By Joseph Harkins
Put away the erasers.
There’s no need for Emory University and Claremont McKenna College to falsify information any longer. U.S. News & World Report has found no reason to correct the information that the two schools have provided for years to determine the best colleges and universities across the nation.
Both schools this year acknowledged having provided falsified information to the magazine and to other sources for years. Yet neither saw a significant change when corrected numbers were used for this year's rankings.
Meanwhile, school administrators, who live and die by these rankings, are scrambling to justify their own positions.
Don’t blame Emory and Claremont, entirely. They're the latest in a string of schools to fess up after internal investigations found that someone -- usually a top administrator, acting alone -- had fudged the numbers.
Last year, it was Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y. Before that, law schools at Villanova University in Pennsylvania and the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign made similar disclosures. All three saw their U.S. News rankings drop significantly when corrected data were used. In July, Kiplinger's dropped Scripps College, also of Claremont, Calif., from its 2012 "best colleges" rankings after the school released a statement saying it had misreported average cumulative loan debt for graduating students -- one of Kiplinger's criteria -- for about 10 years.
Colleges and universities have been known to obsess over these rankings and have used them as a focal point in student recruitment efforts.
No one is quite willing to call it a trend, but Scott Friedhoff, vice president for enrollment at the College of Wooster in Ohio, said it's not unusual for trustees and sometimes presidents to mull over rankings, though it is subsiding.
"More and more of us are recognizing the folly in it and the wastefulness in it," Friedhoff, vice president at the College of Wooster in Ohio, told USA Today. But "you might be surprised at the number of colleges that have improvement in the U.S. News rankings written into strategic goals."
In April, outside investigators for Claremont McKenna said a former dean of admissions acting alone, began inflating SAT scores because he "could not bring himself to tell the President" in 2005 that median SAT scores had dropped. A three-month independent investigation at Emory found that "leadership" in the admission and institutional research offices had been "aware of and participated in the misreporting" of median test scores since at least 2000, and that those responsible no longer worked at Emory.
Even before the recent revelations, the Florida-based Association for Institutional Research, whose members crunch numbers for colleges and universities, began developing an ethics policy that would give members "something to lean on" if they're asked to produce reputation-enhancing data, executive director Randy Swing said.
He said campuses are scrutinizing their own calculations more carefully because "the world is looking at their data. Members are telling us that the pressure on campuses for the public release of data is just increasing."
And not just for the purposes of magazine rankings. In some cases, inaccurate data also were provided to state and federal education departments, regional accrediting boards and other authorities
.It's not clear whether any of those agencies have penalized schools. But, said Education Department press secretary , "the biggest punishment schools who intentionally misrepresent data face is a loss of trust and credibility in the eyes of their students, alumni and the general public."