After Temple scandal, more colleges misreport data, stripped of U.S. News rankings

Cherry and white Temple University flag hangs outside of old stone buildings

A flag hangs on campus at Temple University (WHYY file photo)

Since the rankings scandal at Temple University’s Fox School of Business this summer, eight more colleges have been caught submitting incorrect data to U.S. News & World Report.

Temple’s business school created one of the biggest ranking scandals because it submitted false data to game the system in a far-reaching scheme. The university ousted its college dean after a report found years of falsified data was submitted for all of its MBA programs.

Temple is still providing verified numbers to its business accrediting body, the Pennsylvania attorney general and federal institutions.

While the eight other schools’ misreporting was minor in comparison, in response U.S. News stripped the colleges of their rankings.

They’ll be eligible to be ranked once the 2019 Best Colleges rankings are released next week, so  suspensions will be short-lived for those schools: Austin Peay State University; Dakota Wesleyan University; Drury University; Hampton University; Oklahoma City University; Randolph College; St. Martin’s University; and St. Louis University.

“Most colleges, I think, look at the survey and try to fill it out in a way that is most advantageous to them, but that doesn’t mean they are trying to deceive anyone,” said Scott Jascik, editor and co-founder of Inside Higher Ed, a digital publication that reports on higher education issues.

Jascik, who has covered colleges and universities for more than 30 years, said more are getting caught up in this than normal.

“What this all shows is that there are lots of errors, and some of them come out, and some of them don’t come out,” he said. “The real problem, though, is U.S. News is probably a good methodology for some students, but not for other students.”

Jascik recommended that students rely on more than rankings to choose a college.

“Obviously, students should get accurate information on which to make their decisions,” he said. “But, generally, I would say if you make the decision about what college you go to based on U.S. News or any ranking, you’re being foolish.”

Some educators already have questioned how useful and accurate the rankings are.

Eric Hoover, senior writer at the Chronicle of Higher Education, said students and families should use rankings only to get a general feel.

“More than anything, it speaks to the slipperiness of data in general,” he said. “There’s no data sheriff when it comes to all the many data points that colleges are reporting.”

Usually families use rankings on the front end of the college search, he said.

“They tend to become less important as a student is forming relationships with a particular campus and really getting into the nitty-gritty of a final college choice.”

A school’s ranking is not a critical criterion for most, Hoover noted.

“Generally speaking, if rankings are factoring way high up on a student’s considerations of priorities, that student is pretty lucky in life and pretty privileged for most students,” he said.

While colleges place importance on rankings, practical concerns — such as costs and student support — are top factors for families, Hoover said.

“I do think more concrete concerns about jobs, debt and kind of a supportive experience from day one to graduation day are just much more prevalent topics of conversation around the dinner table,” he said. “I think that feels a lot more real to more families in America than some gauge of prestige that the rankings capture or suggest.”

U.S. News announced students and alumni can rate and add reviews to the college profiles once the new rankings are released next week.

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