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Education The Almighty Buck

Clemson Staffer Outlines College Rankings Manipulation 163

Posted by timothy
from the all-tiery-eyed dept.
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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Clemson Staffer Outlines College Rankings Manipulation

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  • Raise your hand (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Romancer (19668) <`moc.roodshtaed' `ta' `recnamor'> on Thursday June 04, 2009 @06:24PM (#28215877) Journal

    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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sortius_nod (1080919)

      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 (Score:5, Informative)

        by sadler121 (735320) <msadler@gmail.com> on Thursday June 04, 2009 @08:34PM (#28217137) Homepage

        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 (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Bjorn_Redtail (848817) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @09:35PM (#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.
          • Another reason the "if education was free" idea would not work is because now, instead of trying to convince millions of potential students to come to XYZ College, the administrators would just hand a million-dollar bribe to a powerful politician, and thereby get more money from the government next year. Basically the same type of corruption that exists in K-12 schools would now be part of the university system too, but on a larger scale.

            The BEST solution is to leave things the way they are now, with a fre

        • by Golddess (1361003)
          I think GP was referring to "free as in speech" (anyone can get an education regardless of income), not "free as in beer". Although the confusion is understandable as we are talking about reducing tuition to zero.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        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.

        That's how it used to be in the European systems. Since the Bologne Agreement, things have been set upside down. All the schools look to be trying to do the same things, poorly, and the curriculum appears largely dictated by external, short-term interests. Funding is no longer a block, it's per student with a bonus for each graduate. So god help the poor teacher that decides to flunk a student. The administrators won't allow that, it would reduce funding. Per student also means quantity over quality.

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

    • 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 transferr

      • by Quothz (683368)

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

        Given your extraordinarily poor grammar, I find that hard to believe.

        • We uns engneers been being paid to code C and draw schematics, not public speaking-like people or writers of papers.

          • by Quothz (683368)

            We uns engneers been being paid to code C and draw schematics, not public speaking-like people or writers of papers.

            It's fairly difficult to get into a top engineering school without excellent grades from high school. You also need to maintain a certain GPA across the board to avoid suspension. Folks I've worked with who graduated from Cal Tech and New Mexico Tech had excellent communication skills.

            The post's grammar did not demonstrate even an eighth-grade level; it was far below standards even for someone whose primary language is not English. Therefore, I don't believe his or her claim of graduation from a top-tier

            • I can believe him. Maybe it was a top-tier regional college. I went to one of those and the engineering program was a joke, as I discovered once I transferred to Penn State's main campus and experienced a real engineering college. And yet that small college is still consistently ranked near the top by USA Today.

              Whatever.

              The workworld's all politics anyway. Name recognition matters most - if the HR person never heard of your small school, then she'll just toss it aside. Fortunately for me everyone's he

        • by dkleinsc (563838)

          While I can't speak for the GP, I do know that my sister went to a certain prestigious university in Cambridge, MA. She reported that students were instructed to call the campus police if they ever ended up in trouble with the city police. And the city police knew this, so they would often make the call for the students.

          What that meant, of course, was that students at that particular university might have to deal with college sanctions, but were effectively immune to prosecution for anything less than a fel

          • College campus police are funny.

            I recently visited my old school, and after eating supper in their cafeteria I sat down to watch some MTV and Drew Carey reruns. While sitting there a security woman came-up behind me and demanded my drivers license. I asked "why's that" and she said several students called about a strange man. Now I wasn't peeking into dorms or other nefarious activity - I was in the same public building as the cafeteria, post office, bookstore, et cetera.

            Anyway I told the woman "no" but

  • by Tigersmind (1549183) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @06:25PM (#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

    • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday June 04, 2009 @07:00PM (#28216275) Homepage Journal

      How do I reach these keeeeds?

    • by Zordak (123132)

      In other news... water is wet!

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

    • by smaddox (928261) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @09:11PM (#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.

      • by BitHive (578094) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @10:31PM (#28217787) Homepage
        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.
      • by bogjobber (880402) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @11:49PM (#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.
        • by IorDMUX (870522)

          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.

          I agree fully. I attended Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Despite receiving some ~80% of the federal research money that flows into Ohio (even competing with places like OSU, which has ten times as many students), our engineering programs have been slipping in US News &c's rankings.

          Why?

          Well, one of the categories that figures in to the rankings is first-year retention rate. In other universities in Ohio (such as OSU) freshmen spend the first year on general education requirement

      • by bzipitidoo (647217) <bzipitidoo@yahoo.com> on Friday June 05, 2009 @03:21AM (#28219261) Journal

        Educating students about RL might do it. Get everyone to understand that for any skill that's difficult to measure, you actually don't want the number 1 lawyer, realtor, doctor, dentist, plumber, etc. You want someone who has a good reputation, but no more than that.

