Caught Cheating: Colleges Falsify Admissions Data for Higher Rankings

Tim Goral's picture

Once a year, a line of briefcase-wielding accountants in business suits files into an office at Texas Christian University.

They’re not there to check on income or expenditures. They’re auditing the admissions statistics.

Texas Christian’s dean of admissions says it is the nation’s only university to voluntarily have its admissions data — the number of applicants and their SAT scores, class rank, grade-point averages, and other measures — audited for accuracy. It has done so for the last dozen years -- and not just for show. As consumers and the federal government push for greater transparency about such things as cost, average debt, and job-placement rates, major universities have been caught misrepresenting those and other numbers to improve the way they look to prospective students.

“We on the inside have a pretty good idea of who is reporting accurately and who is not. And quite a few schools appear to be cooking the books,” said Texas Christian Dean of Admission Raymond Brown.

That dirty little secret has started to slip out as competition intensifies to attract top students and scale the all-important college rankings. In an admissions battleground on which universities grapple for any advantage, rising by just one number in the U.S. News & World Report rankings leads to a nearly 1 percent increase in applications, a 2011 study at the Harvard Business School found.

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