Claremont McKenna College, a respected institution which played host to a data-rigging scandal. Now, along with three schools, it's off FORBES' rankings of America's Best Colleges--in penance for its falsified reporting. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Sometime in 2004 Richard C. Vos, the admission dean at Claremont McKenna College, a highly regarded liberal arts school outside Los Angeles, developed a novel way to meet the school president's demands to improve the quality of incoming classes. He would simply lie.
Over the next seven years Vos provided falsified data-the numbers behind our ranking of Claremont McKenna in America's Top Colleges-to the Education Department and others, artificially increasing SAT and ACT scores and lowering the admission rate, providing the illusion, if not the reality, that better students were coming to Claremont McKenna. He got away with it thanks to a disturbing lack of oversight; he was trusted to hand-calculate the data and submit it without review. What had made this longtime employee break bad? "He felt the same pressure to deliver as any executive does," Claremont McKenna spokesman Max Benavidez says. (Vos, who resigned in January 2012, couldn't be reached for comment.)
Just as an analyst's upgrade can spark a rally in a specific stock, a college's move up the rankings usually results in a financial windfall. "There's institutional pressure at colleges to achieve at all levels, and that includes rankings," says Troy Onink, a college planning expert and FORBES contributor. "It's a hypercompetitive world for the best students and for that tuition revenue."
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. All have since fessed up and claim to have instituted better practices. As a penalty for their dishonesty-and an acknowledgment of the growing scope of the problem-we are removing the four institutions from our list of the country's best schools for two years.
Are there other cheaters out there? If there are, they also will be taken off the list. Stay tuned. We will be watching.
Reach Abram Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.