        Whoever clawed their way to number 1 has very likely put more expertize into gaming the system than doing a professional job. While dazzling you with that number 1 rating, they will take shortcuts at your expense, and they will recklessly hustle you through their system as fast and cheaply as they can. If you complain, they will be ready to squelch that too. A useful contact at the BBB, a little bit of working that system too, and all record of your complaints will end up in the shredder. One acquaintance of mine retained the "best" lawyer in the metroplex for his nasty divorce, and was talking almost gleefully about how his ex was going to be squashed in court. Then he found out why that lawyer was the "best". The lawyer instructed him to lie in court. When he would not, the lawyer dropped him.

        After a little preparation on what to expect, send students to at least 2 very different "big money" tournaments. It's one thing to hear about it, quite another to be the victim of cheating. It won't matter what-- chess, baseball, poker, pool, any kind of racing, whatever. All that matters is that there are big prizes. More participants than usual are sure to have a cork bat, marked cards, things up their sleeves, tricks, co-conspirators, a fix.

        There's little else that can be done, and maybe only so much that should be done. Cheating and deceit is a fact of life. Biology abounds with examples-- parasites and mimics and sneaks, like the cow bird, the king snake, the blue-throated lizard. The incentive for such sharp competition can be reduced, maybe. Systems can be improved so they are less gameable. The goal isn't perfection, it's just to make the effort of cheating and the chances of pulling it off more and worse than honest training and honest victory. It's like the 2 campers being chased by a bear. You don't have to be faster than the bear, you just have to be faster than the other camper. And finally, don't go out of the way to play games that lend themselves to cheating. Perhaps the most surprising thing about all this is that US News has somehow managed to make their rankings so valuable, gotten so many to believe in it, that the schools are willing to get down and dirty over it.

    • by Ihmhi (1206036)

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

  • So? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DragonDru (984185) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @06:25PM (#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? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Jurily (900488) <jurily@NoSpAM.gmail.com> on Thursday June 04, 2009 @06:36PM (#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? (Score:5, Informative)

        by yali (209015) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @10:35PM (#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.

        • by yali (209015)

          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: (Score:3, Informative)

      by gurps_npc (621217)
      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 b

      • 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.

        • by gurps_npc (621217)
          But they did not do things that made it worse for students. They did things that made it better. Now, there is a good argument that their improvements have had an excessive affect on their ratings because they ONLY improved the things the ratings affect. It's kind of like hearing that figuring out that your teacher only glances at the middle of your paper, so spending 3 hours on the first page, 3 hours on the last page and 1 hour on the middle 5 pages. Not the best way to write a good paper, but at lea
          • But they did not do things that made it worse for students
            Denying students access to less full classes and pushing them into fuller ones definately sounds like making things worse for students to me.

    • 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 goo

      • by jsight (8987)

        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 th

      • 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).

  • And...? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TD-Linux (1295697) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @06:25PM (#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...? (Score:5, Funny)

      by Eternauta3k (680157) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @06:46PM (#28216127) Homepage Journal

      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?

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

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by iggymanz (596061)
        I chose mine for realistic flesh tones, it's supposed to help with high intensity scenes, like ......er, certain sports.
        • by PachmanP (881352)
          I dunno the subtle neon orange of poor flesh tones helps to mask the...er, problems with the uniforms.
      • by toddestan (632714)

        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.

        • Well, I take them with a grain of salt, but I assume everyone does their tricks. If they all look the same to me at the store, they have the same price (within $1, interestingly), and have equally valid brand reputation (at least for this uninformed consumer), I loot at the cold, misleading, cooked numbers for the final tip.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dkleinsc (563838)

      Does anyone actually base their college choice on these rankings, anyway?

      Yes. That's the really scary part: rather than actually research colleges a significant number of potential students and parents go through the list starting at the top. Others will basically apply to as many schools as they possibly can (which is getting easier to do) and go with the top-ranked school that accepts them.

  • SHOCKED (Score:3, Funny)

    by sexconker (1179573) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @06:26PM (#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.

  • by dank zappingly (975064) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @06:28PM (#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.

    • by timothy (36799) Works for Slashdot on Thursday June 04, 2009 @07:13PM (#28216379) Homepage Journal

      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

    • by elashish14 (1302231) <profcalc4NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday June 04, 2009 @07:13PM (#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.

  • by Niris (1443675) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @06:29PM (#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?
    • by dank zappingly (975064) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @06:50PM (#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.)
      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 04, 2009 @08:16PM (#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: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by nomadic (141991)
        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 p
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by moosesocks (264553)

          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

    • 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by clarkkent09 (1104833) *
      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.
    • Or in the case of California, even the ones that don't get funding from their State.

