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Clemson Staffer Outlines College Rankings Manipulation

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the all-tiery-eyed dept.

Education 163

xzvf writes "A disgruntled Clemson University staffer shows how US News and World Report college rankings are manipulated. Techniques include bad-mouthing other schools, filling out applications from highly qualified students that never intended to apply, and lying about class size and professor salaries." The school, naturally, denies that anything unethical went on. The New York Times has a more detailed article, which links to this first-person account of the presentation.

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Moo (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28215841)

MooCow

Hey Slashdot! How about... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28216065)

+----------+
| FIX YOUR |
|  FUCKIN' |
|   CODE   |
+----------+
    |  |
    |  |
  .\|.||/..

Raise your hand (5, Interesting)

Romancer (19668) | more than 5 years ago | (#28215877)

Raise your hand if you are surprised that this is going on.

Seriously, with all the incentive to attract and hold onto students and the funds they bring. Who would have thought that this is all above board and regulated?

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=college+rankings+corruption+&aq=f&oq=&aqi= [google.com]

It's not like this is new.

Re:Raise your hand (2, Interesting)

sortius_nod (1080919) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216563)

This seems to be what happens when you introduce greed into a system. If education was free and universities were more specialised it may reduce this, still, the greed factor will always affect the system.

Maybe I'm too altruistic and this clouds my judgment of others, but I'd like to think that if there was equality of education there'd be less chance of greed in the system.

TNSTAAFL (5, Informative)

sadler121 (735320) | more than 5 years ago | (#28217137)

This seems to be what happens when you introduce greed into a system. If education was free and universities were more specialised it may reduce this, still, the greed factor will always affect the system.

Maybe I'm too altruistic and this clouds my judgment of others, but I'd like to think that if there was equality of education there'd be less chance of greed in the system.

If education where free? You do know that there is no such thing as a free lunch? You have to pay teachers, administrators salaries and benefits, and that money has to come from somewhere. In the case of people how advocate for 'free' education, this inevitably leads to the government providing the education, and the government has to get that money from somewhere, and that somewhere is called taxation. Which again, does not make it free, it just appears to be that way.

Re:TNSTAAFL (4, Insightful)

Bjorn_Redtail (848817) | more than 5 years ago | (#28217529)

Moreover, it doesn't really solve the problem. Universities would still get more funding (except, the funding would from the government) for more students, so they would still have a reason to try to recruit students. This would in turn give them a reason to fudge their US News rankings and whatnot, much as the current system did.

Re:TNSTAAFL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28217757)

Who says you need administrators? Who says you need a student body that can't teach, and a faculty that can't learn? Get rid of administrators, and stop putting "professors" on a pedestal, and I guarantee the cost of operating a university will be easily managed by the students/teachers themselves.

Re:TNSTAAFL (1)

piojo (995934) | more than 5 years ago | (#28218563)

Who says you need administrators?

There are an enormous amount of laws that a school must follow (for example, administration of financial aid and proper (redundant) recording of grades). Accredited universities are regulated (and need administrators for this), so your suggestion requires more justification.

Who says you need a student body that can't teach, and a faculty that can't learn?

I'm sorry, but I can't take that suggestion seriously. My classmates could not have helped me learn CS or math with the same competence that my professors did.

Re:TNSTAAFL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28217999)

It doesn't ALWAYS need to come from the government.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franklin_W._Olin_College_of_Engineering

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooper_Union

Why is Clemson's school color blaze orange? (3, Funny)

leftie (667677) | more than 5 years ago | (#28218167)

So the students can go to the game on Saturday, go hunting on Sunday, and pick up trash along the highway on work days.

1st Hand Experience. (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 5 years ago | (#28218667)

I went to the school that has been at the top of the list for ~9 years now.

Everything was swept under the table. Not a single drinking or drug incident made it to the local news, magically.

There was a guy my freshmen class that got caught dealing. Not only did nothing happen to him, nothing ever made it to the papers. I don't even remember hearing of any on campus discipline. There were never any parties broken up by police, and the one or two that were, they also never made it to the paper.

When I transferred to a Big 10 school, that was in the same state (That's also >10x larger). There was none of that. Freshmen getting kicked out of school first week for possession. It was so integrated into the town so the town cops had their hand all the underage drinking and PIs. They all made it to the paper. They're consistently in the top 10, but not #1. (Of a different list).

*Funny thing that when I started to interview. I got asked if I went to a technical college for 2 years. Just because you're #1 in Engineers minds doesn't mean you're #1 in HR's. As soon as I dropped them from my Resume I actually started getting callbacks.

In other news... (5, Funny)

Tigersmind (1549183) | more than 5 years ago | (#28215885)

water is wet!

Of course they cheat. They have to. If they don't know how to cheat then how can they catch the students when they cheat so they can cheat better and better so they can cheat into a job where others learn to cheat from them! /cheat cheat

Re:In other news... (4, Funny)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216275)

How do I reach these keeeeds?

Re:In other news... (1)

Zordak (123132) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216781)

In other news... water is wet!

And athletes use steroids! No, say it ain't so, Joe!

