News and Analysis

Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012 12:51 p.m.

U.S. News kicks GW out of rankings after data misreporting

Clarification appended

Updated Nov. 14, 2012, 3:45 p.m.

U.S. News & World Report knocked GW out of its top colleges rankings Wednesday – a week after the University disclosed that it has been significantly inflating admissions data.

GW will now be listed as “unranked” in the magazine’s 2013 list, which was released in September. It was originally ranked No. 51 this year. U.S. News’ Director of Data Research Robert Morse had said last week that changes made to GW’s ranking would likely be insignificant, but announced the major blow on his blog Wednesday. The unranked status will last until next fall’s ranking.

Morse referred all questions about the move to his blog post, which laid out that GW was moved off the ranking because the data error would have changed its No. 51 spot. GW had hovered around the U.S. News list’s top 50 for more than a decade.

University President Steven Knapp said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that GW reported its oversight because it is “committed to maintaining the highest standards of integrity and accuracy.”

“We did so without regard to any possible action that U.S. News might take as a result,” Knapp said. “We were surprised by the decision of U.S. News to remove George Washington’s numerical ranking rather than to correct it in light of our disclosure.”

When Emory University and Claremont McKenna College admitted to intentionally manipulating students’ test scores earlier this year, U.S. News did not adjust their rankings because the errors were not significant enough to affect their slots.

GW administrators have maintained the University’s misreporting was unintentional.

Associate Vice President and Dean of Admissions Kathryn Napper, who has deferred to GW’s public relations shop since news of the inflated data broke, declined to comment on getting booted off the rankings Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s all being handled upstairs with external relations. Take it up with them,” Napper said.

Administrators announced in an email Thursday that the University has been botching freshman admissions statistics – and for the Class of 2015, that meant inflating the number of freshmen who made it into the top 10 percent of their high school classes by 20 percentage points. The Office of Admissions calculated that 78 percent of students fell into that category, but this summer, the provost’s office discovered that figure was actually 58 percent.

About two-thirds of high schools nationwide don’t rank students. But even if students weren’t ranked, the admissions office estimated that admitted students who earned top standardized test scores and grade point averages were in the top 10 percent of their high school class anyway.

The firm Baker Tilly audited one year’s worth of admissions data and could not pinpoint which admissions staffer created the formula that led to GW estimating high school students’ class rank. The inflation went back to the 1990s, administrators have said. But Knapp said the University has no plans to audit data from past years.

Professors grappled Wednesday with how to interpret the news that GW had been knocked out of the U.S. News ranking.

“It doesn’t seem like it’s the only decision [U.S. News] could’ve taken. It doesn’t make much sense,” English professor David McAleavey said.

Cynthia McClintock, a professor of political science and international affairs, said she was sad to see a setback for the University after she has taught here since 1975.

“Everybody knows that mistakes do happen, that’s why there are erasers on the end of pencils, these things do happen. We will come back,” McClintock said.

The news also made the front page of The Washington Post website, as higher education experts buzzed about the unusual move.

Scott Jaschik, co-founder of the news website Inside Higher Ed, said Wednesday he doesn’t “believe this will be calamity. It’s more of an embarrassment for GW.”

“If a prospective applicant is foused on the ranking, it doesn’t look good,” he said. “I don’t mean to insult your very fine institution but GW wasn’t at the top anyway. People who are rankings obsessed and only want to apply to a top 10 place, weren’t looking at GW.”

In his first interview since GW came clean on the misreported data, Knapp said Tuesday – before U.S. News announced that the University was knocked off the rankings – that he was confident that the decade-long inflation was inadvertent.

He said the fact that more high schools have stopped reporting students’ class ranks – the admissions indicator that GW inflated – led to a wider discrepancy in the data and should clear suspicions of “malice.”

“So is it malicious? I don’t think it is, because I think if people were being malicious they probably would have messed with the other numbers as well and there’s no evidence that there was any other kind of data being fudged,” Knapp said.

Knapp also said then that he only received an oral report from the audit firm about their findings and he did not know whether a full report was available. A Baker Tilly representative deferred questions Wednesday to Lorraine Voles, GW’s vice president for external relations.

When Claremont McKenna admitted to data misreporting earlier this year, it released its externally audited report.

Other universities unranked this year include University of Phoenix Online, Alliant International University and California Institute of Integral Studies.

Raymond Brown, dean of admissions at Texas Christian University, said Monday that this kind of data manipulation is tame compared to how other universities try to game the rankings.

Brown called GW’s error “trivial” compared to southern universities, where he said data manipulation is like the “wild, wild west.”

