February 3, 2012

College Ranking Cheating

Schools are admitting to inflating numbers to move higher on ranking lists.

Jessica: Claremont McKenna is a small private college near Los Angeles, California. Most people probably haven’t heard of it unless they have taken a look at this: the U.S. News and World Report which ranked it as the ninth best liberal arts college in the nation. That was one of the reasons why Katarina Broeksmit chose to come here.

Katarina Broeksmit: When comparing schools with your friends, it’s sort of all about rankings.

Jessica: But the school recently admitted it cheated! For five years, a school official falsely inflated the SAT scores of incoming students by 10 to 30 points, enough to potentially move up on the coveted rankings.

“It’s a really cut-throat world for schools, especially sort of up-and-coming institutions like this one. They have to do anything they can to climb the ladder.”

Jessica: But Claremont is not the only one trying to climb the ladder. The U.S. Naval Academy was accused of trying to boost its ranking by inflating its number of applicants. And Arizona State University promised a $50,000 bonus to its president if he boosted the school’s U.S. News ranking.

Barmak Nassirian: They are probably the single most important attribute in the minds of families and applicants.”

Jessica: Barmak Nassirian helps run an association for college admissions officers. He thinks rankings are misleading.

Nassirian: They simply look at the number and assume, quite incorrectly, that #9 is better than #10. And as long as families believe that institutions will go to great extremes to be #9 as opposed to #10…

Jessica: In a survey last May of college admissions officers, 87% agreed, or somewhat agreed, that rankings encourage what they call ‘counterproductive behavior’ among colleges. And it can have consequences. Claremont McKenna’s dean of admissions resigned this week.

“I’m really disappointed that ended up happening. But I am confident that it is, like, it was one administrator who made a mistake. I just hope that it doesn’t really represent the entire institution of Claremont McKenna College.”

Jessica: But who cares more about these rankings, students or the schools being ranked? Well, a nationwide survey found out of a list of the twenty-two most important factors in determining where to go to college, students listed the rankings at number eleven. So, what factors should students be looking for when trying to decide where to go to school?

Katherine Cohen runs a college admissions strategy business in New York.

Katherine Cohen: We tell students to do as much research as they can on each of the colleges that they’ll eventually apply to. They want to find courses they want to take, professors they want to study with, what current research is going on, what kinds of extracurricular activities are they going to engage in. In the end, it’s how you rank your college experience that matters most.

Jessica: I talked to a spokersperson from U.S. News and World Report. He said the magazine does its best to cross check the data schools submit with the public information that is available. But many times that is the problem. Only the schools have access to the information.

As for Claremont McKenna, they have resubmitted SAT scores to U.S. World and News Report and the magazine will re-evaluate its ranking.


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