Re:In other news... (4, Insightful)

smaddox (928261) | more than 5 years ago | (#28217393)

Looking through the comments, I see a lot of apathetic people talking about how obvious it is that this would happen, but I see no one talking about how to improve the situation (other than hinting that making education free would solve all our problems). We are in this situation because everyone just assumes it is the only way. Why don't people start thinking about how to change it? Keep in mind, though, that practical solutions are needed. A revolution in education funding isn't going to happen overnight.

There are so many intelligent people reading slashdot. It's sad that this isn't used as a forum for developing solutions. Instead it seems to be an outlet for apathy and pessimism.

Re:In other news... (4, Insightful)

BitHive (578094) | more than 5 years ago | (#28217787)

Some colleges [reed.edu] have long refused to participate in the US News rankings not necessarily because of this type of problem, but because it would be a tacit validation of what is a transparently worthless metric (numeric rankings? really?) for evaluating a college education. That it's crooked is almost irrelevant.

Re:In other news... (4, Insightful)

bogjobber (880402) | more than 5 years ago | (#28218231)

The solution is to ignore US News & World Report rankings. Even if schools didn't try and game the results, it's still a ridiculous way to gauge the quality of education you will receive at a university.

My uni regularly gets knocked down in the rankings because the average graduation time is a little less than six years. But the majority of students work full time! If you want to work and gain experience on the job and money while attending, we're better situated than 95% of schools, but that isn't taken into account.

There are just way too many factors to take into account, and personal preference should guide the decision, not the weird criterion that US News & World Report uses.

Re:In other news... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28218739)

It's sad that this isn't used as a forum for developing solutions. Instead it seems to be an outlet for apathy and pessimism.

Perhaps you hadn't noticed, but with intelligence often comes a certain amount of apathy simply as a side effect of the ability to perceive the problems of this world and realize, correctly in many cases, that there are no good solutions. Why waste time and resources on a problem which will continue to persist despite your most diligent efforts to solve it? The intelligent man realizes when and where his efforts will be wasted and simply doesn't bother.

Clemson students/alums too stupid to cheat well (1)

leftie (667677) | more than 5 years ago | (#28218225)

Of course, everybody cheats. But what university trained the geniuses that managed to be caught cheating?

CLEMSON!

Re:In other news... (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 5 years ago | (#28218665)

Hey dawg, I heard you liked cheating, so I put cheating in your cheating so you can cheat while you cheat.

So? (5, Insightful)

DragonDru (984185) | more than 5 years ago | (#28215887)

Any time an important ranking system is devised, those being judged will figure out how to cheat the system. Given how important these rankings are perceived to be, this should be no surprise to anyone. I am more surprised this is a surprise.

Re:So? (3, Insightful)

Jurily (900488) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216019)

Any time an important ranking system is devised, those being judged will figure out how to cheat the system.

There's not much to figure out here. You just have to lie.

Re:So? (5, Informative)

yali (209015) | more than 5 years ago | (#28217813)

You just have to lie.

And to generate a controversy on slashdot, you just have to lie in the article summary.

Look, I have no doubt that all kinds of universities do all kinds of crazy things to influence their rankings. But the summary gets a lot of stuff wrong.

For example, on the faculty salaries... Apparently, Clemson did two things. Firstly, they raised actual salaries, which would have a real and legitimate impact on their ability to recruit and retain outstanding faculty. Second, they corrected a previous under-reporting of compensation. US News bases its formula on total compensation (which combines salary and benefits), and apparently Clemson had been previously only reporting salary. (Here's the money quote: "Clarifying Clemson's approach after the panel for a reporter and an interested Robert Morse, director of data research for U.S. News's college rankings, Watt said that the university had added benefits to its faculty salary reporting to U.S. News after previously having failed to do so, as the magazine requires. So its jump came not from double counting or including information that it should not have, but from playing catchup." [source [insidehighered.com] ]

On class sizes, the way Clemson "manipulated" the data was by... um, actually changing their actual class sizes. They made their smaller classes smaller and let their bigger classes get bigger, because US News uses thresholds of 50 in evaluating class size. Sure that helps their numbers... but it's also not a bad thing from a pedagogical point of view. With a discussion-oriented seminar, reducing below 20 makes a real difference. And with a big lecture, 55 versus 100 is not that much of a difference. So they might have actually improved their delivery of education.

As for the fake applicants mentioned in the summary, I couldn't find that in any of the linked articles. But one of the articles [nytimes.com] said that Clemson tightened their actual admissions standards (i.e., required higher high school class ranks and SAT scores). That isn't manipulation, that's objectively becoming a more selective institution.

The dirtiest accusation is that in the peer rankings, Clemson deliberately gave low scores to close rivals. If that was really done intentionally (which Clemson denies), that is genuinely dirty, but not terribly shocking. And that kind of a pattern should have been easily detectable by US News, if they had bothered to look for it.

Re:So? (1)

yali (209015) | more than 5 years ago | (#28217975)

US News uses thresholds of 50 in evaluating class size

Correction, that should have read "thresholds of less than 20 and greater than 50..."

