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How SAT Inflation Is Bad for Students

Apr 4, 2012 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

At the end of January 2012, Claremont McKenna College announced that it has submitted inflated SAT scores to US News and World Report and other publications behind well-known college rankings. According to this article*, a single administrator was responsible for the misreporting—from 2005 until 2012—and it had gone undiscovered until now.

So should this matter to students? We believe it should, for a variety of reasons. Here are just a few reasons why everyone should care about this kind of dishonesty in college self-reporting—and how it might affect students and alumni of the schools who are found out.

It messes with college rankings

Not all college ranking programs take into account the median SAT scores of students who are admitted, but many do. And students frequently use those ranking systems to make decisions about where to go. If colleges lie about these numbers, it effectively makes the ranking system meaningless—or partially meaningless, depending on
how highly the system rates this information. Some people
believe that the rankings are of limited value anyway, for a
wide variety  of reasons. But the more college self-reported data
is called into question, the lower the credibility of ranking systems
that use it.

Ruler and Stack of Coins

Not all college ranking programs take into account the median SAT scores of students who are admitted, but many do.



It’s a sign of deeper problems

If a college is willing to lie about student median SAT scores, what else will it lie about? When you are enrolled, will it treat you in an honest and open manner? Can you trust the school to have above-board relationships with private lenders, for example, or give you accurate information regarding graduation employment rates? Basic issues of honesty and integrity may become particularly important if you have a dispute with the online college—over grades, enrollment, tuition, or disciplinary issues, among other things. You want to be sure you’re enrolling in a college of integrity. It’s difficult to tell when you are, sometimes—but exaggerating SAT scores is a bad sign.

It gives the school a sense of prestige it doesn’t deserve

When you choose a school based on its high rankings, you may have certain expectations—about rigor of classes, quality of instruction, and the dedication of your peers, among other things. If a college is lying about SAT scores, it could be lying about other things that affect its rankings as well—as many factors that affect college rankings are self-reported by the colleges. You could think you’re attending an ivy-quality institution, but your experience could be somewhat less.

Your reputation could suffer, too

This is perhaps the worst and most unfair outcome of a revelation like this. If your college is misreporting its SAT scores—or any other important data that affects rankings—chances are they’ll be caught eventually. If you graduate around the same time, it’s possible employers won’t think “Oh, great school!” when they see your alma mater’s name on your resume. Instead, they’ll think, “Wasn’t that the school who…” needless to say, it won’t be helpful for you in landing an interview or a new job.

The US News and World Report uses approximately 60% self-reported data, rather than information collected by independent investigators and journalists, to assemble its influential list of top colleges. Other ranking systems, such as The Economist’s online MBA rankings, rely on it even more. The Claremont McKenna case illustrates the dangers of such a system. With colleges under such pressure to rank high, it’s possible that other colleges inflate their SAT scores as well—and simply haven’t been found out yet. Hopefully the Claremont McKenna news will lead toward stricter oversight of data—and less reliance on self-reported data.


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