The arms race for rankings: Emory says student test data inflated for more than a decade

Update Friday evening: AJC reporter Laura Diamond is working on a story for Sunday on Emory and the rankings misinformation. If you are a parent, student or graduate and would be willing to talk with her, please call her at 404-526-7257 or email her. Thanks.

Emory’s announcement today that employees inflated student data to push the university up in the college rankings will spur a renewed debate on the arms race to dominate the “best” lists.

Emory President Jim Wagner said today that Emory has intentionally misreported data about its students to groups that rank colleges for more than a decade.

Emory is not the first college to acknowledge that student academic profiles were tweaked to enhance standings. The New York Times earlier this year reported several schools had acknowledged gaming the system. Iona College in New York admitted lying about test scores, graduation rates, freshman retention, student-faculty ratio and acceptance rates.

The Times reported that “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.

In January, Claremont McKenna in California announced that a top admissions officer had resigned after he confessed to inflating the average SAT scores for purposes of rising up the ranks in the revered U.S. News & World Report listing.

According to the AJC:

U.S. News & World Report, Peterson’s and others routinely list Emory as one of the nation’s top colleges. Students and families rely on these rankings when deciding where to apply and enroll. Emory officials said they have no way of knowing if the college was over-ranked.

“As an institution that challenges itself, in the words of our vision statement, to be ‘ethically engaged,’ Emory has not been well served by representatives of the university in this history of misreporting,” Wagner wrote in a letter to the university. “I am deeply disappointed. Indeed, anyone who cares about Emory’s reputation for excellence in all things must regret this news.”

Emory launched an investigation in May after John Latting, the new dean of admissions, discovered data discrepancies. The investigation found that Emory:

- Used admitted students’ SAT/ACT data instead of enrolled students since at least 2000. This overstated Emory’s test scores.

- May have excluded the scores of the bottom 10 percent of students when reporting SAT/ACT scores, GPAs, and other information. This practice was not followed after 2004.

- Overstated class rankings.

Two former admission deans and leadership in the Office of Institutional Research were aware of the misreporting, the investigation found. They no longer work at Emory, officials said. The investigation found nothing to indicate that anyone in the president’s, provost’s or dean’s offices knew data was being misreported or directed or coerced staff to do so.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

119 comments Add your comment

Solutions

August 17th, 2012
1:06 pm

For a religious school, they certainly lie and cheat a lot! Excellence in all things….right!

mountain man

August 17th, 2012
1:10 pm

So the Atlanta Public Schools are not alone.

Maureen Downey

August 17th, 2012
1:11 pm

@mountain, I thought the same thing — put unrelenting pressure on people to reach certain quotas and they will get there one way or the other.
Maureen

mountain man

August 17th, 2012
1:11 pm

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.

mountain man

August 17th, 2012
1:14 pm

You are absolutely correct, Maureen! Why do you think teachers and administrators cheated at APS: because they were forced to with the threat of losing their jobs. Now we find even colleges do these things. And to settle the racists out there: I doubt that you can blame Emory’s issues on a certain race.

Fred ™

August 17th, 2012
1:19 pm

Maureen Downey

August 17th, 2012
1:11 pm

@mountain, I thought the same thing — put unrelenting pressure on people to reach certain quotas and they will get there one way or the other.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

There was no pressure whatsoever Maureen on the two people responsible.

Howard Finkelstein

August 17th, 2012
1:22 pm

LOL…more cheating from the “elite squads”. LMAO!!

Maureen Downey

August 17th, 2012
1:23 pm

@fred, Why did they do it? At some point, they must have decided it would help Emory and their department. Maureen

Beverly Fraud

August 17th, 2012
1:27 pm

So the Atlanta Public Schools are not alone.

What? They couldn’t get Sam Williams to help them “finesse a report past the governor”?

Georgia, The " New Mississippi "

August 17th, 2012
1:27 pm

Georgia Values ——–It seems our state is at the fore front in all things unethical , immoral and corrupt.
Say one thing in public and do something else in private …….until caught.

Hillbilly D

August 17th, 2012
1:28 pm

Why did they do it? At some point, they must have decided it would help Emory and their department.

That’s a valid point but it doesn’t mean they were pressured to do it. Not to speak for Fred but I think that was his point.

To me, it’s symptomatic of a society wide problem, the end justifies the means, get the result however you have to do it, etc. We’ve lost our moral center and sometimes it’s just plain ol’ naked ambition.

PrivilegedFew

August 17th, 2012
1:31 pm

Hahahahahahaha!!! Oh, thank you. I haven’t laughed this much in a long time. Hahahaha!

guy

August 17th, 2012
1:31 pm

can Emory be sued by students or alumni for misrepresenting its prestige level? just wondering if there’s any hope to recover tuition money… thx

Fred ™

August 17th, 2012
1:33 pm

Check your email

Steve

August 17th, 2012
1:35 pm

Was Beverly Hall working there also?