  • Common (Score:5, Informative)

    by gtwrek (208688) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @06:37PM (#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 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by KyleTheDarkOne (1034046) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @06:45PM (#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.
  • by GAATTC (870216) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @06:43PM (#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!
  • by snsh (968808) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @06:44PM (#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.

    • by zaffir (546764) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @07:00PM (#28216267)

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

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        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!

    • by Red Flayer (890720) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @07:00PM (#28216277) Journal

      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.

  • 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 bea
  • No surprises here (Score:5, Insightful)

    by timholman (71886) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @06:49PM (#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.

  • 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 t

  • by VinylRecords (1292374) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @07:07PM (#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.

    • by droptone (798379)

      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", an

  • 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

    • by BitHive (578094)
      The internet competes with a college education in the same way that porn competes with sex.
  • There maybe a few good, honest educators. But overall, it's just a business.

  • Summary Wrong (Score:2, Informative)

    by avilliers (1158273)

    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 t

  • 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? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    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.

    • Oh! To visit Cambridge once a-gain!

    • Sounds about normal. My favourite quote from one of my students, complaining about my teaching was:

      I'm paying £3,000 a year for this degree, I don't expect to be told to read something in a book!

      When you give hand-out notes containing enough example code that your students can get a passing grade by just copying it, and half of them still manage to fail, you wonder how they are passing the other classes. It makes me glad I'm not teaching anymore. Want to improve the academic standard in the UK? Let lecturers fail students who deserve it and stop using drop-out rate as a purely-negative indicator i

  • by mcleland (620018) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @09:15PM (#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.

  • Just out of curiosity, I have to ask:

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

  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @11:41PM (#28218161) Homepage

    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.

  • by TheoMurpse (729043) on Friday June 05, 2009 @03:31AM (#28219305) Homepage

    Here's some shit law schools have done:

    Last year, Berkeley (#6) sent fee waivers to a ton of underqualified students. Students who would have never applied to Berkeley because applications cost money to submit. (Hence the fee waiver.) Underqualified students apply (because why not? it's free) and get rejected. Berkeley artificially deflates their acceptance rate, which helps their ranking score. This is likely done by a ton of schools. I just know of Berkeley doing it.

    Another factor that affects LS rankings is the offer acceptance rate (basically, how many students who get accepted elect to attend that instutition). Schools will frequently reject obviously overqualified candidates because "they'll decide against going here and attend Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Chicago, Columbia, NYU, etc. instead." Thus, qualified students are rejected for being "too qualified."

    Finally, schools like Georgetown (GULC, #14) used to admit a ton of transfer students and part-time students. Neither transfer students nor part-time students affected the LS rankings. Thus, GULC basically could accept many less qualified people, extract $100K from each of them over the next two years, use these extra millions of dollars to entice very qualified candidates to attend with generous scholarship packages (full rides and the like). Because these transfer and part-time students didn't affect the rankings, GULC was effectively using a money-generating machine to attract very qualified candidates who may otherwise have attended a more highly ranked school like Chicago. However, this year, the USNWR started including part-time students in the rankings. Transfers still aren't included.

    Of course, the question remains: Does this matter all that much? When a law school like Yale or Harvard has so much money and prestige to leverage to attract the best students even if the students won't get a better classroom education there, aren't other schools equally entitled to game rankings that, at the end of the day, are pretty much bullshit anyway?

    Look, I attended a top law school, but I'm willing to acknowledge that the rankings are almost completely meaningless outside of job prospects. The rankings do create some sort of "job prospect tiers." But aside from that USNWR rankings are crap (at least in law, I don't know about other fields).

  • What has risen at a rate higher than inflation over the past few decades?
    1. The price of housing: A problem which is well on its way to correcting itself.
    2. The price of medical care: Our average age is rising so it needs more sophisticated medical care.
    3. The price of oil: Correction, it may eventually go back if we remain stupid about consumption but that's a supply/demand issue.
    4. The price of a university education: Reaganistas convinced us that a University education should payback the individual in short o
  • There is a roll of Clemson diplomas down in the men's room.

  • Boston University does this with their College of General Studies. CGS is a two-year program (basically an Associates Degree) and when you finish you go straight into the regular university. Essentially, incoming students with poor high school grades are sent to CGS, and this college is conveniently left out of ranking calculations. It's a huge cash-cow for them, as well, since most CGS students aren't receiving financial aid.

  • I attend a school that does a few unethical things, not all of them directly related to rankings. For starters they claim to only have only professors with Ph.D's, yet my CS professor only had a Masters. They also reported that only 2% of students transfer out of Furman. While that is technically true, they failed to mention that their trimester system makes transferring very difficult. After attending, and talking to many people, it seems that at least 25% would have transferred if had been easier to.

    The

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