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False Data Raises Questions About U.S. News College Rankings

Thursday, 07 Feb 2013 11:09 AM

By Cyrus Afzali

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The college rankings conducted by U.S. News & World Report are being called into question following a disclosure from five colleges and universities that they reported false admissions figures, in some cases for the past several years.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that Tulane University discovered its business school’s admissions figures for the past several years had been falsified. Bucknell University of Pennsylvania also recently announced falsely inflated SAT scores had been reported to U.S. News.

Claremont McKenna College in California, Atlanta’s Emory University, and George Washington University in Washington, D.C. all acknowledged they either submitted incorrect test scores or falsely inflated the high school rankings of incoming freshmen.

The disclosures raised questions about the U.S. News rankings, considered one of the standard measurements for schools across the country.

Speaking on the impact the flawed data has on the rankings, U.S. News Editor Brian Kelly said the number of schools reporting incorrect data represented “a pretty small universe” and did not indicate data problems were widespread.

However, college officials aren’t so sure. In a Gallup survey of 576 college admissions officers conducted for Inside Higher Education, 91 percent believe other colleges had falsely reported test scores and other admissions data. A few even admitted doing it for their own school.

"Rankings have become omnipresent in higher education, and they have enhanced the competition among institutions," Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education, told The Post."And in any highly competitive environment, there is always a temptation to cut corners."

The reasons for the false data varied, as some college officials said they believe an employee intentionally reported incorrect data. George Washington University blamed its errors on a data-reporting flaw that had gone undiscovered for a decade. In other cases, it was hard to determine whether the incorrect reporting was a mistake or if it was done intentionally.


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