Digger

August 17th, 2012
1:43 pm

Immediately folks start digging for examples to show Emory is not alone. Doesn’t change the fact that so far both APS and Emory have been busted for academic fraud. I’m trying to figure out what it is about Atlanta. Maybe if you put unrelenting pressure on groups that are unable to perform, cheating is what you get. The cat is crawling out of the bag, but everyone is calling it a dog.

AlreadySheared

August 17th, 2012
1:55 pm

Hahaha!! indeed. Parental bank balances, however, are not in question.

Charles Douglas Edwards

August 17th, 2012
1:56 pm

It is very, very sad to hear that Emory University inflated and misreported student data.

Emory President Jim Wagner should work diligently to make sure this never happens again.

We hope and pray that this will not tarnish their image.

Emory University is one of the finest schools in the United States of America !!!

Steve

August 17th, 2012
1:58 pm

Emory University is one of the finest schools in the United States of America !!!

And can provide data to support that claim

Jeff

August 17th, 2012
1:59 pm

So all of the snotty arrogance isn’t quite what it was made out to be?

I’ll remember that next time I see one of their student groups protesting something.

Baron DeKalb

August 17th, 2012
2:00 pm

What is it about Atlanta?, someone asks. Well, another poster mentioned “Cultural reasons,” which I understand as a reference to the attitude among Georgians and Southerners generally that education is only important as a way to improve one’s image and prestige rather than something that has value in itself. Emory’s pretensions to greatness will be hollow as long as the shallow, image-conscious mentality prevails. The University cares about the quality of the educational product it provides only to the extent that it impacts its rankings, image, and marketability. I guess you just can’t turn Coca-Cola into champagne.

dc

August 17th, 2012
2:07 pm

they did it because 1) they benefited from it, and 2) they thought they could get away with it. The same reason almost anyone lies or cheats.

I hope you aren’t actually implying that their cheating was a natural result of the pressure they were under for results, and thus understandable and almost excusable….but sure looks like you are. If that’s the case, a lot of folks from Enron should be let out of jail.

Maureen Downey

August 17th, 2012
2:12 pm

@dc. Don’t think pressure excuses cheating, only helps explain it in some cases.
Maureen

bootney farnsworth

August 17th, 2012
2:14 pm

only a decade?

I’d have thought more. after polictics, the most dishonest profession in America is education.

Ole Guy

August 17th, 2012
2:17 pm

This “startling” revelation comes as no surprise, inasmuch as every conceivable educational yardstick within this state has been over-stated, inflated and brought to the level of the incredulous beyond belief. At just what point are the smart folks at the helms of the joke which passes for education going to realize that…YOU CAN FOOL SOME FOLKS ALL THE TIME; YOU CAN FOOL ALL OF EM’ SOME OF THE TIME, BUT YOU SURE AS HELL WON’T FOOL ALL OF EM’ ALL THE TIME. Whereas people, in past years, flocked to this hick state on roads paved with promises of good schools, etc, etc, yamer yamer, ad nauseum, the unvarnished realities, in recent weeks/months/years, have surfaced.

While many, out there, seem to lambast the Ole Guy’s “pining” for the order and discipline brought about by old school adhearance to the basics, the sad realitiy seems to be one of “pining” for mediocrity; the mediocrity of inflated grades, the mediocrity of allowing/yet begging third rate status in a highly competitive world. I am so glad/thrilled to be a product of the old school, as are those whom I have fostered and mentored throughout the years. When I read some teacher BS about “ya gotta spend a day in my shoes to understand the problems”, I wanna frequin puke. Listen up, people: THE PROBLEMS, BOTH AT THE HS LEVEL AND WITHIN THE HALLOWED HALLS OF HIGHER ACADEME, ARE INTERNALLY-ENGINEERED AND INTERNALLY EXECUTED, IN OTHER WORDS, THEY’RE YOUR OWN GD FAULT. If you educators had any spheroids at all, you would have realized, long long ago, that your (educational) ship was headed straight for the rocks. YOU…out of fear and trepidation…failed to assume control over that which you profess to care about. These problems, even to the “uninitiated” non-teacher community, have been all-too apparent for too many years; you have simply chosen to cower in the imagined safety of anonimity while those “leaders” around you have destroyed the system, of which you pretend to care, simply in the interest of political expediency and self-promotion.

GOOD FREQUIN LUCK…

Digger

August 17th, 2012
2:29 pm

Turn the full microscope on Emory, AJC. Might just open a box as big as Atlanta Public Schools.

I've heard

August 17th, 2012
2:33 pm

I recall hearing that other prestigious schools inflate grades so their grads can get into places like Harvard Law School. So for rankings, I suspect a lot of that goes on among those in the top 100.

