Emory Lied About Admissions Data (to Increase Rankings?)

Starting in 2000, Emory University misreported admissions data to the USNWR and the Department of Education. Specifically, Emory reported the standardized test scores of admitted students rather than enrolled students, thus increasing their average scores. It’s interesting that they chose to report a strategically incorrect, but real, number rather than simply fabricating data wholecloth. I wonder if they assumed the practice would be more defensible – “Oops, we sent the wrong spreadsheet” instead of “We just faked it.”

As Marilyn Strathern, riffing on Goodheart’s law, puts it, “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

Interestingly, USNWR claims the small increase in average SAT scores had no effect on Emory’s ranking:

U.S. News officials said the effect was small. “Our preliminary calculations show that the misreported data would not have changed the school’s ranking in the past two years (No. 20) and would likely have had a small to negligible effect in the several years prior,” said Brian Kelly, the magazine’s editor.

Perhaps it was just an error (well, an error combined with institutional inertia and a touch of cover-up), rather than a strategy. It’ll be interesting to see what the investigation reveals.

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