Emory University didn’t have to lie to be ranked among the nation’s top colleges.
Nearly a month ago the college admitted that for more than a decade it intentionally misreported data to groups that rate colleges. New rankings released today by U.S. News & World Report still list Emory as the No. 20 college in the country.
That’s the same position it had the previous two years when officials sent inflated figures about its students. College officials certified the information sent this time was accurate.
“They didn’t have to do it,” said Rita Kirshstein, an Emory graduate and director of the Delta Cost Project, a Washington-based group that studies higher education spending and affordability. “There was no reason for them to fudge the data.”
Emory’s news release on the rankings affirmed the accuracy of the information sent to U.S. News. Other than that, it made little reference to the data scandal that has drawn national attention.
“An education at Emory University is the sum total of many distinguished components that are difficult to aggregate and rank in one numerical grade,” Provost Earl Lewis said in a statement. “Whatever ‘marks’ we might be assigned by others, Emory by any measure is one of the world’s leading centers of discovery and learning.”
College rankings feed the country’s appetite for lists and for knowing what’s considered the best. Many students and parents look at the rankings when deciding where to apply and attend, with some refusing to consider schools that fail to earn a high mark. Colleges with strong spots advertise their standing in promotional materials, knowing it attracts academic prestige and higher-caliber students.
Emory says it hasn’t determined why and when the misreporting began, but outside experts reason it was driven by the pressure to remain a top-20 school. Emory has been in that U.S. News tier for 20 consecutive years.
The school had previously sent test score data for admitted students instead of those who had enrolled, which inflated the school’s reported SAT and ACT test scores. It also overstated the percentage of incoming students who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. And it “may have” excluded the scores of the bottom 10 percent of students when reporting information about incoming classes.
The university’s new dean of undergraduate admissions noticed the data discrepancy in May, which triggered an internal investigation. Officials said steps are being taken to make sure data is reported correctly.
The investigation concluded that two former admission deans and leadership in the Office of Institutional Research were aware of the misreporting. They no longer work at the school and did not return phone calls for comment.
U.S. News previously said the false information would not have affected the college’s standing the previous two years and would have had a “small to negligible” effect in years before then.
The quality of students who attend Emory was part of a category that counted as 15 percent of the college’s rank this year, said Robert Morse, the magazine’s director of data research.
The largest factor, counting as 22.5 percent of Emory’s score, are surveys that rate a school’s academic reputation. This year’s surveys were turned in before Emory disclosed its data deception, so Morse said it won’t be known until next year whether the situation has harmed Emory’s reputation.
Higher education knows “Emory was naughty,” but Kirshstein said it remains a strong college that has only grown stronger in recent years.
She expects the college will remain popular with students. Emory received nearly 17,500 applications for the 1,350 spots in this year’s freshman class.
The issue is bigger than Emory’s standing and reputation, said Lloyd Thacker, a rankings critic and director of the Education Conservancy, which works to reduce competitive pressures in admissions.
“What does it say about the rankings and the faith people wrongly place in them?” Thacker said. “It shows how ridiculous these things are.”
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