You investigative reporters ought to be able to shine the light on other Universities engaged in similar practices.

James

August 17th, 2012
2:37 pm

And the president didn’t know anything about all of this?
Once again, either the head guy had his head buried in the sand, or he knew about it and ignored it. Either way, the president deserves – and should accept- the blame. Sad day for the “Harvard of the South.”

Jane

August 17th, 2012
2:37 pm

I want my tuition back.

mystery poster

August 17th, 2012
2:39 pm

I love the headline that says “Emory Misstated Data to Boost Rankings.”
Misstated, ha ha ha
That makes it sound like they made an accidental little oopsie.

Hmmmmmmm

August 17th, 2012
2:48 pm

@ole guy…
You are wise beyond your years… :)

I’m not surprised that GT is the only institute of higher learning in Georgia… Thank goodness we have ONE!

Jane

August 17th, 2012
2:53 pm

I call on the entire senior staff from the President on down at Emory to resign. They knew or should have known this was going on over a DECADE! I sure hope my heart surgeon didn’t lie about his SATs or his grades in med school were not inflated.

Steve

August 17th, 2012
2:59 pm

Jane,
Wouldn’t you at least like to know where he finished in his Med Class compared to his peers. The guy that has the lowest passing grade is still called Doctor.

Mr. Holmes

August 17th, 2012
3:00 pm

Speaking from some degree of experience, I’m pretty confident that the only “pressure” the Emory admissions & IRP directors faced is from themselves in wanting to make their shops look as good as possible. The US News ranking system is too complex and relies on far too many factors for leadership to put any kind of “we better rank high or else” ultimatum on a single department head. And Jim Wagner (and Bill Chace before him) definitely knows this.

bootney farnsworth

August 17th, 2012
3:01 pm

@ Hillbilly

here’s how it usually works in higher ed. its much more subtle than primary due to tenure college professors can get.

the dept chair -almost always a political position- gets informed somebody is not “pulling their weight” and the chair needs to take preventative measures. said offending faculty gets pulled into the chairs office and they “discuss” the situtation. in short, why are your students not living up to our pre set expectation.

faculty in question will answer the question as if it was sincere, knowing there is another shoe to fall. usually it deals with students not making the grades. chair will then inform faculty this is a problem which must be fixed. to make a point, the faculty will get a minor punishment, such as a single class at an inconvenient time next term

should this not produce the desired effect, the pressue amps up. denial of preferred class schedules/courses. questions about the lack of published material. questions about the scholarship of materials to be published. exclusion to committees and working groups petty to midlevel harrassment. anyone not yet tenured finds their tenure track is derailing. this is usually enough to force compliance from most faculty. not selling the entire soul, but just a piece of it.

if this fails, the pressure gets jacked up. removal from desired committees. seeing once earned consideration given to policital enemies. the whisper campaign goes into effect-questions on ethics, scholarship, teaching ablity. denial of time off to make professional presentations. suddenly bad reviews. harrassment of friends. being spied on East German style by competing faculty. summons to the dean to discuss your bad attitude results and deteriorating attitude – blatant warnings of dire consequences if not corrected in the following manner.

then, HR gets involved. this is essentially the kiss of death. this will follow a faculty person the rest of their career. and it happens all the time.

while this may seem trivial outside of the profession, it is the most cold blooded kind of assualt in ours

Mr. Holmes

August 17th, 2012
3:06 pm

Bootney: I’m curious where this sinister, dystopian picture of higher ed groupthink formed itself in your head. What you describe bares precious little resemblance to what I see in the two universities where I’ve worked–which also happen to be Georgia’s two highest-ranked schools.

ethos

August 17th, 2012
3:15 pm

Inflating student data is wrong,but so is how the rankings
are generated. A large percentage of how the rankings
are calculated deals with surveys (opinions-academic peer
assessment). How can a survey be an objective measure
for deciding the rank of universities?

How U.S. News Calculates the College Rankings
A number of schools switch ranking categories this year, and for-profits are ranked.

By Robert Morse, Sam Flanigan
September 12, 2011 RSS Feed Print
Terrie Lin reads in the library at New York University.

Terrie Lin reads in the library at New York University.

Undergraduate academic reputation (weighting: 22.5 percent for National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges; 25 percent for Regional Universities and Regional Colleges): The U.S. News ranking formula gives significant weight to the opinions of those in a position to judge a school’s undergraduate academic excellence. The academic peer assessment survey allows top academics—presidents, provosts, and deans of admissions—to account for intangibles at peer institutions such as faculty dedication to teaching.

