George Washington Discloses Background Information On Reporting Errors To U.S. News

Many of us were irate over the disclosure that our school had been misreporting data to U.S. News — resulting in GW being stripped of its ranking as a top 50 college. The university has now released more information on this calamity in a posting from Vice Provost Forrest Maltzman.

The false reporting emerged as a result of the reorganization of the university’s undergraduate enrollment management functions in late August. An audit, ordered by Baker Tilly, began in September and the results were given to the Board of Trustees Finance and Audit Committee in October. They proceeded to correct the data for the class of 2015 in November and informed U.S. News and World Report and the GW community of the discrepancy Nov. 8.

The problem is that many schools do not report the ten percent ranking used by U.S News so the university was in the practice of estimating the class ranking for unranked students based on their grade point average. This resulted in reporting that 78 percent of our students were in the top 10 percent of their high school class. The actual figure should have been 58 percent. We have been misreporting the figure for over a decade.

The data reporting function has now been moved to the Office of Academic Planning and Assessment, rather than the Admissions Office. There will also be a new oversight system for data.

The new information is helpful. As a threshold matter, I should note that I have always been skeptical of the reliance on the class ranking category, which is given a weight of six percent in the ultimate college ranking. Not only do I expect that the same problem self-reported by GWU is occurring at other schools, but the data point is in my view meaningless. Schools have wildly different grading systems and ranking approaches in high school — including no ranking. Some high schools can report a top ten percent figure based on GPA that account for more than the actual top ten percent of students numerically. With two-thirds of schools not doing any such ranking at all, this lack of uniformity makes the data point a bit of a farce.

None of that excuses our own false reporting. It should have been obvious that our staff had an incentive to err on the side of higher class standing reports. Given the importance of the U.S. News ranking, it is difficult to see how one of these data points would be treated in such a casual way, particularly when the error extended over a decade and uniformly worked to our advantage. I remain unclear on how we have held anyone accountable for these errors or how this could happen with so many people involved in these annual reports.

My greatest concern (beyond our ethical failure) is that this scandal has undermined years of progress at George Washington, which has gone through a transformation in new buildings, expanded faculty, and sharp improvement in admissions. While many schools are slipping back in this economy, George Washington is one of the schools making a massive investment in new research facilities and development. That is the great irony behind this controversy. The inflation of this data point has resulted in the false impression that GWU is not a top 50 college, which it clearly is. If anything, the school has been underrated but has in recent years moved steadily up the list of universities. I am incredibly proud of this school and what we offer the students. This is an amazing place to go to school, just a couple blocks from the White House, State Department, and Washington mall. This is a relatively small university that has the broad selection of courses and faculty of a university while retaining the sense of community of a college. In the last few years, everyone — students, faculty, and staff — have been working hard to showcase our programs and pride at GW.

While self-reporting is admirable, the long-standing misreporting should never have occurred in the first place. It is not enough to say that we simply erred every year for ten years to our advantage. Even if this was a negligent, as opposed to intentional, violation, it showed as lack of concern over our ethical duty as academicians to report data accurately and fully. That failure of our administrators is now being born by our students, faculty, and staff. We are better than this and we will now have to re-double our efforts to show that GWU does not need accounting gimmicks to claim our standing with the top colleges and universities.

20 thoughts on “George Washington Discloses Background Information On Reporting Errors To U.S. News

  1. What’s the saying…. There are liar, accountants and golfer…… I think I heard once that income taxes make liars out of most people….. School rankings not much difference….

  2. Would it really matter? If Harvard Law School turned out mediocre lawyers They still would be the gateway to the really high power firms, they would still be pulling in the top grads, they would still be Harvard Law. GWU is in that same category.

    The fact that they are in that category probably means smarter more motivated students & better faculty but that does not mean that each student gets the best education or becomes one of the best lawyers in the nation. These ratings are beauty pageants for the egos of the administration and the alums

  3. @Turley: Your other option is to refuse to participate in an arbitrary ranking contest that has no independent verification of “self reported” numbers.

    In this contest honesty is a handicap and the best liar wins. That is proven by the GWU experience, a reorganization with an honest administration has created a blot on your record that a dishonest man would have prevented.

    Isn’t continuing to participate in such a contest ALSO immoral? Participating honestly enables other liars to claim superiority they do not have, and harms other honest law schools by making them appear less desirable than they actually are.

    The proper course of action is to decline participation and encourage others to do the same, until the journalists take steps to do something besides just regurgitate what they are told, and actually verify the “news” they are reporting.

    The money you spend on this marketing tool would be better spent instead on advocating for an independent ranking system based on more objective and verifiable data.

    You have an opportunity to use your own failure as the proof of a flaw in the existing system, and leverage that proof as a spring board for a fair, objective, verifiable system that measures what really matters to students and actually helps prospective students make the best choice they can, instead of continuing to be misled by US News journalists regurgitating lies and pretending to be an “independent” ranking.

