Are Ivy League Schools Fudging Their Numbers?

Last Updated Sep 4, 2009 6:33 PM EDT

As long as college rankings exist there's going to be schools that try to game the system.
But do institutions like Harvard, Princeton, MIT and Stanford really need to fudge their numbers?

Here's why I'm suspicious: These elite schools (and they are hardly alone) gave U.S. News & World Report numbers on their full-time faculty for the magazine's latest college rankings that don't jive with the figures that the institutions provided to the federal government.

Here's one of the egregious examples: Stanford reported to the U.S. Department of Education that 54% of its professors are full time. But Stanford told U.S. News & World Report that 99% of its faculty are full time. Huh?

The University of Pennsylvania informed the federal government that 52% of its faculty are full timers, but it told US News that 86% were. Princeton and Harvard's magazine stats were 92% and 93% respectively, but its federal numbers were 79% and 83%.

Duke was the only university in US News' top 10 university list that reported consistent figures to both entities. The school says that 97% of its faculty are full time.

The American Federation of Teachers gave me the damning spread sheet this afternoon that contains the dueling sets of figures for the remaining nine schools. What is the motivation for schools to report different numbers? This story from InsideHigherEd explored motivations for the University of Nebraska when it get caught this week with fishy numbers.

What is clear is that universities are relying more heavily on temporary faculty and grad students to teach undergraduate classes. Strangely enough, grad students aren't even included in the US News or government counts. Stanford, for instance, has 2,968 graduate assistants versus 1,746 full-time faculty.

You'll never hear a university bragging that it's boosting its number of part-time teachers. And here's an important reason for the silence: research has shown that students fare worse and are more likely to drop out of school when their professors are part-time. After all, part-time teachers of calculus or Shakespeare are more likely to hop in their cars and leave after their classes and are unlikely to have office hours.

Research has also suggested that at institutions loaded with part-time instructors, full-time faculty are less likely to spend as much time helping students, preparing for their classes or using active teaching techniques. Perhaps the tenured teachers figured that if part-timers could get away with minimal contact with students and less prep time for classes they could too!

Stanford Image by AdmitSpit. CC 2.0.

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