its customers than it is rewarding for it to exceed its customers’ expectations. Assuming students are the school’s customers, we believe this may be why BusinessWeek, in their recent B-School rankings, found that HBS’s own grads “weren’t as favorable [as other schools’ grads], pulling down the school’s rating for student satisfaction this year.”

Nonetheless, there seems to be hope for all of us, since the perception of HBS appears to improve over time. Clearly, alumni from the class of 2000 are more satisfied than current students.

We can propose four possible explanations for this difference. First, HBS 2000 alumni may have had a substantially different experience.

However, neither the facts nor our subjective perception (one of us was originally in the class of 2000) support this hypothesis, except with respect to the job market.

Second, the fact that most alumni now have jobs may positively bias them toward HBS. Similarly, current students, anxious about their job prospects, may attribute this dissatisfaction to HBS. This could explain alumni’s higher satisfaction in “Professional Network” and “Find a Better Job.”

Third, it is possible that being further removed from their HBS experience makes HBS 2000 alumni more objective judges of the value of HBS. Time may also enhance other dimensions such as the HBS professional network.

However, one may also argue that those same alumni are eager to justify their investment and are therefore worse judges of the value of HBS. Post-rationalization, or re-writing history, is part of human nature.

Whatever the reason, it seems we can look forward to increased overall satisfaction.

But where does this leave us as current students? How can we make the most of HBS now and be sure to maximize its benefits in the future? The survey results suggest that both more satisfaction and more value are to be derived from personal growth than from classroom learning. This should be an incentive to use our time wisely outside of the classroom and not to over-invest in the academics.

But whatever values we decide to emphasize, Jonathan Hartmann, HBS 2000, may have the secret recipe for a successful HBS experience: “I was able to take advantage of almost everything in which I had an interest. The key, like anything, was investing the time and effort in order to maximize your experience. None of the categories mentioned will just give you value. You need to take advantage of the value that is there by being engaged and involved.”

December 2, 2002
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