Aug 18, 2012

Emory Delivers another Black Eye to USNWR Rankings

Emory University
In a stunning announcement timed to avoid major educational news coverage, Emory University admitted intentionally misrepresenting data to US News & World Report and others for at least 12 years.
Since discovering data discrepancies last May, Emory has been investigating reports provided to outside groups—including  the federal government—evidently designed to make Emory appear more selective than it actually was.
The investigation focused on three areas:   whether incorrect data were submitted; who was responsible; and how and why the practice began. 
Findings showed that there had been intentional misreporting over more than a decade and that leadership in the Office of Admission and Institutional Research was aware of and participated in the misreporting.
USNWR and other parties involved in data collection for the Common Data Set initiative were alerted to the discrepancies in early June and chose to sit on the information until Emory made public the embarrassing report.
Conducted under the supervision of an independent third party, the investigation found that Emory used SAT/ACT data for “admitted” students instead of “enrolled” students since at least 2000. 
Stephen Spencer, Emory’s senior vice president and general counsel, confirmed it was an “intentional decision” to report incorrect data overstating test scores presumably in an attempt to improve rankings by making the school appear more selective. 
In addition, the report found that Emory “may have” excluded the scores of the bottom 10 percent of students when reporting SAT/ACT scores, GPA’s and other similar information.  Staff members responsible for these discrepancies are no longer employed by Emory.
Here is how it worked.  In 2009, Emory claimed that SAT scores for the 25th to 75th percentile of enrolled students was 1300-1480 (Math and Critical Reading), when in fact it was 1260-1440.  The next year, Emory reported that the middle percentile of enrolled students was 1310-1500, when it was actually 1270-1460.
GPA information was similarly cooked.  For 2009, Emory reported that 85 percent of enrolled students were in the top 10 percent of their class, when really only 76 percent achieved that level of accomplishment.  In 2010, Emory covered-up a drop to 75 percent in the same reporting category by incorrectly listing the top decile as 87 percent.
In an article on the USNWR website, USNWR Editor and Chief Content Officer Brian Kelly said the situation is under review and that the faulty data “would not have changed the school’s ranking in the past two years (No. 20) and would likely have had a small to negligible effect in the several years prior.”
This year’s annual Best Colleges edition of USNWR is scheduled to be released in mid-September. 
Emory’s scandal renews questions about how the CDS collects data, what training is provided to staff submitting data, and who is overseeing the accuracy of data provided to the public.
After both Claremont McKenna College in California and Iona College in New York similarly admitted falsifying CDS information for the purpose of gaming the rankings, officials responsible for overseeing the CDS at USNWR, Peterson’s, and the College Board were contacted for fuller explanations of the process behind data collection and reporting. 
So far, none of the three organizations has responded to questions concerning training and oversight of college-based staff responsible for providing CDS its data.
Outside of a “listserve” where anyone may post questions and ask for “peer” assistance, there appears to be little coordination or supervision of reporting procedures—despite what has evolved into a multimillion dollar business for the parties involved. 
Monitoring of the listserve over a six month period suggests it’s a little-used resource, but when questions arise, the variations in policy and procedure among different colleges is nothing short of astonishing.
How much the scandal will hurt Emory University remains to be seen.  But the larger issue should focus on how various organizations providing data to the general public—at a significant cost—intend  to clean the mess up.

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