“I don’t think what GW has done is necessarily wrong. There’s a whole lot of schools that force a rank,” Brown said. “I gotta believe that there are still a whole bunch of folks out there cooking their books.”

He added that TCU began hiring a private firm to audit its admissions data 12 years ago to fight back against the trend he saw of universities inflating data.

– Matt Kwiecinski, Chloe Sorvino, Sarah Ferris and Priya Anand contributed to this report. 

This article was updated Nov. 14, 2012 to reflect the following:

The Hatchet reported that the Class of 2016 data was inflated by 20 percent, from 58 percent to 78 percent. It was inflated by 20 percentage points.

  • relieved

    Good thing we have our redesigned logo and brand! They shall save us!!!



  • problem

    the lies are systemic. They tell business school students to lie on surveys of student happiness to artificially increase the rankings

  • Hugo Scheckter

    I hope I can get into Howard University to finish my degree, are we considered their safety school now?

  • gwalum

    not really fair they screw us over and not those other schools who were found to be doing that intentionally

  • Spinach Feta Wrap

    The ranking is a joke anyways…seriously.

  • Luther Rice

    Knapp needs to speak up and fix this!

  • Publius

    Well fuck. There goes my four years and all that cash. Should have gone to American. At this rate, they’re truly a better school.

  • senior

    All of these rankings are biased anyway. It really isn’t a big deal.

  • mfp ’09

    It’s a huge oversight for GW, but seems US News’s response seems grossly disproportionate and inconsistent, especially considering both Emory and Claremont.

    US News promotes gaming the system – there are exceptionally few standards, even across submission by multiple schools. If it wanted to send a signal to school’s engaging in similar practices, which assuredly every school on the list does, whether intentional or unintentionally, it was unfair and kneejerk.

    GW went beyond any requirement and issued a full disclosure. Punishment is fine, but it certainly doesn’t create hope that many schools will voluntarily take part in the same. Calculating student rank is nearly impossible given that so many high schools intentionally do not list it, and it’s up to reviewers to divine the rank as if through premonition. This doesn’t excuse GW’s behavior, but it doesn’t explain US News’s response.

    If USNWR were serious about its list, it’d bring in an accounting firm like PwC to ensure there were accurate, consistent and uniform standards for submission and data collection. Right now, it only seems to care about the wave of publicity and profits that come with each publication – and why most of the serious journalists on staff there have left over the last 5 years.

  • GWSB Student

    Funny how literally EVERY business school course is centered around ETHICS

  • disappointed

    This situation is so disappointing. I’m embarassed that I chose a school with such dishonest admission policies. Its unfair that other schools have faced less fallout for test score manipulation. Still, as a student applying to universities last year, I felt like I was lied to. When I hear GW doing stuff like this it makes me regret chosing GW.

  • senior

    as if finding a job weren’t hard enough…

  • Man…

    To think, I turned down all that money at American to come here. This sucks.

  • Sean

    US News has never liked GWU, and their ranking system does become ineffective when you get outside of the top 10 and many of the statistics all take on larger weight than they should.

    Having said that, this is very bad for the school. This will translate into bad press, reduced admission rates for 2013 and 2014, lower revenue, and yes, a slight devaluation of your degrees. It’s still a good school, and still offers you opportunities you can’t get at American or even Georgetown, but it is very disappointing and frankly unacceptable that tuition has continued to skyrocket while our rankings haven’t.

  • T17

    This whole ranking business promotes all kinds of problems.

    High school rankings cause kids to flee their home schools in search of higher ranked schools in other communities.

    College rankings force colleges to over recruit so they can inflate their admitted numbers, hire their own to inflate their placement numbers, deny admission to applicants with tremendous character and potential in favor of applicants with no character but really high numbers, disfavor programs with tremendous potential to enhance quality of life but low potential to bring in grant dollars.. all kinds of ills accompany these rankings.

    Education would be far better if every high school and college voluntarily jumped off the insane ranking carousel.

  • JKS

    At least we’re undefeated in football.

  • disgruntled alum

    The US News and World Reports ranking played an important role in my decision to choose GW, and I am sure that was the case for many others as well. With other strong options on the table during the application process, I absolutely would have chosen another school if I had either 1) known that GW was of an Unranked calibur, or 2) read the accurate admissions data. That this dramatically harms the value of our degrees and undermines every one of the many financial obstacles the university puts in every student’s way (which at the time was presented to us as worthwhile) is beyond doubt. If the data misreporting was intentional, it constitutes a wide-reaching and demonstrably harmful fraud perpetrated on every student and parent who either purchased a degree from or accepted admission to The George Washington University. If, as GW claims, the misreporting was inadvertant, then it constitutes gross negligence with the same demonstrable damages. I would like to know how The George Washington University plans to compensate its current students and all affected alumni for these damages, because I for one certainly do not plan on standing by and allowing the university to perpetrate this incredible injustice on me and my fellows without fair remuneration.

