Last week, the conclusion of a three-month investigation conducted by Emory University revealed that the university’s Office of Institutional Research was misreporting its SAT and ACT scores to surveys and university ranking organizations such as U.S. News and World Report.
Emory had been reporting the scores of its admitted students in place of the scores of its enrolled students since as early as the year 2000, according to University records. In a series of frequently asked questions posted on its website, Emory University acknowledged that it is uncertain how the false data may have aided its rankings or how these rankings might change as a result of this realization.
While it declined to release the names of the employees involved in the incident, the University did note that those involved no longer worked at Emory.
Although Emory was not the first university, and certainly not the last, to misrepresent student performance statistics in the name of improving its standing amongst its peers, the actions were a breach of the bond of trust between the school’s administrations and its students.
The incident has left a black mark on Emory’s esteemed reputation and calls into question any other statistic that the university might have reported in the past.
While Emory’s practice of misreporting SAT/ACT data speaks poorly of the university itself, it also speaks to the competitive, cutthroat nature of the college admissions process and the unreliable system of college rankings that has grown around it. As the importance of having a college education – the best college education – continues to grow in society, so too grow the incentives that inspire academic institutions to misreport statistics so that they might benefit from an improved ranking. Furthermore, as the importance of rankings and statistics – be it real or perceived – continues to grow as well, the college admissions process becomes more focused on numbers. Attending the highest ranked university becomes more important than what really matters: going somewhere that will best serve our individual needs.
At its core, this incident is a question of consumer value. Put simply, it is more valuable to the applicant to attend a better-ranked university. To misreport statistics in the name of skewing the rankings is to devalue the investment that students are making when they attend Emory University – or any university for that matter.
The problem in this situation is that the rankings that drive applications to universities are not an accurate indication of the kind of return the student will enjoy on his or her enrollment. The SAT/ACT scores of a university’s students are not in any way related to the most important return on an investment in college education – the education itself. They say nothing of the quality of the professors, of the atmosphere on campus, or even of the kind of students that attend said university – except that they probably scored well on the SAT or ACT.
SAT/ACT profile is only one of several criteria used to rank colleges and universities, but it seems that the true problem lies in a system of rankings that seeks only to report readily quantifiable data instead of attempting to report and rank those more qualitative characteristics of a university. It’s the certain je ne sais quoi of a university that, ultimately, speaks to the degree of success – be it academic, social or otherwise – that a student will enjoy.
Isn’t that what’s most important, anyway? Admissions officers and college counselors alike talk about “that feeling” – the feeling a person gets when they’ve found the school that’s exactly right for them. It’s hard for a prospective student to understand a zeitgeist of a campus simply by reading a magazine article about it.
In the end, it doesn’t appear that this incident will negatively impact Emory any more than it already has. The school’s reputation has been tarnished mildly and will require a few years of good behavior to restore to its former glow, but the essential character of the university hasn’t changed. Its students are still hard working, high achieving and deeply involved in campus life. The facilities are still beautiful, and the professors are still some of the world’s best.
Emory is more than just “Number 20” – it’s a school full of people seeking to understand themselves and to learn more about the world around them. While there is no excuse for the lack of integrity exhibited by those employees responsible for misreporting Emory’s SAT/ACT data, it will take far more than tampering with statistics to ruin the Emory experience.
As for the issue of the college ranking system, I challenge Emory’s administration to examine the possibility of not reporting to ranking organizations at all. Emory has always been a leader amongst its peers, and it is time once again for it to claim that position.
Application issues aside, it is hard to believe that not appearing in a magazine will be of any detriment to the campus community and environment. If Emory is truly a liberal arts institution, it should take pride and derive satisfaction from success in its own right, instead of success with respect to its peer institutions.
Asst. Editorials Editor Nicholas Bradley is a College sophomore from Skillman, N.J.