Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Updates and Random Observations


Bucknell has become the fifth prominent institution in the past year to admit to reporting inaccurate admissions statistics.  On Friday President John Bravman sent a letter to the campus community announcing that between 2006 and 2012 Bucknell had reported mean SAT scores that were 7-25 points higher than the actual figures.

The score discrepancy is due to the fact that in each of those years Bucknell omitted the scores of between 13 and 47 (32 on average) students in calculating the SAT mean.  President Bravman stated that the students whose scores were omitted from the calculation did not come from any single cohort such as athletes, legacies, underrepresented populations, or development cases, but most (not all) had lower scores than the institutional average.  They are apparently examples of what used to be referred to as NIPS (Not In Profile Students), defined as students admitted in spite of their credentials and therefore outside the normal profile.  I remember attending a NACAC Conference session a number of years ago where Ann Wright from the University of Rochester (later at Rice) did a tongue-in-cheek presentation showing how easy it is for an institution to raise its SAT average up to 80 points by omitting various cohorts of NIPS.

I have written about this issue with regard to other institutions, and am frankly tired of talking about it, but a couple of quick thoughts.  As with previous cases, the falsification is being blamed on a rogue senior admissions official acting alone, raising the question about whether there is an epidemic of the moral equivalent of Alzheimer’s spreading through our profession.  I also find it interesting that all the institutions involved in misrepresenting statistics (Claremont McKenna, Emory, George Washington, Tulane, and now Bucknell) are places I think of as first-rate, although not atop the rankings pecking order.  All have impressive programs and impressive student bodies and should be comfortable and secure in their images.  Do those kinds of places face unique pressures that lead to this behavior? And are there more out there?

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On a related note, U.S. News and World Report has moved Tulane’s MBA program to the Unranked category as a result of misreporting or GMAT scores.  U.S. News had earlier moved GW’s undergraduate program to Unranked.  The optimist in me would like to believe that this is the first move in carrying out my suggestion that all institutions be Unranked by U.S. News.  The realist in me says not to get my hopes up.

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What do the U.S. News college rankings have in common with the flu?  (If you’re looking for metaphorical wisdom you’ll be disappointed.)  Several weeks ago in the car I tuned into NPR’s “All Things Considered” in the middle of a news story.  The first thing I heard was “it changes its structure slightly each year,” and perhaps reflecting the fact that I spend too much time thinking about college admissions issues, my first thought was that it was a story about the U.S. News rankings.  Turns out that what changes its structure slightly each year is the flu—just like the rankings.   If only there was a shot one could take to be immune from the rankings bug.

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Are high school students on television dramas unusually brilliant?  Last week I watched the season finale of Parenthood.  Amid cliffhanger storylines about Monica Potter’s cancer and whether Lauren Graham will move to Minnesota with Ray Romano was a minor storyline about Lauren Graham’s son getting into college.  He logs on to his computer and learns that he has been admitted to Cal-Berkeley.  Later in the episode he learns that his girlfriend is going to Tufts.  Why is it that characters on television almost always attend colleges high in the U.S. News rankings, and how is the college admissions process portrayed? That isn’t necessarily an ethical issue per se, but I worry about the messages sent about college admission by the news media, and I worry even more about the messages sent by the entertainment industry.    

2 comments:

  1. Do you suppose that the colleges and universities whose names are mentioned in TV Shows and Movies are paying for "product placement?" Or are writers just proud of their alma maters?

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