Why Do Colleges and Universities Report False Data About Their Programs?
The Name of the Game is to Get Higher Rankings
A lawsuit charges that Rutgers Business School sought to improve its rankings by creating bogus temporary jobs for graduating MBA students. This isn’t the first time a major university played games with its statistics to make them look better in the college rankings.
In July 2018, we learned that Temple University intentionally submitted doctored data to US News & World Report for its online MBA program and five other programs to raise their ranking. The university gave false information about standardized testing, student debt, grade point averages of admitted students, student-faculty ratios and more. In 2011, Iona College in New Rochelle, north of New York City, acknowledged that its employees had lied for years not only about test scores, but also about graduation rates, freshman retention, student-faculty ratio, acceptance rates and alumni giving. Claremont McKenna College, a small, prestigious California school, admitted in 2012 that it had submitted false SAT scores for years to publications such as U.S. News & World Report.
I have blogged before about Temple University’s fudging the numbers to make it look like the University was “better” than it really was. In July 2018, we learned that Temple University intentionally submitted doctored data to US News & World Report for its online MBA program and five other programs to raise their ranking. The university gave false information about standardized testing, student debt, grade point averages of admitted students, student-faculty ratios and more.
If you still need convincing that these ranking are worthless, on January 7, 2019 it was announced that Temple University settled a class action lawsuit from students who were outraged to learn that the business school’s top ranking for its online MBA program by U.S. News was based on false data. The university paid $4 million to those who were students in that program and several other master’s degrees for false and misleading information.
According to New Jersey publication, Rutgers proclaims, on its website, its No. 1 ranking this year by Bloomberg Businessweek as the top Public Business School in the Northeast. Fortune bestowed a similar honor in 2021. And U.S. News & World Report rated its MBA program among the top ten for Best Overall Employment Outcomes in the U.S., as well as No. 12 for its Supply Chain Management MBA program.
But in a whistleblower lawsuit filed last Friday, a Rutgers administrator charged that the university fraudulently burnished those national rankings by creating bogus jobs to show the success its business school graduates had in finding employment.
The lawsuit by Deidre White, the business school’s human resources manager, alleged the program used a temp agency to hire unemployed MBA students, placing them into sham positions at the university itself — for no other reason than to make it appear like a greater number of graduates were getting full-time jobs after getting their Rutgers diplomas.
“The fraud worked,” wrote White’s attorney. In the very first year of the scheme, they said Rutgers was suddenly propelled to, among other things the 'No. 1" business school in the Northeast. You mean, better than the Ivy League schools!
The university, in a statement, said as a matter of policy it would not comment on the specifics of the litigation.
“We will say without equivocation, however, that we take seriously our obligation to accurately report data and other information to ranking and reporting agencies,” the university said. “The Rutgers Business School strictly follows the MBA Career Services & Employer Alliance guidelines in submitting MBA statistics and similarly follows the appropriate guidelines in submitting undergraduate statistics.”
By going through an outside temp agency, White’s lawsuit claimed the university was able to circumvent restrictions in the ranking systems that do not allow universities to count internal hires for purposes of their employment statistics.
White, 54, who alleged she was the subject of retaliation over health and other issues aimed at forcing her resignation or termination, said the university used more than $400,000 of its endowment to fund the fake positions and to pay what she called “kickbacks” to the employment agency.
Such a scheme, if true, may lead to criminal charges because fraud is involved.
Let’s look at the ranking criteria used by U.S. News & World Report.
- Graduation Rates (35%).This is for a six-year period. Why six years? What ever happened to four years? Maybe the six-year graduates worked during their college years, so it took six years.
- Faculty Resources (20%). This looks at class size, faculty salary, faculty with the highest degrees in their fields, and student-faculty ratio It also includes the proportion of faculty who are full-time.
- Expert Opinion (20%). Supposedly, this is from “top academics.” I consider myself a top academic; no one asked me. Enough said.
- Financial Resources (10%). A definite benefit for rich institutions.
- Student Excellence (10%). A new part of this ranking is “social-mobility indicators,” Don’t ask.
- Alumni Giving (5%). See my comments in items 2 and 4.
The primary ethical issues are honesty, integrity, and accountability. With respect to honesty, we need to look at two things: Did Rutgers knowingly lie about its statistics? The answer is clearly ‘yes.’ Second, did the University fail to disclose all the information the public had a right to know about successes at the University? Here again, the answer appears to be a resounding ‘yes.’
Rutgers has compromised its integrity by reporting false data. Integrity means to be principled and have the courage of your convictions. We might say that the whistleblower, Diedre White, epitomizes integrity. She put her job on the line to do the right thing.
As for accountability, Rutgers should be held accountable for its falsehoods, assuming that is the case, just as had happened to Temple University.
Having taught in colleges and universities for forty years, I, too, have come across instances where data had been falsified to achieve a higher ranking in one publication or another. The most common example is lying about job placement rates, a key statistic to students who might apply to the institution for a B.S. or master’s degree. Who wouldn’t want to go to a university where their chances of getting a job are greater than other universities?
I have also found that sometimes universities do not accurately report survey results of graduates about their post-graduation job and/or satisfaction with the degree program from which they graduated.
One way to ameliorate the problem with falsified data is to have the accreditation organizations, like the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), to examine the data in detail during their accreditation visits. It’s less likely that a university would lie when reporting such data if they knew there was a possibility that the accrediting organization would find it and pull the accreditation that might otherwise been received.
Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on April 13, 2022. Steve is the author of an accounting ethics textbook, Ethical and Professional Obligations and Decision Making in Accounting: Text and Cases, 6th edition. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.