Emory, UGA, Georgia Tech among top 100 colleges

8:49 AM, Sep 12, 2012   |    comments
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(USA TODAY) -- There are no big surprises in this year's U.S. News & World Report college rankings, and that's good news for Emory University and Claremont McKenna College.

Both schools this year acknowledged having provided falsified information to the magazine and to other sources for years.

RELATED | Emory: Misrepresented data sent to rankings groups

Yet neither saw a significant change when corrected numbers were used for this year's rankings.

Emory remains in the No. 20 position among national universities, while Claremont McKenna College, of Claremont, Calif., fell from No. 9 to No. 10 among national liberal arts schools.

Two other schools in Georgia cracked the top 100. Georgia Tech came in at No. 36, while the University of Georgia tied with the University of Connecticut and Purdue University for No. 63.

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Emory and Claremont McKenna are the latest in a string of schools to fess up after international 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 was 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 misrepresented average cumulative loan debt for graduating students -- one of Kiplinger's criteria -- for about 10 years.

No one is quite willing to call it a trend, but Scott Friedhoff, vice president for enrollment at the College of Wooster in Ohio, says it's not unusual for trustees and sometimes presidents to obsess over rankings, though it is subsiding.

"More and more of us are recognizing the folly in it and the wastefulness of it," he says, 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 says.

He says 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, says Educational Department press secretary Justin Hamilton, "the biggest punishment schools who intentionally misrepresent data face is loss of trust and credibility in the eyes of their students, alumni and the general public."

Read the full U.S. News & World Report rankings list

(Mary Beth Marklein, USA TODAY)

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