Re:So? (2, Informative)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216551)

Most of what they do I would not call 'cheating the system'. At best it is 'gaming the system'.

For example, to go up in the salary number, they RAISED THE SALARY. How is that cheating? Yeah, they had to raise tuition to do it, but it is not cheating.

Similarly, to get a better class size numbers, they horror of horrors, lowered the maximum number of students in several classes (countering this by enlarging the classes that were already large).

Now, I would not call the badmouthing of other schools to be a good thing, but it is hardly 'cheating'.

Re:So? (1)

petermgreen (876956) | more than 5 years ago | (#28217431)

Does it really matter whether it is technically cheating or gaming?

Afaict the main point of ratings is to help students decide where they should go to university. Taking actions that improve ratings while actually making things worse for students is a very bad trend.

Cheating /and/ standards-chasing (2, Insightful)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216913)

Even if you're not going this far.... the business school at Wake Forest University a few years ago suddenly became a lot more selective and shrunk the number of people it would accept. The idea, I believe, was to increase the standings in various rankings. Of course, there were side effects of this, such as the economics department being flooded with people who didn't make it.... and it's not really good for the university as a whole, either... or "education" in the abstract.... It's going to look real good on someone's resume, though.

Typical principal-agent problem at work.

(Then there's the "omg new logo" debacle... gaak... and you guys wonder why I don't give you a $5/yr pittance to "improve your ranking" in the alumni-willing-to-give category)...

Re:Cheating /and/ standards-chasing (1)

jsight (8987) | more than 5 years ago | (#28217511)

Even if you're not going this far.... the business school at Wake Forest University a few years ago suddenly became a lot more selective and shrunk the number of people it would accept.

I was once bumped from an elective for being 2 credits short of a requirement. I was told by the dean that there was no way around it. I never had another chance to take the course.

It was good for their certification compliance, but bad for me as a student (and, really, it was bad for the school as well). I came to hate these types of shenanigans.

Oh, and other dirty tactics (1)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 5 years ago | (#28217601)

I just remembered this one; rumour has it that the WFU Business School hired anyone who couldn't get a job last year so they could put out some BS about how all their graduates got jobs even in These Turbulent Economic Times (tm).

Re:Oh, and other dirty tactics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28218059)

I got reamed by getting a PhD from a school that doesn't gives a fuck about whether their PhDs get a job.

Re:Cheating /and/ standards-chasing (1)

reub2000 (705806) | more than 5 years ago | (#28218197)

I go to Columbia College, a school with an open admissions policy. During my first year there, I had some classmates that weren't the most dedicated. Once I started taking 2000 level courses sophomore year, I noticed that quality of my classmates got better. So the students who didn't belong there got weeded out anyways, while the college made money off of them. The open admissions policy gives students who didn't do so well in high school a second chance, while providing the college with extra money.

And...? (3, Insightful)

TD-Linux (1295697) | more than 5 years ago | (#28215893)

How is this surprising? It's difficult to fact-check a lot of this stuff, simply because there is no uniform way to measure it. It's like contrast ratio and response time for LCDs. Does anyone actually base their college choice on these rankings, anyway?

Re:And...? (5, Funny)

Eternauta3k (680157) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216127)

It's like contrast ratio and response time for LCDs. Does anyone actually base their college choice on these rankings, anyway?

Why, I chose the college with the fastest LCDs, something wrong with that?

Re:And...? (1)

pablodiazgutierrez (756813) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216419)

Actually, I chose my HDTV based on contrast ratio and response time. It's supposed to help with high speed scenes, like sports.

Re:And...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28216445)

You got ripped off.

Re:And...? (2, Funny)

iggymanz (596061) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216821)

I chose mine for realistic flesh tones, it's supposed to help with high intensity scenes, like ......er, certain sports.

Re:And...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28217503)

That's the very point of the grand-parent. That manufacturers make up bullshit claims about contrast ratio, etc. So you *shouldn't* rely on those numbers to pick a TV like you shouldn't rely on US news to pick a college.

Re:And...? (1)

toddestan (632714) | more than 5 years ago | (#28218127)

You do realize that numbers like contrast ratio and response time have been gamed so heavily by the manufacturers that they are completely useless at this point? Kind of like college rankings, actually.

SHOCKED (2, Funny)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 5 years ago | (#28215905)

I am SHOCKED that anything unethical would go on in academia, especially with regards to admissions and maintaining image.

Surely this is all bullshit and academia is focused on teaching students, not patting themselves on the back and striving for U-peen and the subsequent moneys.

Re:SHOCKED (-1, Troll)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216015)

Wait a sec, they actually teach you something at your universities?

Wow, the US unis are better than their rep.

Re:SHOCKED (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28217817)

lol, college
--
Dr. Congressman Ron Paul MD is my new Dad! Fuck you, regular dad!

Same thing happens with Law Schools (5, Informative)

dank zappingly (975064) | more than 5 years ago | (#28215925)

This year USNews decided to count night programs where many law schools hid their most unqualified(by USNews standards) students. Most bit the bullet and took the hit in their rankings. Brooklyn Law pretended their night program didn't exist,which is why it isn't listed in the part-time section.

