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Students question rankings after GWU scandal

In light of the revelation that for more than a decade George Washington University has been inflating class rank data for incoming students, Boston University officials said rankings remain a legitimate method of comparison.

Scott Solberg, School of Education associate dean for research, said rankings matter to many people and allows universities to see how they compete with other institutions.

“The ranking system itself is prestige,” he said. “… There is always a level of wanting to compare oneself to performance and value.”

Solberg said while there are other factors in determining the quality of a school, higher institutions are under pressure to place highly in the U.S. News & World Report ranking.

The class of 2015 class rank data was inflated by a margin of 20 percent, said GWU President Steven Knapp in a statement Thursday.

Candace Smith, GWU spokeswoman, said this error grew over time.

“At the time, a lot of high schools were reporting class rank, and over time fewer schools have been reporting rank, so the error became more pronounced as the years went on,” she said.

Smith said as a result of the reorganization of the Division of Student and Academic Support Services in July, a fresh look was taken at the admissions office enrollment practices.

“This came to light then when the Board of Trustees asked for an audit and discovered the error in August,” Smith said. “In September, auditors came in and looked through all the data. They then gave a report to the Board of Trustees in October.”

GWU met with U.S. News & World Report and gave them the correct data for the 2011–12 academic year’s rankings, Smith said. The individuals who were originally in charge of data collection, and reporting are no longer responsible for the task.

Hardin Coleman, SED dean, said GWU as a whole should not be blamed.

“George Washington University as an institution did not make the mistake, a unit within the institution did,” he said.

Coleman said he understands how difficult reporting data can be.

“Reporting data well is very, very difficult — how we report to the News & World Report has real life consequences,” he said, “The pressure to get it right is enormous.”

A number of BU students said they value the college rankings more than other assessments of BU’s performance.

“They are very important because they are easiest and most standard way of judging a college on how good it is,” said Vishrut Jhawar, a School of Management sophomore.

However, Lucas Stegman, a College of Arts and Sciences freshman, said rankings should not matter much.

“They are not that important because if you listen to different sources, they will give you different information,” he said.

Solberg said he does not believe someone was purposefully manipulating the statistics.

“It’s hard to see that someone was intent on trying to misrepresent George Washington completely,” he said. “They were trying to solve a problem, but didn’t know how to do it. It was incorrect and not proper.”

A number of students attending GWU said they do not understand why the university lied about the statistics.

“Lying about our incoming freshman’s statistics makes us look worse than if our percentage of students within their top 10-percent high school percentile is only 58 percent rather than 78 percent,” said Danielle Catalan, a sophomore at GWU.

Caroline Knights, a GWU sophomore, said she does not blame GWU for the mistake.

“I thought it was irresponsible of the school to get something statistically wrong, but I do not hold the whole university at fault,” she said.

If this error happened at BU, some students said they would be disappointed at the university.

“I would be disappointed because you rely on the university to give you accurate knowledge,” Jhawar said. “I feel like it is unfair because this would give BU a name it does not deserve.”

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