Can You Trust The College Stats?

Library-Tablet-Charts-Statistics

This afternoon I was reading a blog by Jon Marcus (“In new age of college transparency, who’ s checking the facts?) and was shocked by the number of major universities that are inflating their “college stats” to keep the applications rolling in—and, of course, to maintain their all important U. S. News rankings.

Whether it’s average student loan debt, graduate employment rates, or average ACT or SAT scores, it appears that a lot of schools are “cooking-the-books.”  What really stunned me most, however, were the big names involved in this deception.

This looks like it could be just the tip of the iceberg in a national higher education scandal.

For starters, I learned that our own University of Illinois and 15 other law schools were caught providing false numbers to the American Bar Association which accredits law schools.  They were all sued by the ABA for their fraudulent actions.

But the list goes on. Admissions officers at Bucknell, Claremont McKenna, Tulane, Emory, and George Washington (all among our top nationally ranked universities) were also caught red-handed gaming the system.

Though admissions officers at the above universities were indeed committing   fraudulent actions, some colleges have found other ways to game the system without getting themselves into trouble.

A good example, reported by the Wall Street Journal this month, are the employment stats that Iona College is advertising on it’s web site—that 93% of graduates have landed jobs or entered grad school within six months after graduation.

Very impressive, wouldn’t you agree?

What’s interesting is what Iona’s web site did not say—that those results were based on a response from only 17% of its class of 2011.  A sufficient sample?  Hardly, say the experts.  Besides, they point out,  students with good news to report are the most likely to respond to these types of surveys.

Most of the families we work with have been giving our team  glowing reports on their college visits, often commenting on how impressed they were with the information they were getting on the employment and graduation rates at many of their top choice schools. I can only hope the information they received was accurate.

Most of us want to believe that we can trust the accuracy and integrity in the numbers reported by our colleges and universities. Now I’m not so sure.

Perhaps it’s time we insist on a system that audits those numbers!