A new college rankings scandal

(MoneyWatch) George Washington University is the latest institution to confess to generating bogus admission statistics.

The private Washington, D.C., university recently announced that its admission office had inflated the class rank statistics of its freshmen for more than a decade. GWU had reported that 78 percent of its latest freshmen were in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. The actual figure, however, was 58 percent.

Even this figure is highly suspect because the school only collected class rankings from 38 percent of its freshman. (To learn more about the university's dubious tactics, read this eye-opening article in The Washington Monthly.)

GWU joins a long list of schools that have confessed to, or been caught, manipulating admission statistics in a way that makes them look more exclusive, including Claremont McKenna College, U.S. Naval Academy, Baylor University and Emory University. Colleges are tempted to fudge their figures, at least in part, because U.S. News & World Report college rankingsreward colleges and universities that appear more elite.

But the problem is almost certainly not confined to these institutions. Someone with inside knowledge of U.S. News' college rankings told me that the publication has noticed plenty of questionable statistics among schools.

That is no surprise, since school admission statistics aren't audited. They should be, as an admission director at Texas Christian University recently acknowledged.  

As for GWU, U.S. News has punished the school for misrepresenting its admission numbers. GWU had been tied for 51st place in the national university category this year with Tulane University and Boston University. But US News has delisted GWU until next year's rankings are released.

As I have said in previous posts on college rankings, families should understand that the U.S. News college rankings are deeply flawed. You shouldn't make any decisions on what school to visit or attend based on what these faulty numbers appear to show.