Lists compiled by U.S. News & World Report and other analysts, which seek to give an objective measure of a university’s excellence and value, have become a driving force in higher education in recent decades. The rankings often influence how students choose colleges. They also have come under fierce criticism from academic leaders who say that ranking universities in such a way is a fool’s errand and that schools themselves suffer when they chase prestige.
In September, U.S. News & World Report ranked the D.C. university 51st among national universities based in part on data gathered for the fall 2011 freshman class. It is unclear whether that ranking is errant, given Thursday’s disclosure. GWU officials said they have delivered corrected class-rank data to U.S. News.
“I deeply regret this error and want to assure you that corrective action has been taken and safeguards put into place to prevent such errors from occurring in the future,” GWU President Steven Knapp told the university community in a statement.
GWU ranked 50th on the U.S. News list last year, a point of pride for a school that has a reputation on the rise. Whether that year’s ranking — or other previous rankings — would be affected by the data problem is also unknown.
With its disclosure, GWU joined other prominent schools that have publicly acknowledged reporting flawed data about the achievements of their students. Claremont McKenna College in California and Emory University in Georgia acknowledged this year that school officials had inflated SAT scores of incoming freshmen in key reports.
Ultimately, U.S. News concluded that the 2011-12 rankings of the two schools weren’t affected. Robert Morse, data research director for U.S. News, could not be reached late Thursday to comment on the GWU disclosure.
Student selectivity is a key part of the formula U.S. News uses to rank schools, accounting for 15 percent of a school’s overall score. To calculate selectivity, U.S. News checks SAT and ACT admissions test data (50 percent of the selectivity score), class rank data (40 percent) and acceptance rates (10 percent).
Other factors in the overall U.S. News calculations include the academic reputation of schools as determined in surveys, graduation and retention rates, financial resources, faculty resources and alumni giving.
GWU officials said the class-rank problem came to light during an administrative reorganization under Steven R. Lerman, the provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, who has held that position since July 2010.