  • GW Student

    The ranking honestly means nothing. Yes, it’s humiliating, but we are ranked quite well on a lot of other websites. US News and World Report is notorious for ranking schools in a biased way based around things that don’t really matter to students, so getting kicked off really isn’t the end of the world.

  • Kevin


  • N

    How has there not been any call for Knapp to resign? This school has been committing a systematic fraud against us.

  • GWSB Alumna

    Honestly people are going to overreact about this, as most GW students tend to do.

    It makes sense that GW remains unranked for the rest of the year, US News is not going to spend the resources editing this year’s list when it is probably already working on next year’s. I honestly don’t even think it’ll affect our rankings by that much considering the number in question is only about 5-6% of the total requirements used to value schools on this list.

    Also Hatchet, once again you prove how careless you are writing this article, the number went down 20 percentage POINTS not 20 percent. Also the use of ‘botched’ and ‘GW’s public relations shop’ is unnecessary and clearly written to rile up against the school negatively, as is every article written here. Go back and take a journalism class.

  • Sucked In Parent

    Ironic that GWU reports data erroneously to US News yet they require 100% accuracy on paying tuition, room and board etc. (doubt it was unintentional as GW would never promote extrapolating the performance of their lower 33% to all-as they have the 33% of schools who do rank students)

    Their comeuppance is well deserved and overdue given the smugness of much of the Admin including B School Leadership and Financial Aid. Seniors et al lied to and now get to try and find jobs w/ GWU’s black eye.

  • Yup

    This is very typical of GW. Does GW still consider Northwestern and Duke to be peer schools now?

  • GW Student

    I came to GW because US News had GW at a student teacher ratio of 17/1. I still haven’t had a class with only 17 students. Also, they never had the student debt average posted there, when every other school disclosed it. In general, my thoughts on how to move up on rankings is by taking care of your students. This model they have been using is clearly not working. The model they use is, publish as much research as possible, skew data, not disclosing where all the money is going, not involving the students in decision making, cutting important programs, spending money only on programs that will increase rankings. So, will GW ever become a school that is for the students or will it continue with this blind faith that whatever the administration is doing is for the students, so don’t question and bottom line is they are making our degree worth more for the future… BUT.. what happened to students having a say, students getting a vote, students feeling like they are part of the institution and GETTING RID OF THE BUREAUCRATIC CORPORATE AMERICA MENTALITY? What about the students?

  • Look to the source who runs GWU

    This quote is Key to this story ~Associate Vice President and Dean of Admissions Kathryn Napper, is the one who is accountable for this problem. Rather her standing up and explaining she says “Its all being handed up stairs with external relations. Take it up with them,” Napper said.

    The Female Deans at GWU have Zero Authority. They are treated like little girls. Everything at GWU is handled by the inner sanctum of the Ex President, Ex VP, Treasurer, Attorney and Chair of Trustee’s . Not only is this a extremely inefficient way to run a college , it is deceptive management.

    The Hatchet has to start interviewing Chair of GWU Trustee’s Russell Ramsey as it appears due to research I have done all operations at GWU come from Mr Ramsey.

    This article From Feb 2007 says; “George Washington University’s Board of Trustees has elected W. Russell Ramsey, B.B.A. ’81, chairman and CEO of Ramsey Asset Management, as its next chairman. Ramsey will serve a three-year term ( obviously was re-elected in 2010/11 as is Still the Chairman )

    GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said, “In the nearly 10 years Russ has served as a trustee, he has consistently and zealously demonstrated his dedication to GW. He has played an important role on many committees in helping define the vision of the University, including our 20-year Campus Plan, which will further transform the Foggy Bottom Campus into a premier urban institution with first-class facilities, faculty, and students. I offer my appreciation to Chairman Manatt and all of the trustees for establishing the foundation upon which the incoming leadership can continue to build the University’s prestige.”

    Story about who Chair of GWU Trustee’s Russell Ramsey is

  • Furious Freshman

    While this upsets and concerns me on MANY levels, I desperately want to know why other schools, like Emory University, which outright falsified SAT scores for a DECADE (same amount of time GW flubbed data), was not removed from the rankings. How can US News and World Report explain this? Especially because SATs account for 13.5% o their formula, while the statistic GW misreported accounts for only 6%. I want to know why these two cases were handled so differently, although I can already make my own inferences.



