U.S. News College Rankings scandal exposes rot in higher education

, Spencer Irvine, 2 Comments

The annual U.S. News and World Report college rankings have been outed as a “worthless” exercise, according to a Columbia University professor. The scandal, which led to Columbia falling 16 places down the rankings in a single year, exposed the rot within higher education.

Michael Thaddeus, who teaches mathematics, said that his employer’s “conduct was particularly extreme and egregious” when it came to falsifying data to gain a favorable ranking. He claimed, “It’s widespread. I have no doubt that false data is submitted all the time.”

The Independent interviewed Thaddeus, who said that Columbia University’s ranking fiasco exposes the annual college rankings as “worthless” because it does not measure the teaching quality. It also brings up the point that the college rankings could wrongly convince prospective students to shell out almost $86,000 in tuition a year to attend a college that may not be worth that much.

Thaddeus, according to The Independent, has “been pushing for transparency in other aspects of Columbia’s administration for several years” without success. He said that he became “radicalized” due to Columbia’s lack of transparency on its budget and the data it submitted to the U.S. News and World Report college rankings.

As Thaddeus noted, Columbia was ranked eighteenth in 1988, but then jumped to eighth by 1989. It reached top-five status in 2011 and had gone up to the second-ranked college in 2021 behind Princeton University.

The college rankings weigh data submitted by universities and colleges, such as financial resources per student, class size, and graduation rates. But the data is not reviewed in a thorough manner, said Thaddeus. The 2021 data did not make sense to him because Columbia reported that 82.5 percent of its undergraduate classes had fewer than 20 students, which “didn’t match my experience or the experience of other members of faculty.”

Upon further research, the cited date was that around 60 percent of undergraduate classes at Columbia University had less than 20 students. Columbia University later said that the figure is 57.1 percent, which is 25 percent less than the data submitted to U.S. News and World Report for its rankings.

After Thaddeus posted online about the data discrepancies, Columbia University’s administration disputed the assertions. But in June 2022, the administration said it would not send data for the annual college rankings. On September 9, the administration then said that an internal review discovered “outdated and/or incorrect methodologies” were used in the data sent to U.S. News and World Report.

Thaddeus said there is not enough evidence to prove willful submission of falsified data, but the university did not publicly state whether it was an unintentional mistake or not. He suggested that the college rankings should be done away with because of the “cursory and shoddy” vetting of data submitted by colleges and universities. U.S. News and World Report defied the criticism and said, “US News analyzes academic data from surveys and reliable third-party sources and requires a high-level academic official to attest to any data submitted by institutions directly.”

The professor concluded, “The message I’m trying to get out is that the rankings are meaningless so neither one is accurate.” Thaddeus added, “Rankings are worthless and we should pay no attention to them. They are totally fictional. The figures have no impact on the work that goes into a university – there is nothing in the data used in the system that directly assesses the quality of the education.”

It is ironic that a college professor at an elite Ivy League institution like Columbia University is exposing the rot within higher education. Its unwillingness to be transparent with its budget and falsified data for college rankings demonstrate that higher education does not have a student’s best interests in mind.

It is why college enrollment has not yet recovered at many colleges and universities compared to pre-pandemic numbers because many people realize that higher education is expensive, impractical, and are hotbeds of left-wing indoctrination.