Columbia University Admits Submitting Inaccurate Data for Consideration in College Rankings

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“Columbia’s undergraduate experience is and always has been centered on small classes taught by highly accomplished faculty. This fact remains unchanged. But anything less than the complete accuracy of the data we report – regardless of either the size or the reason – is inconsistent with the standards of excellence that Columbia holds itself to,” the statement read. “We deeply regret the shortcomings of our previous reports and are committed to doing better.”

In February, Columbia math professor Michael Thaddeus questioned the school’s rise in the Ivy League rankings from 18th place, when it debuted in 1988, to 2nd place in 2021. In a statement published on Columbia University’s Department of Mathematics website, Thaddeus noted that “few other top universities have also improved their rankings, but none have matched Columbia’s extraordinary rise.”

Thaddeus pointed to the data the university submitted to US News & World Report in questioning Columbia’s seemingly meteoric rise in the rankings.

“Can we be sure that the data accurately reflects the reality of life within the university? Thaddeus asked rhetorically. “Unfortunately, the answer is no.”

The math professor then compiled data on “undergraduate class size, percentage of faculty with terminal degrees, percentage of full-time faculty, and student-to-faculty ratio” submitted by Columbia University to US News & World Report and compares the data “with figures calculated by other means, relying on information made public by Columbia elsewhere.”

In his findings, Thaddeus said there were “sometimes quite large discrepancies” that always seemed to work in Columbia’s favor.

In response to Thaddeus’ findings, Columbia University provost Mary Boyce said in a June Statement that the university “would refrain from submitting data to U.S. News and World Report” for consideration in the publication’s 2022 Undergraduate College Rankings.

“On two of the parameters questioned by our faculty member [Thaddeus], class size, and faculty with terminal degrees, we determined that we had previously relied on outdated and/or incorrect methodologies. We have modified these methodologies for current and future data submissions, as evidenced by the newly released common datasets,” Boyce noted in June.

Boyce said that beginning in the fall of 2022, the university would begin participating in the Common Data Set (CDS) Initiative, “a collaborative effort between data providers in the higher education community and publishers” to provide accurate information to students seeking information about higher education institutions, according to the website of initiative.

The CDS initiative, represented by US News & World Report, the College Board, and educational services company Peterson’s, was launched in 1997 to provide higher education institutions with “a set of standards and definitions of data elements rather than a survey instrument or a set of data represented in a database.”

US News chief data strategist Robert Morse told CNN on Monday that schools report most of the information for their top college rankings directly to US News.

“Every year, US News sends out a detailed questionnaire to all accredited colleges and universities in four years,” he explained. “US News, a founding member of the Common Data Set initiative, is incorporating questions from the CDS and proprietary questions into this survey. US News relies on schools to accurately report their data.”

Along with the commitment to participate in the CDS initiative, Boyce also announced the launch of a new webpage providing detailed background and analysis of the Columbia University undergraduate experience.
In July, US News & World Report downgraded Columbia University “from a number of rankings in the 2022 edition of Best Colleges (first published September 2021)” saying that the university “n ‘failed to respond to multiple requests from US News asking the university to justify certain data it previously submitted,’ according to a blog post by US News. It is unclear whether Thaddeus’ publication of his investigation of the data Columbia presented to US News & World Report may have contributed to the university being unranked.

In Friday’s statement, Boyce said the university released two joint datasets, one for Columbia College and Columbia Engineering, and one for Columbia General Studies.

“The information included in the two common datasets reflects the University’s work over the past few months to review our data collection processes, following questions raised by a faculty member regarding the accuracy of certain data that the University submitted to US News and World Report in 2021 for its Undergraduate University Rankings,” Boyce said.

“US News publishes annual rankings for more than 11,500 schools and hundreds of individual programs as part of the Best Colleges, Best Graduate Schools, Best Online Programs, Best Global Universities and Best High Schools rankings,” Morse said in a statement. Monday.

“To produce the rankings, US News collects tens of thousands of data points from the schools themselves and other sources, including the US Department of Education, state and local governments, and education associations. A very small proportion of the total number of schools that are ranked — typically less than 0.1% each year — inform US News that they have erroneous data that was used to calculate their school’s ranking.”

US News & World Report published a breakdown of how their publication calculated the 2022-2023 Best College Rankings in an article on Monday.

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