The U.S. News announced yesterday (July 25) that five schools, including the University of California-Berkeley, would be removed from its 2019 Best Colleges national ranking after misreporting data. Along with UC-Berkeley, Scripps College, Mars Hill University, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, and Johson & Wales University were also removed for misreporting. UC-Berkeley has consistently ranked as the top public school and a top-25 university overall for many years in the U.S. News ranking. Each school has been removed because the misreported data directly improved their ranking in 2019.
Each of the schools notified U.S. News of the discrepancies while conducting data gathering for the 2020 Best Colleges ranking, which has been going on since spring of this year. For UC-Berkeley, the snafu came while reporting the two-year average alumni giving rate for fiscal years 2016 and 2017. The school originally reported that its average giving rate for 2017 and 2016 was 11.6% but only recently reported its 2016 average was actually 7.9%. Berkeley also revealed it has likely been misreporting this particular data point since 2014.
The difference stemmed from UC-Berkeley including tax-deductible gifts along with pledges that are not tax-deductible in the alumni giving portion of the ranking. According to U.S. News guidelines, only gifts qualifying for IRS charitable deductions can be included. The addition of non-tax-deductible gifts means UC-Berkeley has “greatly overstated its alumni giving data,” since 2014, the U.S. News says. Alumni giving makes up 5% of the overall calculations in the Best Colleges ranking.
ALUMNI GIVING, FINANCIAL RESOURCE EXPENDITURES, HIGH SCHOOL STANDING ALL LEAD TO FALSE DATA
For Johnson & Wales University, the school self-reported it’s been over-reporting its financial resource expenditures budget for many years. Instead of just reporting for its Providence, Rhode Island campus, the school has been reporting that data point for all four of its campuses nationwide. According to the U.S. News, Johnson & Wales believes the misreporting means that for every $100 of its reported financial expenditures, the accurate amount should be $62. Financial resources expenditures per student accounts for 10% of the overall ranking.
For Mars Hill and Scripps College, the misreporting also manifested in alumni giving rates while UNC-Pembroke misreported high school class standing.
For the next three years, all five schools will have to include an extra letter certifying the accuracy of the misreported data points. The U.S. News published letters it wrote to Johnson & Wales and UC-Berkeley. “As you are aware, University of California-Berkeley (UC-Berkeley) disclosed that it reported incorrect alumni giving data for several years to U.S. News & World Report,” the letter addressed to University of California system Preside Janet Napolitano and Chancellor Carol Christ. “UC-Berkeley disclosed to U.S. News that, for many years, it had included alumni who made pledges and those alumni that made tax deductible charity gifts in the number of alumni donors reported to U.S. News instead of just the number of alumni donors who gave “cash” gifts that qualified for a charitable giving tax deduction for federal purposes.”
MISREPORTING DATA HAS HAPPENED BEFORE IN U.S. NEWS RANKING
While the U.S. News said misreporting is rare in its report, when it does happen, it’s a big deal. The most recent example happened just last year when the U.S. News learned Temple University’s Fox School of Business was knowingly reported false data for years to help its online MBA program reach No. 1 status. The fallout of the falsified data led to the forced-resignation of Temple Fox Dean Moshe Porat, which most recently led to a $25 million lawsuit between Temple and the former dean.
To help prevent these sorts of data mess-ups, the U.S. News asks schools to sign-off on the data, attempts to flag year-over-year discrepancies, and uses federal government data when possible.