If there is a way to monkey with the rankings, schools will do it. USNews rankings are taken seriously enough where they should really improve their methodology so that it is at least more difficult to cheat.

Re:Same thing happens with Law Schools (4, Interesting)

timothy (36799) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216379)

Though I haven't looked at any such numbers since before I went, I've heard from friends that Temple Law dropped in the ratings this year. There were other factors, too (long-time Dean retired, respected writing teacher lured away), but I suspect this is a big one. Temple has a big night program, though (whatever the opinion of the US News people) I would say they tend to the most notably ambitious and seemingly no dumber than we day students :) Most of them, after all, are working full time jobs at the same time, often in pretty challenging fields. I was a TA for some night students in my final year, and I was constantly amazed at the drive -- some of them are full-time parents *and* engineers *and* (by the way) law students. I was far too lazy for that :)

timothy

Re:Same thing happens with Law Schools (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28217119)

I can vouch for this at the community college level too. And some of those to boot were doing a State/University degree, and doing nights at the Community college for additional out-of-field education.

Re:Same thing happens with Law Schools (3, Interesting)

elashish14 (1302231) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216385)

Another trick that universities use to inflate their rankings is to give free applications to students that will never get in. Artificially increase the number of applications, then easily reject all of them to lower your admission rate.

Schools == Business (4, Insightful)

Niris (1443675) | more than 5 years ago | (#28215935)

Simply comes back down to schools are a business, even the ones that get funding from their State. Higher rankings means more attending students, and the ability to raise their prices and get more money. Plus there's the application processing fees, registration fees, and all the other fun BS. Who wouldn't expect them to bullshit their information to get more people to apply?

Re:Schools == Business (3, Interesting)

dank zappingly (975064) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216161)

Exactly. I did a case study on this when I was in college. Basically NYU is really savvy and throws all their money at things that are cheap and produce high-earning grads(Law, business, economics) while ignoring or underfunding more expensive fields that don't produce high-earners(relative to cost). It makes sense for a school that doesn't have a huge endowment like the big ivies, but at the same time, it creates an incentive for schools to ignore fields that don't produce high-earners(philosophy, history, english) or are very costly to maintain(physics, biology, nanotech, etc.)

Re:Schools == Business (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28216991)

There probably is an incentive to graduate high-earners, but schools going the other way can find bragging rights in number of alumni with doctorates or Nobel Laureates or Macarthur Fellows or things like that. It's not nearly as directly linked to increased alumni giving, but it does add to demand for the school and my alma mater has done fine using that technique among others.

Re:Schools == Business (1, Flamebait)

nomadic (141991) | more than 5 years ago | (#28217115)

Well it's not like the high earners automatically benefit NYU. A lot of those high earners rack up a huge amount of loans. And I think a lot of schools use law and business schools to subsidize other departments, which I think is shady as hell.

Of course, where NYU DOES gets its money from attracting a tremendous number of wealthy, white, suburban kids who want to live the "New York lifestyle." The kinds of kids who get plenty of money from their parents for living expenses but still dress like street people and play their guitar (badly) in the subway for spare change while they major in studio art or film.

Re:Schools == Business (2, Interesting)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 5 years ago | (#28218905)

However NYU does do very well with fundraising. It also doesn't hurt that their undergraduate tuition is obscenely expensive (more than double what I pay).

My college, on the other hand, graduates huge numbers of peace corps volunteers, teachers, and professors, and is (barely) funded by the state.

Naturally, we take a big hit on US News' endowment rankings, which allegedly hold an enormous weight on the overall ranking. However, although a few of our buildings could use a fresh coat of paint, we seem to do just fine without a 2.5billion endowment.

(I shouldn't knock NYU too much. Their Law and Business programs are indeed among the top of their fields, as the GP indicated. Their fine/performing arts program is also top-notch, and certainly doesn't produce many (any?) high-earners (although I do suppose such a program might attract a certain kind of high-rolling donor, if we're going to be throwing uninformed accusations around). Arts & Sciences at NYU, however, do tend to be generally unremarkable compared to the "flagship" programs, and certainly not worth $60 Grand a year)

Re:Schools == Business (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216215)

Higher rankings means more attending students

Not really. Higher rankings just means that the students they have tend to be better, which in turn feeds into higher rankings, etc.

Almost every college in the country is operating at full (or even over full) attendance capacity.

But, you're right that it's about money.

Re:Schools == Business (2, Insightful)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216271)

I don't think it's really true that schools are a business (except private, for profit ones) but if they were that would be a good thing. Don't forget that schools compete for students not just by lying to get a higher ranking, but also by trying to obtain a higher ranking through legitimate means, better teaching staff, better facilities, better services etc. If anything, this story reflects a problem with a particular ranking system, not with competition between schools in principle.

Re:Schools == Business (1)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216381)

Or in the case of California, even the ones that don't get funding from their State.

It explains a lot (1)

docbrody (1159409) | more than 5 years ago | (#28215959)

I've always wondered about these rankings. If you get into Harvard, aren't you pretty much going to go there, regardless of whether it is 1st, 2nd or 15th on the school rankings. And doesn't the same go with most Ivy League schools, as well as schools like Stanford, MIT, and a few others.