  • Victor

    In the past few years GW has done a terrific job about becoming the host of important national discussions. When considering this and the university’s desire to continue to grow it academic credentials this type of miscalculation can not happen again. GW is too good an institution for this carelessness and the negative consequences that result!

  • GW Student

    The Hatchet likes to make students feel as though the University is out to get us. In reality, GW did the right thing. They admitted there was a mess up within the system and even gave US News the correct data… did Emory do this? No. Yet GW suffers in the rankings. Honestly, I commend my schools’ administration for owning up to the mistakes made. If they were trying to hide or falsify statistics, I don’t think they’d come out and admit it.

  • Senior

    Heads need to roll. Someone needs to take responsibility. This isn’t just a slip-up. This is a horrendous, reputation-damaging mistake. Napper needs to resign at the very least.

  • cb

    this is really all backlash for this trachtenberg/bob morse/us news fued that has gone on forever. they hate each other, bob got the last laugh.

  • Matt

    I am extremely embarrassed by this. I’m even more embarrassed that the administration is trying to pass this off as an honest mistake. And no one has been fired! I want to see a radical change in the leadership of my alma mater.

  • Henry

    Ummm, this is unbelievable. Someone was correct in saying GWU has an inner sanctum of old white men and resists letting anyone else in. They have a very impressive Vice Provost of Diversity, for example, but she’s been squelched in trying to do anything. She’s too impressive and intimidating for this good old boy white power structure. Bring back old Joel T. …at least he had a sense of humor unlike Knapp.

  • Senior

    Knapp should resign immediately or be removed by the Board of Trustees for allowing this to occur on his watch.
    SJT should be stripped of his President Emeritus title, all office space, and other University privileges for allowing this to start on his watch.
    Clean house in Admissions.
    Simple accountability – is it that hard to ask for?

  • GW student

    Who’s getting fired over this????

    I wonder if Knapp will make one of his overpaid vice presidents of student bullshit or whatever take the fall.

    Also, not surprised about the GPA thing. For a (formerly) top 60 university I was always surprised how many seemingly unmotivated people I encounter in my classes.

  • GW 2015 Parent

    This is cut and pasted from another article I read regarding GW:

    “Mr. Maltzman, who has been overseeing admissions operations as the university searches for its first enrollment chief, said he was surprised when he saw that the admissions office had apparently obtained class-rank data for more than half of the students in the Class of 2015. Given that as many as two-thirds of high schools do not report class rank, he had expected the figure to be 30 to 40 percent.”

    So if two-thirds of high schools do not report student class rank then how are the other colleges calculating their student class ranks that U.S. News requires annually?!?! Probably the same way! U.S. News needs to eliminate class rank as part of their formula.

  • Georgetown Grad

    I didn’t get into GW, but I miraculously got into Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. Hoya Saxa has never sounded better to me.

  • David

    ….no one cares about rankings. Employers dont really care. There isnt dramatic movement in the rankings. GW was ranked 51…wow so when I applied in 1998 it was ranked 50. It dropped to 51 in 1999, and 13 years later it was ranked 51. That caused people to flip out because GW was no longer in the top 50…and it makes no difference. You think there is a fundamental difference between a school ranked 50 and one ranked 60 or 40? Calm the f down. Get good grades, do something productive with your extra curricular activites (by all means join a frat or sorority or do club sports, but do something meaningful whether it be career development clubs or volunteer work), get a job that forwards your area of study (or lets you explore another) and get an internship (its not that hard). I just graduated from a top 100 law school…and that makes no difference either (well a t-14 does, but other than that its all about regional schools and where you want to practice generally). Our valedectorian got a job in biglaw making 160k a year (other top students did as well) she went to a small regional private school that isnt even ranked in the top 200, it isnt even close to being the best school in the state, even ignoring the ivy league school. Rank doesnt matter unless you applying top ten school…and even then maybe the top 20 schools.

  • Alumnus

    Ya done goofed.

  • Tripped

    For those who keep insisting ranking doesn’t matter. Not true – I’m afraid. In fields such as law, investment banking, journalism, etc. — some employers will only visit elite/top ranked schools. They may from time-to-time “go ghetto” and hire someone from a lower ranked school. But, that is the exception and not the rule.

  • Top Jimmy

    Hahahaha idiots. Why didn’t you suckers just get born earlier so you could graduate from GW when it was still ranked?

  • Steph

    How about a refund on some of the tuition, say 20%?

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