This prestigious school attracts a large number of outstanding students to apply every year, however, it has recently been caught in the “ranking data fraud” storm.
On Thursday night, local time, Columbia University announced that it would no longer be participating in the next round of US News’ annual Best Colleges rankings because of an internal investigation underway on the issue of professors questioning data earlier this year.
In February, Michael Thaddeus, a math professor at Columbia University, published a lengthy article questioning Columbia’s second-place finish on the 2022 US News “Best National University Rankings” list.
“Like the rest of the faculty at Columbia, I am very interested in Columbia’s place in the US News University Rankings. It is gratifying that Columbia has steadily risen from No. 18 when it debuted in 1988 to No. 1 this year. Second, it is now second only to Princeton University and tied with Harvard and MIT.”
But he began to think: “Can we be sure that these data accurately reflect the reality of college life? Unfortunately, the answer is no. As we will see, several key figures supporting Columbia’s high ranking are inaccurate. , suspicious or highly misleading.”
At the time, a Columbia University spokesman insisted that the submitted data was fine. But in an official announcement Thursday night, Provost Mary Boyce said Columbia had “immediately begun reviewing the data collection and submission process” after Michael Thaddeus’s article was published.
“The ongoing assessment is about integrity, and we’re not going to cut corners,” Boyce said.
Why is Columbia ranked second?
U.S. News’ rankings are based on a complex formula that includes class size, financial resources, graduation rates, social mobility, a peer-assessment survey and other metrics.
Thaddeus accused the school of inflating the proportion of classes with fewer than 20 students and teaching funding, both of which helped the school improve its score in the U.S. News ranking formula.
In Columbia’s undergraduate programs, the percentage of students with fewer than 20 students can range between 62.7% and 66.9%. We can be sure that this is far from the 82.5% claimed by Columbia University;
The percentage of Columbia’s undergraduate programs enrolling 50 or more students may be between 10.6% and 12.4%. Again, this is much worse than the 8.9% claimed by Columbia University;
These numbers suggest that Columbia’s class sizes are not particularly small compared to peer institutions. In addition, year-over-year figures for 2019-2021 suggest that Columbia’s class size is steadily increasing. Ironically, Columbia University is considering a massive expansion of undergraduate enrollment, which would further expand class sizes.
Columbia’s strong performance in the financial resources category appears to be attributable to the amount it claims to spend on teaching. In documents reported to the government, its teaching spending for 2019-20 was above $3.1 billion. This is indeed a huge sum of money. It is the largest number to date in a report to the government by more than 6,000 institutions of higher learning and is larger than the corresponding sums of Harvard, Yale and Princeton combined.
It’s hard to imagine how Columbia University spends so much money on teaching alone. Teacher salaries are not that high, with full-time non-medical teachers spending $289 million in salaries in 2019-20, less than 9% of the $3.1 billion. Even with generous stipends for part-time and medical teachers, and these are factored into teaching costs, huge sums of money are still “unaccounted for”.
Thaddeus noted that in other cases, Columbia University has described its spending quite differently, claiming to spend less on teaching and more on other things. For example, Columbia University regularly claims to spend more than $1 billion a year on research, and in its government report, Columbia University says it spends about $763 million on research.
In its consolidated financial statements, Columbia University claims to have “teaching andeducateAdministration” (which presumably includes academic support and student services), which is more than $1 billion lower than what the government reported. On the other hand, in the consolidated financial statements, there is another very large A “patient care expense” costing more than $1.2 billion was completely absent from the government report.
U.S. News: We are not responsible for verifying the accuracy of school submissions
Thaddeus said he would not describe Columbia’s announcement as a “victory for transparency and accuracy,” noting that unanswered questions remain, including what the university’s review will find and whether the school will re-engage in the rankings. But the withdrawal “at least shows that Columbia’s critics are justified.”
U.S. News’ college rankings have faced controversy over the years, on the one hand, over specific data issues, and on the other hand, because the metrics for evaluating “good colleges” are more or less subjective. Critics say the list merely reinforces the idea of rewarding the richest and best-known institutions.
Reed College in Oregon, which declined to provide ranking data to U.S. News, is still included in the annual list. Some critics have argued that the school’s precipitous drop in rankings is due to this misfit, with U.S. News’ guides littered with hidden penalties and statistical gimmicks.
U.S. News said in March that the organization was not responsible for verifying the accuracy of school submissions. However, U.S. News editor and chief content officer Kim Castro said in a statement Friday, “Columbia’s admission that they could not meet the data standards for the 2023 Best Colleges rankings published by U.S. News & World Report sparked a series of issue. We are concerned about this and are reviewing various options, including reviewing data previously submitted by Columbia, to ensure our rankings continue to maintain the highest level of integrity.”