And by extension, it seems likely that these schools get the lions share of the best applicants... again, regardless of their rankings that year. And on top of that, aren't all the best professors trying to get jobs at these schools?

Maybe these rankings are more helpful to deciding where to go to school once you get past the top 20 schools, but based on this news I doubt it.

Re:It explains a lot (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216031)

If you get into Harvard, aren't you pretty much going to go there, regardless of whether it is 1st, 2nd or 15th on the school rankings. And doesn't the same go with most Ivy League schools, as well as schools like Stanford, MIT, and a few others.

I've certainly known people to apply to more than one school on that list (and get into more than one), so, no, it is not the case that if you get in, you are going to go. Further, rankings could inform where people apply, in the first place, before consdiering whether or not they get in.

Of course, I would hope that anyone applying to any top-rank university (other than, perhaps, legacies; and they wouldn't be applying based on rankings, either) would be savvy enough to not to give much weight, if any, to the USN&WR rankings.

Re:It explains a lot (1)

docbrody (1159409) | more than 5 years ago | (#28217973)

I've certainly known people to apply to more than one school on that list (and get into more than one), so, no, it is not the case that if you get in, you are going to go.

I guess the underlying assumption I made is that Harvard is automatically #1 no matter what, even compared to the other Ivy League and top tier schools. None-the-less, more often than not Harvard is not ranked #1. (oh and sorry to the guy from Yale who replied down below ;)

And for the rest of the "top" schools, if you get into more than one, you still probably won't look at the rankings.

Re:It explains a lot (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216051)

Sure, but you go to Harvard because it has a good rep. The IL schools have a good rep because they give you good education.

What? Fuck education, good connections is what counts? Sure, you get that too (or, depending on how cynic you are, just that, but after all that's what counts), but why? Because the "important" people go there and thus you get to meet important people there. And they go there because the IL schools have a good rep.

See the cycle?

They have the best applicants because they have the best rep, thus they have the best graduates, thus they attract good people... now, if they suddenly get ranked down, who'd want to go there if he has free choice of schools because every school wants them?

Re:It explains a lot (2, Interesting)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216091)

I went to Yale so my biases may be showing but even in high school I never knew many students who paid that much attention to rankings when they were considering what schools to go to. It might make a difference if two schools were very far apart in the rankings but that was pretty much it. I And even then, that would simply be a proxy for one being a better school. Far more people cared either about the academics, the scholarships offered, and the location than anything else.

My impression is that the laws schools care a lot more about the rankings and that it influences people a lot more about where they are applying. (Not surprisingly one seems to see a lot more manipulation of the law school rankings than the undergraduate rankings). This care might be coming in part from the fact that employers such as law firms apparently care about the rankings for deciding whom to hire.

All of that said, if a ranking difference plays only a small weight on students' decisions it could still impact a lot of the students who were making knifeedge decisions about whether or not to go to a specific school.

Re:It explains a lot (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28216939)

I've always wondered about these rankings. If you get into Harvard, aren't you pretty much going to go there, regardless of whether it is 1st, 2nd or 15th on the school rankings. And doesn't the same go with most Ivy League schools, as well as schools like Stanford, MIT, and a few others.

FWIW, Harvard offered me a full ride, and Stanford and MIT couldn't wait to get their hands on me. I ended up going to a small private uni.

Granted, rankings had nothing to do with it, but your generalization there kinda annoyed me.

I hear you (1)

docbrody (1159409) | more than 5 years ago | (#28218087)

Yup, I get you. I completely understand why my generalizations would annoy some people (a lot of people). I guess you could call me cynic, but I just feel like in most cases, people care an awful lot about things like pedigree and prestige. So in real world terms, I feel like I made a pretty fair generalization.

In a perfect world, college applicants (and their parents) would think about what the right learning environment is for the student. They would look at which institution will care for and nurture intellectual and personal growth.

And we haven't even started talking about tuition costs. Ivy League is supposed to be need-blind-admission, but I know of a lot of middle class kids who get in but don't qualify for financial assistance. Those kids are in a very tricky middle ground of being neither rich enough nor poor enough to afford the school.

Common (5, Informative)

gtwrek (208688) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216029)

Back in the late 80s, Georgia Tech would have any incoming freshmen with lower high school GPAs start in the Summer quarter. This was under the auspices of giving those who were struggling, a bit more time to adjust to college curriculum before the incoming fall crush.

The interesting "side effect" was that the GPA of incoming Fall freshmen was thus higher, and the university had no trouble repeating that fact.

Re:Common (5, Insightful)

KyleTheDarkOne (1034046) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216107)

That is actually a very good idea. With getting a high school education in the South, I know that many high schools do not properly prepare students for college and with summer classes generally being a bit easier it makes sense for lower GPA students to be transitioned into college without having to worry about settling in and having the full class load.

Re:Common (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28216295)

This is common practice almost everywhere. Most of these students need the extra help.

Re:Common (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28218323)

They still do this. my roommate at Tech had to go to summer session to be able to go.

