Fighting College Fraud

by Anne D. Neal

It’s that time of year again: college ranking season.

Last week, Forbes and the Center for College Affordability and Productivity released their annual ranking of America’s best colleges. But what was most notable wasn’t what colleges made the list—it was those that were conspicuously missing.

Claremont McKenna, Emory, Bucknell, and Iona were all absent from the ranking. Why? Because they had all been falsifying the data they reported to the Department of Education and others.

At Forbes.com, Abram Brown explained:

Claremont McKenna isn’t the only top college that lied. Bucknell University doctored SAT results from 2006 to 2012; Emory University provided numbers for admitted students rather than enrolled ones for more than a decade; and Iona College lied about acceptance and graduation rates, SAT scores and alumni giving for nine years starting in 2002. . . . As a penalty for their dishonesty . . . we are removing the four institutions from our list of the country’s best schools for two years.

It is only natural that, when high-stakes rankings depend on self-reported data, the pressure to cheat will be immense. That’s why ACTA’s independent study of core curricula relies on the kind of assessment schools cannot easily game.

Ultimately, we need to replace our broken accreditation system with a requirement that colleges provide the public with independently certified annual data on a variety of outcome measures. If schools cook the books, their access to federal funds should be cut off.

It is hard enough for parents and students to get the information they need to make informed choices about a college education. We don’t need dishonest college administrators making it any harder.