Claremont McKenna Cheats: Time for Rankings Withdrawal

Stop the Rankings AddictionThere is not much to say about the Claremont McKenna administrator who falsified the school’s average SAT scores to improve Claremont’s U.S. News ranking and its overall appearance of exclusivity and competitiveness. It was fraud. It was wrong. It was stupid. He resigned, and his career in academia is toast. Were more senior administrators complicit? Don’t know. Are other schools doing the same thing? Probably a few.

But what about the consumers of this data? What about the applicants and their parents who applied or failed to apply because they were stoned on rankings? What about ranking addicts?

It’s time for withdrawal.

Let’s first take a look at the nature of rankings. Each one chooses several criteria, weights them, and then ranks. Sometimes the criteria are seemingly objective, like SAT scores, number of articles professors publish in academic journals, percentage of under-represented minorities and women, or salary upon graduation. Other times, rankings reflect surveys – for example surveys of top college administrators for US News’ college ranking, or alumni in Forbes’ and Financial Times’ MBA rankings. And sometimes the rankings reflect a combination of quantitative data and survey responses, and occasionally even a combination of a bunch of rankings (Poets & Quants).

This mishmash of college and graduate school rankings and criteria – even without fraud – are seriously flawed. Assuming accurate reporting, rankings should neither be considered measures of educational quality nor have significant influence on your educational and professional decisions. Here’s why:

  1. If these criteria don’t reflect what’s important to you, they are a terrible basis for your decision.
  2. To the extent they reflect survey results, surveys can be gamed and have inherent limitations. People responding to survey tend to love or hate what they are investing time in. Students and alumni of a given institution have a vested interest in their school having a good ranking. It behooves them to provide “good grades.”
  3. Schools are enormous institutions. The overall rank says nothing about educational quality in your field of study.
  4. Even the so-called objective quantitative measures contain distortions.
  5. Differing rankings of the same programs can give wildly different results.

How should you act in light of the Claremont McKenna College scandal? Get off the rankings crack. Go cold turkey. Kick the habit.

Determine what’s important to you. Research colleges and graduate programs to discover those providing what you value. Apply based on your criteria.

Linda AbrahamBy Linda Abraham, president and founder of and author of MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.


Article first published as “Claremont McKenna Cheats. Time for Rankings Withdrawal” on Technorati.


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