Monday, November 28, 2022

Columbia U. Won’t Submit Data to ‘U.S. News’ Rankings After Professor Alleged False Information

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Columbia University will not submit data to U.S. News & World Report for the next edition of its college rankings, the provost announced on Thursday, citing an active institutional review prompted by allegations that the university had provided false data to the magazine.

Columbia was tied for second — with Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — in the 2022 edition of the national-university rankings.

Michael Thaddeus, a professor of mathematics at Columbia, this year accused the university of submitting inaccurate information to U.S. News. Colleges self-report many data points to the magazine.

Thaddeus published a lengthy analysis on his faculty page, comparing Columbia’s data on the U.S. News site, upon which the rankings are based, with figures he pulled from the university’s online directories of classes and faculty members. He told The Chronicle that he identified discrepancies in the U.S. News data on class sizes, the percentage of full-time faculty members with doctorates or other terminal degrees, and the amount that the university spends on instruction.

One particularly glaring issue, according to Thaddeus, was that Columbia claimed that 83 percent of its classes had fewer than 20 students, the highest share among the top-100 national universities. Thaddeus said the university’s class directory, which showed enrollments, put the share of under-20-student classrooms at around 63 percent to 67 percent.

Columbia officials have disputed some of the claims made by Thaddeus, but they began a review of the university’s submission process. The university would have to submit data for the 2023 rankings by Friday. Mary Boyce, the university’s provost, said in a statement that the review was continuing, and that “we will take no shortcuts in getting it right.”

Columbia will publish a Common Data Set, part of an effort by the magazine, the College Board, and Peterson’s to keep rankings accurate, this fall, Boyce said, “to help support prospective students and their families as they consider college choices.”

The U.S. News rankings are a frequent source of criticism in and around higher education. Many observers charge that the magazine’s methodology is flawed and that the rankings themselves promote a problematic emphasis on subjective markers of institutional prestige — instead of rewarding institutions that, for instance, better serve low-income and first-generation students. In response, U.S. News officials have pointed to changes they’ve made in their analyses in recent years, adding factors like graduates’ average federal-loan debt.

Columbia isn’t the only university that’s recently faced scrutiny related to the U.S. News rankings. Rutgers University’s business school was accused in an April lawsuit of falsifying job-placement numbers for its graduates. The University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education pulled out of the rankings in March after admitting to a “history of inaccuracies” in its data submissions. And a former Temple University business-school dean was found guilty of fraud last fall after submitting inaccurate U.S. News data; the institution had ranked first in the magazine’s business-school rankings for several years.

U.S. News has previously removed institutions from the rankings after university officials acknowledged that they had provided inaccurate data.

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