The news that Claremont McKenna College, a prestigious liberal arts college of 1,200 undergraduates in southern California, sent inflated SAT scores to publications like U.S. News & World Report and the Department of Education, is a sad sign of how pressured colleges are to compete in college rankings and to get the best students. In an email dated January 30, 2012, the college’s President, Pamela B. Gann, wrote that a “senior administrator” had resigned after admitting to being “solely responsible” for “falsely reporting” SAT scores for the college’s students since 2005. An unnamed source “from within the College” had informed Gann that the Office of Admissions had provided inaccurate SAT statistics for the fall 2011 entering class.
While the administrator who resigned was not specifically mentioned, the information for Richard C. Vos, vice president and dean of admissions, was recently removed and no longer appears on Claremont McKenna’s Office of Admissions webpage.
Gann described the inaccurately reported SAT statistics:
Although the degree of inaccuracies varied over time, we understand that the reported critical reading and/or math SAT scores were generally inflated by an average of 10-20 points each. For the fall 2010 class, which is the most recent year that has been reported generally to the public, the individual reported a combined median of 1,410 when the actual should have been 1,400, and reported a 75th percentile score of 1,510 when the actual should have been 1,480. It is also important to note that, while overall statistics were manipulated, we do not have reason to believe any student’s individual score was altered.
In her email, Gann said that “at this time, we have no reason to believe that other individuals were involved. If we learn otherwise, we will take prompt and appropriate action.” She also wrote that Claremont-McKenna has hired “outside legal counsel from O’Melveny & Myers” to review the college’s “admission-related data processes.”
Claremont-McKenna is currently ranked as the ninth-best liberal arts college in the country in the U.S. News rankings. The Princeton Review has given it a “selectivity” rating comparable to Ivy League institutions.
The SAT scores were only slightly inflated but Claremont-McKenna is now on the record for providing false data to all agencies that collect data from colleges. As the Chronicle of Higher Education points out, “Test-score data is .. collected and used by bond-rating agencies, which require sworn certification.”
An “admissions” veteran even told the Chronicle’s Eric Hoover that he was “stunned” by the news, which he described as a “sad tale…of the pressure to compete.” The New York Times points out that even small differences in the SAT scores of students attending a college or university can influence where they stand in rankings and “the deception underscores the importance those rankings have taken on, as colleges fret over the loss of even a notch or two against their competitors.”
It is too early to see if the revelation of the falsified SAT scores affects Claremont-McKenna’s rankings. Certainly it seems likely to influence the college’s reputation and to put into question aspects of its mission statement, that it seeks to “educate its students for thoughtful and productive lives and responsible leadership in business, government, and the professions.”
It’s not only students who are feeling too much pressure to get into highly-ranked colleges. Colleges and universities are on the hunt for students not only to make sure they have the best-prepared, most highly-credentialed student body. Saying you are the “ninth-best in the country” and are “highly selective” certainly sounds sweet to alumni, parents of prospective students and others. The small changes that one now-former senior Claremont-McKenna College official made could prove to have a major impact of a not-so-preferred sort as well as casting a shadow over the whole college admissions “game.”
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