Smoldering Trash Heap

August 17th, 2012
3:16 pm

<————— This is what Emory has always been.

bootney farnsworth

August 17th, 2012
3:27 pm

@ Holmes

I see two possibilites – you refuse to see it, or you are a major particpant.
either way, you are welcome to your opinion/observation.

actually, you remind me of the Tricoli supporters who denied anything was amiss while the humanites division nearly ended up in court. to this day some deny the main person in question did anything wrong

ethos

August 17th, 2012
3:27 pm

It is wrong to inflate student data,but some of the the categories that
are used to rank the universities are not objective. For example, a
significant part of the rankings deals with a peer assessment survey.
How can universities be judged objectively with surveys?

How U.S. News Calculates the College Rankings
A number of schools switch ranking categories this year, and for-profits are ranked.

By Robert Morse, Sam Flanigan
September 12, 2011 RSS Feed Print
Terrie Lin reads in the library at New York University.

Undergraduate academic reputation (weighting: 22.5 percent for National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges; 25 percent for Regional Universities and Regional Colleges): The U.S. News ranking formula gives significant weight to the opinions of those in a position to judge a school’s undergraduate academic excellence. The academic peer assessment survey allows top academics—presidents, provosts, and deans of admissions—to account for intangibles at peer institutions such as faculty dedication to teaching.

bootney farnsworth

August 17th, 2012
3:30 pm

@ Holmes

try going on line to the Chronicle and read some of postings following blogs. especially in the two year track section.

bootney farnsworth

August 17th, 2012
3:33 pm

one other thing….
its the people who speak like Holmes speaks which are usually the worst of the bunch.
denying there is any blood on the knife since they just wiped it clean.

be very, very, very wary of the educational professional who says all is well. they are either liars of fools

Fred ™

August 17th, 2012
3:34 pm

Bootney: You can only read The Chronile online if you buy a subscription:

“This content is only for subscribers. You can gain access by purchasing a:
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Subscribe now
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Digital Subscription

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Learn more”

Mr. Holmes

August 17th, 2012
3:38 pm

Bootney:

1. I “remind you” of something? From what, my questions? Considering I’ve said nothing about myself except that I’ve worked in higher ed, you must be quite perceptive.

2. Where did I say nothing is “wrong” in higher ed? I merely said it’s a bit far-fetched for a tier-one research university president to put a rankings ultimatum on the admissions director. That’s kinda like a head football coach telling his field goal kicker that he gets cut if the team doesn’t make the playoffs.

3. I’m somewhat skeptical that you have firsthand knowledge of the faculty-administrator drama you spin so fantastically. One, you appear to have grammar & spelling issues, so I’m kinda doubting there’s a string of letters after your name. Two, daily life in academia isn’t quite how you say. For example, “exclusion to [sic] committee and working groups” as a punishment for faculty. For faculty, serving on most internal committees constitutes a service obligation–one from which, nine times out of 10, they’d gladly accept the “punishment” of removal.

But please, if your objective here is to paint higher education with an unflattering brush, regardless of that whole truthiness thing, by all means continue.

Pardon My Blog

August 17th, 2012
3:38 pm

That explains how some of the students got into Emory (not to mention that their parents work there). We could not figure it out since they were some of the lower scoring seniors in the class!

Fred ™

August 17th, 2012
3:43 pm

Mr Holmes: While neither defending nor attacking Mr. Farnsworth’s posts, I WOULD however be inclined to think he works in higher ed or at least has a more than passing knowledge of it. How many folks that DON’T have even heard of The Chronicle much less read it?

dawg67

August 17th, 2012
3:44 pm

boot: Is there a reason why, when someone disagrees with you, you insult them personally? Can’t someone just disagree with your opinion without you slandering them? It does not make your arguments ring very true, especially when you compare inner office squabbling with “East German” spies.

Mr. Holmes

August 17th, 2012
3:51 pm

Fred: Yeah, who knows. It’s just the picture he paints of an oppressive administration putting the thumbscrews to non-compliant faculty members is pretty fanciful and even downright humorous, once you’ve hung around tenured faculty for any amount of time.

They like to think they run the university. And when their leadership acts in a way that challenges this belief–much less overtly threatens them to toe the line–they tend to get really loud & annoying. And once this belief, that the department head/school chair/college dean doesn’t buy into the whole faculty governance thing, it’s usually the administrator who’s looking for a job pretty soon.

But again, that’s just in the real world. Not sure how things work at Tea Party U. where ole Bootney teaches.

Glad I can afford to send my daughter to pvt school

August 17th, 2012
3:52 pm

Every afternoon I have a coke with my next door neighbor who was a department head at Emory . When I told him of this he broke into a 30 minute tirade about how stupid & political administrators at Emory were. I can’t quote the language he was using but he says that this conduct is normal at name schools.

Mr. Holmes

August 17th, 2012
3:52 pm

“And once this belief *spreads*…” I meant to say.