Emory Says It Inflated Students’ Entrance Exam Scores

Emory University, an Atlanta school that received more than 17,000 freshman applications, said it intentionally reported inflated student entrance-exam scores and high school class ranks for more than a decade.

Unfairly burnishing its reputation, the college gave the information to the public and to services that rank schools based on the data, such as U.S. News & World Report, Emory said yesterday in a statement. The rankings are influential with students and parents making college choices.

“As an institution that challenges itself, in the words of our vision statement, to be ’ethically engaged,’ Emory has not been well served by representatives in this history of misreporting,” President James Wagner said in a statement. “I am deeply disappointed.”

Emory’s admission illustrates the pressure colleges face to boost their rankings as they compete for the attention of students and their tuition dollars. The university’s announcement follows the January disclosure by Claremont McKenna College, near Los Angeles, that a school official had misrepresented SAT statistics since 2005.

Emory said it had inflated its reported SAT scores by 40 points in both 2010 and 2009. The school incorrectly said the 25th percentile of its admitted students in 2010 had a combined reading and math SAT score of 1,310 out of 1,600 and the 75th percentile achieved 1500. In fact, the scores ranged from 1,270 to 1,460.

Photographer: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Emory University President James Wagner speaks during an event at the school in 2009. Close

Emory University President James Wagner speaks during an event at the school in 2009.

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Photographer: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Emory University President James Wagner speaks during an event at the school in 2009.

SAT, ACT

Emory also incorrectly stated that 87 percent of its students in 2010 were in the top 10 percent of their high school classes in terms of grades. The true figure was 75 percent. The university made similar misrepresentations the year before.

At one time, which the college didn’t specify, Emory said it may have excluded the scores of the bottom 10 percent of students reporting both SAT and ACT scores, the main college admissions exams, and grade-point averages. Evidence showed the practice wasn’t followed after 2004.

The university said the misreporting occurred since at least 2000 as the admissions office reported the scores of admitted students, rather than those who enrolled. In May of this year, John Latting, Emory’s new assistant vice provost overseeing admissions, discovered discrepancies and the school conducted an investigation using an outside law firm, the college said.

Deans Involved

Two former deans of admission and the leadership of Emory’s Office of Institutional Research were aware of the misreporting, according to the university statement.

“The employees responsible for this conduct are no longer employed at Emory,” the college said in the statement. Emory declined to name the employees.

New internal controls, including a staff dedicated to managing “a system of checks and balances for future reporting,” will be put in place, the university said in the statement.

Emory said it didn’t know whether it had received a higher U.S. News ranking than it deserved, or if its position would drop.

U.S. News said its preliminary calculations show that Emory’s ranking over the past two years -- No. 20 among national universities -- wouldn’t have changed, according to a statement on its website. The misrepresentations would probably have had “a small to negligible effect in the several years prior.”

“We deplore the long-standing misreporting which Emory made public,” Brian Kelly, U.S. News editor and chief content officer said in the statement yesterday. “We appreciate the university’s commitment to fixing its data process.”

Manipulated Results

The Emory news underscores the flaws of efforts to rank colleges based on exam scores, said Bob Schaeffer, a spokesman for FairTest, a Boston-based nonprofit group critical of standardized tests.

“Emory’s confession that school officials gave inaccurate information to U.S. News & World Report is further evidence that the higher education ranking game is a case of garbage-in- garbage-out,” Schaeffer said in an e-mail. “The reliance on self-reported data from colleges, which obviously want to burnish their profiles, guarantees that the results will be manipulated.”

Founded in 1836, Emory has long been a favored charity of those running Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co. Alumni include Kenneth Cole, the fashion designer and Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

To contact the reporter on this story: John Hechinger in Boston at jhechinger@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Lisa Wolfson at lwolfson@bloomberg.net

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