Alternatives to US News ranking (4, Interesting)

GAATTC (870216) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216085)

One alternative is to bow out http://web.reed.edu/apply/news_and_articles/college_rankings.html [reed.edu] of the rankings game and take a principled stand as Reed College has done. One way of thinking about attending a fine school like this is that you "want to go to a school that isn't interested in selling out its education." Perhaps not surprisingly, US News didn't actually remove Reed from the rankings, they just ranked Reed (lower) with an incomplete data set. The other alternative could be called 'open source' ranking. The University and College Accountibility Network http://www.ucan-network.org/ [ucan-network.org] ranks colleges in a common format, has useful information, and best of all, you don't have to buy a copy of US News to get the rankings!

Playboy's Top Party Schools (3, Funny)

snsh (968808) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216095)

About 20 years ago Playboy Magazine picked MIT as one of the top ten party schools. Rumor was that Playboy called some random dude on campus who listed out all the parties happening that year, making it sound like they were all happening that weekend.

I feel badly for all those kids who chose MIT because of its top-ten Playboy ranking, only to go and find a bunch of nerds, forever regretting not going to Clemson instead.

Re:Playboy's Top Party Schools (5, Funny)

zaffir (546764) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216267)

Because kids choosing a school based on Playboy's party ranking are the kind of kids that get into MIT.

Re:Playboy's Top Party Schools (2, Funny)

ThrowAwaySociety (1351793) | more than 5 years ago | (#28218985)

Because kids choosing a school based on Playboy's party ranking are the kind of kids that get into MIT.

That was the joke, yes. Congratulations, you got it!

Re:Playboy's Top Party Schools (4, Interesting)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216277)

I feel badly for all those kids who chose MIT because of its top-ten Playboy ranking, only to go and find a bunch of nerds, forever regretting not going to Clemson instead.

I don't know if you ever visited MIT in the 80s. The parties were definitely off the hook, and the girls coming in from Wellesley, BU, BC, etc were pretty amazing.

One thing I recall from the MIT guys I knew -- those guys were overachievers at everything -- academics, sports, leadership, and of course, partying. My exposure was limited to guys like that, so I don't know if it applied to the rest of the student body... but you should have seen some of the fantastic hack-engineering used to hide kegs, jello pits, etc.

Re:Playboy's Top Party Schools (2, Insightful)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216423)

"The girls coming in from Wellesley ... were pretty amazing."

Um...

Why parent insightful? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28218237)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wellesley_College [wikipedia.org]

Wellesley College is a women's liberal arts college, in Wellesley, Massachusetts, that opened in 1875.

Re:Why parent insightful? (2, Funny)

megaditto (982598) | more than 5 years ago | (#28218569)

I think you missed a lesbo joke.

Re:Playboy's Top Party Schools (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28216797)

Like the other dude noted, girls from Wellesley didn't come for the guys, maybe except to chew their heads off.

People will game any system for maximum reward ... (2, Insightful)

bleuchez (1298201) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216103)

This brings to mind an article I read way back in Inc magazine where the author talks about how employees will figure out how game any system that rewards them.

http://www.inc.com/magazine/20081001/how-hard-could-it-be-sins-of-commissions.html [inc.com]

Clemson is just gaming the system, I imagine other schools that change quickly change their ranking probably are doing the same. Even if US News and World Report changes their ranking methodology, I guarantee that schools will simply change their tactics to beat the system agian.

No surprises here (5, Insightful)

timholman (71886) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216147)

I've been working in academia for years, and gaming of the USN&WR rankings is hardly news to us. Talk to any college administrator off the record, and he or she can rattle off the names of peer institutions that are almost certainly fudging the numbers.

The USN&WR numbers are self-reported by each university, with no verification by the USN&WR staff. With so much funding and prestige riding on the rankings, who is surprised that some schools play fast and loose with the facts?

What is unfortunate is that USN&WR has manipulated itself into the position of being the arbiter of school "quality", through no other action than being the first to create the poll. A news magazine shouldn't have that kind of influence over the entire U.S. educational system, especially when it can't even be bothered to check the numbers that it publishes.

Re:No surprises here (5, Insightful)

Lunzo (1065904) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216421)

USN&WR was just ahead of its time. Reporting without checking is all the rage these days e.g. blogging, twitter, opinion pieces and even a fair deal of what passes for quality journalism.

(I wish I wasn't joking)

doesn't sound too bad to me (1)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216187)

Mostly, it doesn't sound to me like they did anything wrong.

They raised admissions standards. They lowered the student-to-faculty ratio from 16 to 14. They raised faculty salaries (and also changed the definition of salaries to fold in benefits, which apparently is allowed by U.S. News, so it was simply a mistake not to do so previously). These are all things that you would absolutely expect a school to do if they wanted to improve their academic reputation.

They seem to have good results to show from their efforts. "[...]the retention rate of freshmen has climbed to 89 from 82 percent and the graduation rate to 78 from 72 percent."

