George Washington University is now unranked by U.S. News and World Report, following a disclosure earlier this month that it had misreported statistics about the academic achievement of its incoming freshmen.
On the basis of the incorrect data, GWU was No. 51 in the publication’s latest vaunted list of best colleges in the nation, which was published in September. That ranking was higher than the university deserved, U.S. News chief ranker Bob Morse wrote on his blog on Wednesday.
As a result, GWU has been moved from the best colleges section of the magazine’s Web site to an “unranked” list of schools that do not have calculated rankings, Morse wrote. The university will remain there until the 2014 edition of the rankings is released next fall, Morse wrote, and “until George Washington confirms the accuracy of the school's next data submission in accordance with U.S. News's requirements.”
GWU is not the first school to admit that it submitted incorrect numbers. Earlier this year Emory University and Claremont McKenna College officials admitted that previous years’ data had been fudged, but neither saw a dramatic shift in rank. Morse said GWU is the first school this year to have its ranking changed.
GWU President Steven Knapp said in a statement on Wednesday that he was surprised by the decision to remove the school’s numerical ranking rather than correct it. Knapp said that the university reported the error to U.S. News and the university community “without regard to any possible action that U.S. News might take as a result.”
Knapp concluded the statement by saying: “As I have said, we regret the error and have put safeguards in place to prevent such errors from occurring in the future.”
So what went wrong? My colleague Nick Anderson reported last week that GWU disclosed on Nov. 8 that “it had overstated the percentage of freshmen in fall 2011 who were in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. Instead of 78 percent, as GWU first reported for that measure, university officials said the share was actually 58 percent. That is one of many pieces of data fed into the U.S. News ratings formula.”
At the time, Morse said that the mistake would likely only result in a ”slight change” in the ranking. In his Wednesday blog post, Morse wrote that GWU has been erroneously reporting the wrong class standing stats for more than a decade.
On Twitter, the hashtag #GWU lit up with criticisms, snarky comments and calls for the administration to explain itself. Here’s just a sampling:
Attention all #gwu Freshmen: Transfer now while you still have the chance! Abandon this sinking ship— Alec Hemingway (@Alec0531) November 14, 2012
Well I'm embarrassed. Congrats for making us look bad #gwu— Austen Popiel (@austen91) November 14, 2012
Good news out of this: no one will confuse us with Georgetown anymore. #gwu— Pres. Steven Knapp (@fakeStevenknapp) November 14, 2012
A group of student government senators have called an emergency meeting and invited Knapp and other top officials to attend, said Hugo Scheckter, a senior sports management major from England who helped to lead the effort. The meeting will likely be next week. Students want to know what happened, why and who was responsible for the error.
”Students are very, very worried about this,” said Scheckter, 21. ”They are worried about graduating, applying to graduate school having a degree from a university that is now ranked the same as the University of Phoenix, which, no offense to them, is not the same institution. A lot of people pay a hell of a lot of money to come here, thinking they will get a degree from a top 50 university.”
GWU is a school where students talk about rankings a lot. For the past few years, the school has bobbed around 50 -- but students like it best when the rankings allow them to say they attend or graduated from a "top 50" school, Scheckter said.
"It gives us a bit of pride, a bit of swagger," he said.
News of the de-ranking quickly spread to alumni. Jason Haber, 35, said his inbox filled with snarky comments from fellow graduates -- including one who wondered if their degrees were now the equivalent of a community college certificate.
“It was a matter of pride to be in that top layer of schools,” said Haber, who graduated in 1999 with a political communication major. "It’s just a big deal. It just is.”
But other than some expected scuff from Georgetown students out at the bars, Haber said he doesn't expect this to ruin the school's reputation forever.
“Everyone is laughing about it, no one is walking around depressed,” he said. “I hope we can take the hit and move on.”
(You can read Morse’s full blog post here: “Update to George Washington University’s 2013 Best Colleges Ranking.”)
This blog post was updated on Wednesday afternoon to include the statement from Knapp and reactions from students. And it was updated on Thursday morning to bump the student government emergency meeting from this week to next.