    You are right in failing to understand how ten years of false reporting can go unchecked. But that flaw is not yours to own alone, it is equally proof that US News did nothing in ten years to verify what they were being told, and that makes ALL of the rankings suspect.

  4. “As a threshold matter, I should note that I have always been skeptical of the reliance on the class ranking category, which is given a weight of six percent in the ultimate college ranking. Not only do I expect that the same problem self-reported by GWU is occurring at other schools, but the data point is in my view meaningless.”

    Class rankings are not great determinants of success at the University, nor do they result in determining who are the best students. A student at a wealthy High School in a privileged neighborhood may be quite capable, but rank in the middle of the graduating class. The truth is though that the academic standing of the High School, as is determined by socio-economic factors makes a big difference. Conversely, those coming from poorly funded high schools may also be hurt by their ranking in context of the general opinion of the academic standing. However, if you come from a private school like Andover and have prominent parents, then no school is too lofty to aspire to.

    In short, the truth is that the whole system of rating the quality of schools is inherently ridiculous.The “raters” like US News and World Report, lacking the immense resources to do a completely thorough job, rely on information that couldn’t possibly give a real picture and a method that is inherently flawed.

    GWU has shown honesty in this issue which should be commended. I heard last night that the University of Michigan spends $120 million on athletics each year and $90 million of that comes from revenues from its football team. Our country’s entire University System has become skewed in the interest of money and publicity. I don’t think that this is what higher education is supposed to be about, but then has it ever been different?

  5. I am also skeptical of the response by the University. It sounds a little like a CYA effort by the administration. Prof. Turley is exactly correct that this was an ethical failure on the part of the administration.

  6. Who the heck is US News and World Report? They “rank” institutions of higher learning? I said once before on this blog that the guys who run the outhouse here will not allow the US News in the outhouse for toilet paper substitute because it stinks before it is used for its intended purpose. If I was thinking about a law school to go to I would focus on Washington DC schools. I would then go there and see for myself and not look at rankings from a rag with a moniker of US News bla bla. I would inquire deeply if they knew how to teach constitutional law. I would look into the access to important things like dog biscuits.

  7. The neighborhood and the facilities are beautiful. Went walking around there last summer. I would like to have an apartment there. With its location and facilities it should be moving up in the rankings. Rankings do matter to people that are paying the big bucks and whose first choice is really NYU. One year GWU was ranked as the most expensive school to attend. Its neighbor Georgetown has no problem attracting very bright students and maintaining its ranking.

  8. U.S. News Report rankings – which saved that publication in hindsight – are both incredibly useful and a symbol of all that is wrong with our universities. Just like standardized testing

  9. SWM, Taking the schools out of the equation, I’d pick Austin over DC. Just more my pace, but to each their own. Here in Wi. most kids go to the only 2 law schools, UW or Marquette. Because, if you choose to practice in Wi. you DON’T HAVE TO TAKE THE BAR! That’s a helluva perk. When I worked for the prosecutor’s office there were alway interns who we worked w/ taking the Mo. bar. One of the prosecutors would have a champagne brunch the Saturday the reults came out. The parties were much better when the intern passed. In my years it was about an .800 batting average.

  10. US News criteria are easily gamed, as GW demonstrated, among others (such as Emory).The irony is that people from low profile people often are entrusted with very significant responsibilities. A friend worked for a major professional org—the economists came from U of Chicago, the layers from night school law schools which normally would (and still are) held in low esteem, but they turnedout people who could meet the policy and litagation needs of a high powered professional org. Aggregating that kind of information (who goes where and for what) after graduation is more valuable that the death rattle of a right wing news weekly.

  11. My own official Marina Outhouse Survey was posted in the outhousem both men and woman’s, units yesterday afternoon. Here is the results:
    A. Do you read, while seaEted in here, any of the following current issues of:
    Wall Street Journal Yes__ NO _
    B. Do you Wife your rear with portions of this paper? Yes __ No __

    The questionaire then went downhill and included: People Magazine, Time Magazine and US News & World Report.

    Over thirty people from this captive audience rresponded and since none of them, unless they brougtht their own, had altnerative wiping products, they had to respond to B.

    Here is the resutl of the mind and butt survey or mind over matter survey:

    Twelve people read the Wall Street Journal and Twelve wiped with it.
    Eight people read Time Magazine and none wiped with it.
    Two people read People Magazine and none wiped with it.
    None read US News & World Report and eight wiped with it.

    From the foregoing I concluded that the US News & World Report has some redeeming value but none in the area of providing News or World reporting.

    Now, you readers may query the nature of those surveyed. It is a broad swatch of boaters, young, old, dumb, not so dumb and very smart. The sail boaters being in the last catagory.

    I found the college rankings section and posted it on the bulletin board in the Marina Lounge. Some college kids removed it and put it over the Dart Board.

    All from here, Howard Demere

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