They did increase the number of large classes at the same time that they increased the number of small classes. TFA claims this was done in a cynical effort to match up their numbers with the exact criteria used by U.S. News. Maybe so, but it's also just an ordinary thing that big state schools have been doing for a long time. When I took freshman chemistry at UC Berkeley, they had 300 students in the room, but a lot of my other classes only had 20 or 30. That's just a normal way to make the school's money go further. The fact that the over-all faculty to student ratio did improve shows that they weren't just cooking the books.

Watt said that Clemson officials, in filling out the reputational survey form for presidents, rate "all programs other than Clemson below average," to make the university look better. "And I'm confident my president is not the only one who does that," Watt said.

This one seems bad. However, she hasn't provided any evidence for her claim that it was widespread.

What really seems to upset a lot of the people quoted in the article is that they perceive Clemson as getting more elitist, which they thing is not appropriate for a land-grant university. Well, "elitist" is what you become when you join the elite.

Rankings are garbage (1)

wshwe (687657) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216317)

This proves rankings such as these are complete garbage.

Here's a way that my College cheated a ranking... (4, Interesting)

VinylRecords (1292374) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216339)

My College was always top on a list of Colleges that the highest percentage of alumni donating to the college after graduating. The rankings would score a college or university based on what percentage of alumni donated back to the school the first year after graduating.

My College found the simplest way to manipulate that index. Just have every single student who graduates donate one dollar back to the school and then find one or two students with extremely wealthy parents (this was not hard at my school) and have them donate thousands and thousands of dollars. This way the school would report absurd figures like "90 percent of students donated back to our school within the first year of graduating from our undergraduate program" and it would make the school look good and it would make the degree you just got look a little more prestigious. They never told the index that we only donated a dollar and were instructed to by some of administration.

And with the few giant donations from one or two individuals, the school could artificially say that the average donation was way higher than typical, while hiding the fact that it was offset by just one or two massive donations.

Other ways to cheat is hiring adjunct professors or part time professors under different titles like 'technician' or 'consultant'. This makes the percentage of full time faculty and professors look way higher than it actually is because the school hides its adjuncts under different titles. Another way they cheated the system was renaming classrooms as different titles. One of the rankings is how many classrooms on campuses have TVs/projectors/computers and if you hide the classrooms without those your percentages increase in your 'technology' score as well.

If I think of any more I'll them but these were the ones that came to mind immediately.

Re:Here's a way that my College cheated a ranking. (1)

droptone (798379) | more than 5 years ago | (#28218957)

And with the few giant donations from one or two individuals, the school could artificially say that the average donation was way higher than typical, while hiding the fact that it was offset by just one or two massive donations.

As a humanities major, I may be off on the math, but if you increased the number of $1 donations, then you would need increasingly large donations to increase the average since the $1 donations would drag it down (assuming they are using "average" to mean "mean" and not "median", and also you'd need a relatively small graduating class size). So the only shady thing that has been done is the $1 donations, but they should be congratulated for the increase in donations at the high end.

CLEMSON'S A COW COLLEGE!!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28216347)

GO COCKS!

Re:CLEMSON'S A COW COLLEGE!!!! (0, Offtopic)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216461)

Currently, the "Moo!" AC comment is at the top of this page, and this one is at the bottom.

I know nothing of Clemson.

I am officially intrigued.

Re:CLEMSON'S A COW COLLEGE!!!! (2, Funny)

colinrichardday (768814) | more than 5 years ago | (#28217853)

Clemson is a land grant college in a small town, hence MooCow. The "GO COCKS!" was, I suspect, contributed by a student/alumnus/alumna of The University of South Carolina, Clemson's archrival and home of the Fighting Gamecocks. As an alumnus of South Carolina, I'll kick in an extra GO COCKS!!

Re:CLEMSON'S A COW COLLEGE!!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28218995)

wait a minute... go cocks?

what does the team mascot look like?

Is anyone surprised about this? (2, Informative)

UseCase (939095) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216411)

Not to spread doom and gloom but academia has been like this for a very long time.

Colleges and universities are struggling internally. On the one hand schools have to generate revenue which requires advertisement, marketing and "looking" better than other competing schools. On the other hand the primary roles of universities and colleges in society are to increase societies overall intellect and be a lightening rod for research, learning, and understanding.

The internet offers free access to knowledge and is stealing thunder from individual academic institutions. For example, I can communicate almost instantaneously with authors, researchers and professors and get an answer in most cases. I can view lectures and get materials on most subjects. Most educators/professors have blogs and some have tweets. We are not as dependent on academia to facilitate intellectual communication as we once were.

I have compared academia in the US, especially the Ivy League schools, to the luxury car industry. The information rumored in the original post enforces the legitimacy of my comparison. I recently read an small article on luxury vs performance that kinda applies to this topic.

Luxury is about appearing better. Performance is about being better.

Re:Is anyone surprised about this? (1)

powerslave12r (1389937) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216615)

The lectures and materials, blogs and tweets of profs, they're all directly dependent on the presence of academia. If one goes, the other goes.

Re:Is anyone surprised about this? (1)

BitHive (578094) | more than 5 years ago | (#28217847)

The internet competes with a college education in the same way that porn competes with sex.

