Does Columbia Deserve a Harsher Punishment?

Does Columbia’s punishment fit the crime? Photo credit: Andrew Chen.

Lots of folks are up in arms about how Columbia University misreported data to US News & World Report for its annually published rankings. As a reader of ours, Zach, recently wrote in, “What about Harvard, Yale and Princeton? How do we know what is true and not? The college admissions process is all about scrutinizing the applicant, now we find out the scrutinizers are not very honest themselves.” But, come on, Zach. Lift your chin off the floor. It’s not exactly breaking news that elite universities like Columbia have been fudging some of their numbers for years so as to manipulate the all-important ranking. Heck, we’ve reported on many of these scandals over the years — from University of California, Berkeley to Temple University to Villanova University, Claremont McKenna College, and several other colleges across this land. And Zach’s right. Who knows which other universities have misreported data over the years to US News? The aforementioned schools just happened to get caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

Student Argues Colleges Should Be Held More Accountable for Misreporting Data

In an op-ed for The Daily Pennsylvanian entitled “When institutions cheat, they get a pass,” University of Pennsylvania student Sam Zou writes, “At Penn, we learn from the Code of Student Conduct and countless course syllabi that any student who reports misleading or falsified data for any assignment is strictly prohibited and will be severely disciplined. Cheating undermines the whole purpose of assessments: to find a standardized and effective way to measure a person’s knowledge in a certain subject. Similarly, college rankings rely on all institutions to report accurate data, so parents, students, and employers can find a standardized and effective way to measure an institution’s quality…But there is no playbook for a trillion-dollar industry that seeks profits from information-scarce families who look up to the rankings published by websites such as U.S. News to decide on their educational future. When institutions lie, they cover it up. And when it has become too late for a plain old cover-up, they lay down for a while, wishing for the scandal to go away as time passes.”

Michigan’s Fab 5 Received a Much More Severe Punishment Than Columbia

We happen to wholeheartedly agree with these points raised by Mr. Zou. If a college misreports data to US News, the publication should more strictly hold that institution accountable. The school should not just be quietly removed from the rankings the year in which they misreport the data and, through their own volition, withdraw from next year’s ranking. Just as the NCAA hands out bans from postseason play when college athletic teams break the rules, so too should universities be banned from the US News rankings for several years if they misreport their data. Remember the University of Michigan basketball scandal in which players took money from a booster of the program? Michigan’s basketball coach was fired. The school placed the team on two years probation and banned the team from postseason play for a season, terms that were ultimately doubled by the NCAA. And the school was forced to disassociate itself with some of its most iconic players for several years, including even Chris Webber. But US News has imposed no such sanctions on Columbia. Sure, a lone alumnus filed a class action lawsuit against the university, but Columbia’s longtime admissions czar is still very much leading the admissions office. Applications will likely rise at Columbia to its Class of 2027 just as it did last year. It’s business as usual in Columbia’s admissions office. Scandal? What scandal? This too shall pass…


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  • Zach White says:

    You certainly have not pointed out Harvard Yale Princeton’s deception for decades, since I have not seen any articles pointing this out. If you want to prove me wrong then please do show readers multiple articles doing so. If everyone is up in arms it proves nobody really knew the level of deception to these schools- including yourselves. There have been a few hiccups reported but not to this level. And I think to say you were always in the loop and we all were dupes is a little silly and quite rich. I think you have been on the floor yourselves.

    • Ivy Coach says:

      Hi Zach – We’ve been pointing out how elite colleges don’t tell it like it is for decades. From telling families they’re need-blind when in fact they ask on applications that admissions officers can read with their own two eyes if students need financial aid to a college like Emory asserting they do not measure Demonstrated Interest when in fact they invented Demonstrated Interest to Harvard’s stealthy use of the Z-list to admit privileged, often unqualified applicants to Princeton reinstating transfer admission only to reserve all but a few slots for non-veterans, if you’re a regular reader of our college admissions blog, you know well that we’ve been calling colleges — from Harvard on down — out on deception for decades. So, no, we are not floored by the fact that Columbia got caught, like several elite schools before it, with its hand in the cookie jar misreporting data to US News. Is it a big story in college admissions? Of course! But floored? You must be brand new. Ivy Coach, nice to meet you. Welcome!

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