Gaming the College Rankings

In education news this week, there’s a big story on an administrator at Claremont McKenna College who admitted to falsely reporting SAT statistics since 2005. The scores for each fall’s freshman class were generally inflated by an average of 10-20 points each. While seemingly insignificant, these scores most likely affected Claremont McKenna’s overall rankings in the U.S. News & World Report for best colleges.

The New York Times notes that in recent years, colleges have been gaming the system by twisting the meanings of rules, cherry-picking data, or simply lying:

In one recent example, Iona College in New Rochelle, north of New York City, acknowledged last fall that its employees had lied for years not only about test scores, but also about graduation rates, freshman retention, student-faculty ratio, acceptance rates and alumni giving.

Other institutions have found ways to manipulate the data without outright dishonesty.

In 2008, Baylor University offered financial rewards to admitted students to retake the SAT in hopes of increasing its average score. Admissions directors say that some colleges delay admission of low-scoring students until January, excluding them from averages for the class admitted in September, while other colleges seek more applications to report a lower percentage of students accepted.

What I don’t understand is why there isn’t some standardized system for colleges to report their scores, admissions statistics, and the like. For example, when I take the SAT or the GRE, the company who administers the tests forwards my scores on my behalf. There is no ambiguity that these are my scores, and they are valid. I understand that colleges aren’t obligated to report their figures, but I think some kind of verification process would be helpful for millions of students that rely on this kind of data as they are (supposedly) making an informed decision about which college they want to attend.

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