Old Fashioned Cheating (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28216729)

The way things have worked in the past and probably still do is the first step is having numerous associations that rate colleges.In some rating systems a dead cat could look better than Harvard.
            Another nifty trick is an accredited university that has some departments that are not accredited at all. Graduate engineers have been shocked to find out that their credentials carried no weight as they had graduated from an unaccredited engineering college that was part of an accredited university.
            Suspect tactics are placing weight on the SAT scores of entering students and grade averages of entering students as opposed to looking at college boards for years other than the freshman year. Placing undue weight on the quality of the school library or the investment in lab machinery and supplies is also part of the corrupt rating association game. The most likely to play such games are small private colleges with big reputations that charge a lot of money to students.

Colleges are a business, that's all (1)

pembo13 (770295) | more than 5 years ago | (#28216839)

There maybe a few good, honest educators. But overall, it's just a business.

Summary Wrong (2, Informative)

avilliers (1158273) | more than 5 years ago | (#28217079)

At no point in any of the three articles did I see anyone accused of "lying" about class sizes or professor salaries. The number of classes less than 20 people actually did increase--at least partly by bogus 'load balancing'. And the professor salaries increased, both by raising them in reality and because the old reported numbers didn't include benefits (as they should have).

I also couldn't find the source for the claim about filling out fraudulent applications, though it's possible I missed it.

None of this is to defend the ranking gaming, but the summary gives an extremely different picture than I got from the source material, which mostly is in the category of 'administering to the test'

Fraud? (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 5 years ago | (#28217083)

So, dues this constitute criminal fraud by Clemson? It sounds like it was used to like to students and their parents regarding what their tuition was getting them.

Think that's bad? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28217125)

I'm at a University in the UK. There are many students here on the MSc Computer Science scheme that can not program. Any language. At all. One of the group-work programming modules has been altered this year, so that rather than programming a solution, students can use Access / Excel / Word to produce the prototype of their 'system'. And as students might not find that easy, rather than do a presentation demo-ing their work, they can instead videotape the demo, allowing for smoke and mirrors tricks.
 
We have students with 80%+ plagiarism according to TurnItIn, and being let off with a slap on the wrist due to "cultural differences".
 
We have a Professors of Multimedia who can only code a web page when using Word 2003, and requires help opening Visual Studio solution files. We have lecturers who write down which files need to be moved to which folders, because they have yet to master drag and drop in Windows...

On the other hand, we have lecturers who are experts in their field. We have some young, highly knowledgeable and enthusiastic lecturers who know their subject inside out, yet don't for a second come across as arrogant. Who continue to be told "If we achieve less than 80% pass-rate on your module, it's your fault for not teaching the subject properly" despite the powers-that-be allowing students onto the degree who clearly have no skill with computers, whose only contribution to the School is 3x the normal annual fee.

The good lecturers get more work put upon them. The crap lecturers have told the-powers-that-be to sod off... so they are not given extra work any more. This gives them more time for leisure, recreation, and outside pursuits.
 
Sorry to rant... but for all the crap, I do love my University. I just wish the Executive, the Dean, the Associate Deans, and the Senior Lecturers cared enough to do something about it.

They don't.

Re:Think that's bad? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28218193)

We have deadwood in academia in the US, too The deadwood tenured professors need to be fired so that the new smart PhDs don't have to be unemployed for 6 months before leaving academia for some not terribly high pay industry job.

Is the USNews Model good? (3, Interesting)

mcleland (620018) | more than 5 years ago | (#28217421)

If the US News & World Report model actually captures good things about a university, then what's wrong with attempting to match that model?

That a university tries to match what it considers a good model shouldn't be surprising. The validity of the model may be questioned. The methods to match the institution to that model may be questioned. But I don't see how attempting to get better under some model they consider good (by whatever criteria they pick) is bad.

I don't know enough about it to know if the USNews model is any good - maybe, maybe not. But I know that institutions I'm generally familiar with land about where I might expect in the rankings. Ivy leagues on top, small underfunded state colleges much lower.

Now, the claim that Clemson administrators purposefully rank other universities lower, that's a different matter. That is the most troubling claim to me in the whole bit. That action is highly unethical and I would be sorry to find out that it is true of Clemson, or anywhere for that matter.

Its Clemson... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28217543)

Cheating is in their blood...

(I kid, I kid... maybe :) )

Hmmmmm..... (1)

IHC Navistar (967161) | more than 5 years ago | (#28217629)

Just out of curiosity, I have to ask:

Did the 'Disgruntled Staffer" happen to work in the mailroom?

Rankings are just opinions in disguise (4, Insightful)

dpbsmith (263124) | more than 5 years ago | (#28218161)

Mel Elfin pretty much let the cat out of the bag. When asked how he knew that the U. S. News and World Report rankings were sound, he answered [wikipedia.org] that he knew it because Harvard, Yale, and Princeton always landed on top.

In other words, the rankings are simply a way to give the trappings of science and objectivity to a system whose purpose is merely to reaffirm the conventional wisdom.

Not all schools (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28218411)

One of the reasons Reed College, of Portland, Oregon, decided to stop participating the various ranking systems available. I'm surprised more student bodies don't protest at their own school to shame em into quitting this arbitrary popularity system.

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