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Sorry, Wrong Numbers
Emory investigation finds that staff and administrators intentionally misreported admissions data for at least 10 years and that individuals with knowledge of the data fraud did not speak up.
Emory University officials announced Friday that administrators had knowingly misreported information about the SAT and ACT scores, class rank, and grade point averages of incoming students since at least 2000. Instead of reporting scores and class rank for enrolled students, administrators reported that of admitted students, leading to higher numbers because many students at the top of Emory's admission pool enrolled at other institutions.
The incorrect data was reported to various third parties, including the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. News & World Report.
Administrators were not able to say exactly how long the university had been reporting the incorrect numbers or why the practice began. They did note, however, that there were individuals within the responsible departments while the practice was taking place who questioned the practice but never reported it other than to their supervisors.
“We gleaned from the little we know that in these offices were a number of individuals who respected the lines of authority who were told by supervisors ‘This is the way we did it,’ " said Provost Earl Lewis on a conference call with reporters. “That was noted and they went on with day-to-day business.”
The Emory announcement is the second high-profile revelation of an elite college reporting incorrect data about student admissions. In May, Claremont McKenna College announced that a dean there had been misreporting data about admissions.
But while the two cases look similar, there are significant differences. At Claremont McKenna, a single admissions dean admitted to misreporting data to appease administrators’ expectations while following a different enrollment strategy that placed less emphasis than the top administrators wanted on grades and test scores.
The Emory case was more systemic. Emory officials said they could not determine why the misreporting happened, but the practice spanned the tenures of at least two admissions deans and also involved the university’s director of institutional research. Staff members in those offices were also aware that the practice was taking place.
Emory administrators said Friday that the discovery of the incorrect data was a blow to the university, which prides itself on being ethical. “As an institution that challenges itself, in the words of our vision statement, to be 'ethically engaged,' Emory has not been well served by representatives of the university in this history of misreporting,” said President James W. Wagner in a letter to the university community. “I am deeply disappointed. Indeed, anyone who cares about Emory’s reputation for excellence in all things must regret this news.”
John Latting, the university’s new assistant vice provost for undergraduate enrollment and dean of admissions, who arrived at the university in late 2011, discovered the discrepancy in the data in May and brought it to the provost. The university’s general counsel launched a three-month investigation, bringing in law firm Jones Day to assist and to ensure independence.
Administrators said the investigation was designed to answer three questions: “whether incorrect data were submitted; if incorrect data were submitted, who was responsible; and if incorrect data were submitted, how and why did that practice begin.”
While the university got an answer to the first two questions, the third was left unanswered. Steve Sencer, the university’s general counsel, said the university and Jones Day interviewed many people and reviewed thousands of e-mails and that administrators were “confident that the investigation was thorough.” Emory administrators would not say who was included in the investigation.
Requests for comment from Latting’s two predecessors – who are both now college counselors at private Atlanta-area schools – were not returned. Daniel Walls served as the university’s director of admissions from 1983 to 2007 and was associate vice president for enrollment management from 2007-10. When he moved up to that job, Jean Jordan replaced him as admissions dean. She left in 2011.
The university reported the standardized test scores of admitted students as those of enrolled students. The university released two years of the erroneous and corrected data, which showed that the 25th and 75th percentiles of SAT scores were roughly 40 points higher in the misreported data.
SAT Scores of Incoming Freshmen
Data Initially Misreported on CDS
1310 – 1500
1270 – 1460
1300 – 1480
1260 – 1440
The university also misreported the percentage of students in the top decile of their high school graduating classes, “although the methodology used to produce those data was less clear,” administrators said. In 2009 and 2010, the percentage reported was about 10 percent higher than what it should have been.
“At one time, Emory may have excluded the scores of the bottom ten percent of students when reporting SAT/ACT scores, GPAs, and the top decile,” administrators wrote in a Q&A. “Evidence showed this practice of exclusion was not followed after 2004.”
Emory officials were not able to say whether the misreported data had any effect on the university’s ranking in U.S. News & World Report, where it has been ranked 20th for the past two years, or whether its ranking would drop as a result of reporting accurate data.
U.S. News officials said the effect was small. “Our preliminary calculations show that the misreported data would not have changed the school’s ranking in the past two years (No. 20) and would likely have had a small to negligible effect in the several years prior,” said Brian Kelly, the magazine's editor.
The university is now taking steps to prevent similar misreporting in the future. The provost’s office is establishing a Data Advisory Committee from across the university to review reporting procedures, codify definitions, and periodically audit the university’s data reporting. The university is hiring a data analyst for the admissions office.
Latting met with his staff last week and told them that if they felt he was not adequately addressing an issue, they should take it to his supervisors. The university also reminded staff of a “Trust Line” they can call if they feel like issues are not being addressed by their superiors.
The two former admissions deans did not work at the university when Latting raised flags on the issue. The director of institutional research worked at the university when Latting reported the data discrepancy, but is no longer employed by the institution.
The university's report indicated that there was no evidence that the university's deans, provost or president were aware of or involved in reporting the incorrect figures.
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