Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Gaming the College Rankings (It’s Not Just Marquette)

Three years ago we reported how Marquette had begun to manipulate the ACT and SAT scores of the entering freshman class, in order to improve our ranking with U.S. News & World Report.

We, for course, had no illusions that Marquette was the only university doing this. According to an essay on Minding the Campus.
The most obvious examples of gaming are efforts to increase colleges’ standing on the U.S. News rankings lists. Years ago the University of Miami created a scandal by omitting the scores of athletes and special admits when calculating average SAT scores of entering freshmen. The president of a major liberal arts college in New England told her admissions director to make SAT scores the major criterion for admissions decisions until the school made it into the top 25 schools in its category. Once that happened, she had the chutzpah to announce that they would no longer require SAT scores from applicants because they don’t really mean much.

Earlier this summer Catherine Watt, a former administrator at Clemson, gave a well-publicized presentation in which she explained how her institution approached the “reputation” part of the US News survey, which asks officials to assess the academic quality of peer undergraduate programs. This is a silly question in the first place - college administrators are the last people you would ever go to in order to get accurate information about a competing institution - but it accounts for a quarter of the rankings formula. Watt showed how Clemson simply sought an edge by rating competing schools as below average. Other gambits have included sending dollar bills to alumni with a request that they send them back to the Annual Fund so as to raise the proportion of alumni donors and inflating the number of fulltime faculty members.
And more:
Clemson has drawn heavy publicity for cutting corners on data supplied to U.S. News. But other colleges and universities are involved as well. Baylor recently asked students already accepted to the university to take the SAT again, hoping for higher scores, and gave the students $300 bookstore credits for complying. Albion College reported a $30 alumni donation as $6 a year for five years so the percentage of annual gifts from graduates would rise for several years. The University of Southern California reported that 34 of its professors were members of a prestigious engineering association, though an investigation showed that the number included people who had moved to industry or retired, while only 17 were currently on staff and teaching. In the mid-1990s Boston University raised its SAT scores by excluding the verbal scores of foreign students, while including their math scores, a practice believed to be fairly common. At about the same time, the University of South Florida raised the group SAT scores of its students by lopping off the bottom 6 percent of all scores and Monmouth University improved its statistics by simply adding 200 SAT points to its group score. More recently, in an exchange on the Inside Higher Ed Web site. a writer from an unnamed northeastern university said he knew for sure that a director of institutional research at his school had forced the resignation of the provost by telling the president that manipulated data had been sent to U.S.News. Middlebury College in Vermont has a director of institutional research and its provost was asked to resign in 2007.
In spite of all this, it’s still not the case that “everybody does it” (even if a lot of people do it) and it still leaves a bad odor.

Shouldn’t a Catholic university be teaching, by word and action, that “everybody does it” is not a sound form of moral reasoning?

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Blogger TosaGuy said...

MU is only Catholic when it is convenient.

9:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your reference to Monmouth University "gaming" SAT scores happened in 1995.

The employee was fired, and using an isolated example that occured fourteen years ago to prove your point about Marquette's current problems is a faulty comparison.

Please be careful not to repeat information found on other blogs without some fact-checking.

9:30 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

Please be careful not to repeat information found on other blogs without some fact-checking.

If you'll read the post, you'll see that the time frame, as represented in the text, is clearly "mid-90s."

It does take a while to live something like that down. So don't complain to me that people remember it.

10:02 PM  

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