University Pull Of Ranking Data Hints To Possible College Rankings Inflation?

University of Southern California's sudden removal of one of their school's college rankings draws suspicion.

By Rick Gonzales | Published

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Typically, when you hear about misdoings surrounding the University of Southern California (USC), it involves one of their sports programs. Reggie Bush had his 2005 Heisman Trophy taken back for him and his family receiving improper benefits. The USC basketball team avoided major sanctions but still received 2-year probation for bribes taken by former assistant Tony Bland. But removing itself from the best graduate school’s college rankings? Is something fishy going on here?

After discovering a “history of inaccuracies,” USC has announced that it will not be including its Rossier School of Education in the U.S. News & World Report’s next best graduate school annual college rankings. According to the school, the inaccuracies go back at least five years. The data used to rank colleges is reported by the college itself.

The decision to self-discipline was addressed by USC’s provost and senior vice president, Charles Zukoski. In a letter he sent out to the Rossier graduate school community, he told them that school officials “asked U.S. News not to include the Rossier School in its graduate school rankings for 2023 while we seek to understand the situation further.” In his letter, Zukoski also noted that officials have also informed accreditors as well as the U.S. Department of Education of the Rossier college rankings situation.

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“Please know that this decision has no bearing on the quality or value of a Rossier education,” Zukoski wrote to the graduate students. “Rather, it reflects our responsibility, which we take very seriously, to adhere to the specific reporting requirements of the ranking organization when we submit our data.” A USC spokesperson was unable to give any further information about what the data inaccuracies entailed.

According to the 2022 U.S. News & World Report, the USC Rossier School reached number 11. These rankings are based on opinions taken from the top faculty members and administrators from peer institutions. The college rankings are also derived from statistical surveys about particular schools’ students, their faculty, and research. To come to a college ranking conclusion on the 2022 report, the school data were collected in the fall of 2020 and also in the early 2021 school year.

Like the many universities involved, USC promotes its impressive rankings online. They include a rankings page that includes media releases covering all the top spots the school has earned. But since this revelation, the Rossier School of Education has no information regarding its college ranking given by U.S. News & Report. Apparently, USC officials moved quickly and took it down from their website.

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Speaking on USC’s request to remove themselves from the college rankings, U.S. News chief data strategist Robert Morse said via the LA Times, “Our mission is to provide students with accurate, in-depth data to help them in their school search. We rely on schools to accurately report their data and ask academic officials to verify that data.”

According to David Hawkins, chief education and policy advisor for the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the process for these college rankings is based mainly on the honor system. The data submitted is expected to be accurate. “The submission of data to the rankings tends to be a pretty high-stakes endeavor and one that is subject to a whole range of influences,” Hawkins said. It was acknowledged that accidents do happen, but it was also acknowledged that intentional skewing of numbers also takes place.

USC is not the only school to find itself in hot water when it comes to college rankings. Earlier this month, Temple University’s former dean of their business school, Moshe Porat, received a prison sentence of 14 months after being convicted of fraud. He was found guilty of falsifying data that was used to help boost his university’s rankings. The Eastern District of Pennsylvania’s U.S. attorney’s office said it was a “scheme to deceive applicants and donors into believing that the school offered top-ranked business degree programs.”

Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California had a senior official in its admissions office resign after it was found that the college exaggerated SAT scores in order to boost its college rankings for the U.S. News & World Report. USC is not waiting around in its attempt to get to the bottom of the possible college rankings inflation. They have hired an independent law firm, Jones Day, to investigate the university’s past Rossier School’s U.S. News & World Report data submissions. “The investigation is well underway,” wrote Zukoski. “We will share their findings when they are complete sometime within the next two weeks.”