The University of Oklahoma Inflated Stats — Why it Matters for Students
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In recent years, colleges have been under much greater scrutiny as investigations into college processes reveal hidden biases or unintentional discrepancies hugely impact the educational opportunities of prospective students. Most recently, the University of Oklahoma came forward to correct years’ worth of false data that impacted their ranking. Here’s what you need to know.
How and Why the University of Oklahoma Inflated Stats
This year, the University of Oklahoma provided corrected data to U.S. News and World Report that dramatically altered their Best Colleges ranking. Having misreported the percent of alumni who give back to the school each year, UO originally reported 14% participation, but later corrected this rate to 9.7%. As a result, U.S. News will be listing UO as unranked this year until it can verify that the university will follow U.S. News’s standards for data reporting.
It’s worth mentioning that the University of Oklahoma is not alone. In fact, U.S. News has included a list of schools that are not being ranked this year due to false data reporting. However, UO is unique in that it is the sole undergraduate institution to make the list–all other schools currently included on this list are graduate programs.
Given that there are several confirmed schools that have falsified their data (and likely others who have not yet been caught), you may wonder why a school would give false data in the first place. The short answer is that schools often want to boost their rankings on U.S. News’s Best Colleges List, since many students, high schools, and parents use this report as a quick way to create a school list.
Let’s take a look into how schools are ranked, and why you need to consider more than just school rank in your decisions.
How Schools are Ranked
Every college ranking system uses its own metrics, so for our purposes we’ll cover how U.S. News and World Report ranks schools. They give an overview into their process so you know exactly what determines the rankings you see each year.
In general, U.S. News surveys schools directly, asking for most of the information that they require to compute a school’s ranking. Most schools happily comply, as their ranking on this list is often used to attract prospective students or encourage more funding. U.S. News compares this data to previous years’ data and verifies anything that seems suspicious.
Whenever a school has missing information on their survey, they look to fill these gaps using data from the Council for Aid to Education and the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. They are able to fill in data on alumni giving rates, student finances, faculty information, SAT and ACT admission scores, and graduation and retention rates from these sources.
For any remaining missing information, U.S. News will use estimates to calculate the rank, but will list the data as missing on the school’s profile.
Factors Affecting School Rank
In general, U.S. News weighs different factors in their calculation to assign each school a value between 0 and 100, with 100 being a top-performing school. Here are the factors they look at and how strongly they affect a school’s rank:
- Outcomes, 35%: In general, how well a school is able to retain and graduate students over the course of six years. Broken down further, this factor includes:
- Social Mobility, 5%: Schools that graduate students who receive federal Pell grants receive a stronger score overall, and schools that graduate Pell recipients at a rate equal to or higher than non-Pell recipients receive the highest scores (very few schools achieve this). The number of Pell recipients as a percentage of the total admitted population are also taken into account, because it’s more challenging to have a high Pell recipient graduation rate with more Pell recipients.
- Graduation and retention rate, 22%: The number of students who return to school after freshman year represents the institution’s retention rate and indicates that a school offers classes and services that allow students to succeed. Graduation rate measures how many students start and finish a degree within six years.
- Graduation rate performance, 8%: U.S. News predicts what the graduation rate will be for participating schools and compares the actual graduation rate to their prediction. Schools that graduate students at a higher rate than their prediction receive the highest score in this category.
- Faculty resources, 20%: This measures the access students have to faculty, and other faculty-based statistics. A school’s performance in this category depends on the following:
- Class size, 8%: The smaller the class size, the better a school scores.
- Faculty salary, 7%: Based on the average faculty pay and their benefits, and adjusted for regional differences in cost of living.
- Proportion of full-time faculty with the highest degree in their fields, 3%: Usually this is a Ph.D., but MFAs are also considered highest degree in the fine arts.
- Student-faculty ratio, 1%: The number of faculty to students. Generally, the more faculty there are, the smaller the class sizes.
- Proportion of faculty who are full-time, 1%: Many schools have some combination of adjunct faculty and part-time faculty to meet the demand for classes.
- Expert Opinion, 20%: U.S. News uses this to gauge the reputation of a school.
- Institutional opinion, 15%: U.S. News surveys the presidents, provosts, and deans of admissions at institutions to rate their peer institutions based on academic quality.
- High school opinion, 5%: They also conduct a similar survey of counselors at public, private, and parochial high schools.
- Financial Resources, 10%: This measures the average amount spent per student at a school to provide them with a quality educational experience. It does not include expenses related to sports, dorms, or hospitals.
- Student Excellence, 10%: Simply put, this measures how selective a school is.
- Standardized test scores, 7.75%: Many schools omit scores for students in these categories: athletes, international students, minority students, legacies, summer admits, and special circumstances. This is not considered misreporting. U.S. News adjusts their calculations based on whether they received scores for all students, and it makes a note on the school profile.
- High school class standing, 2.25%. For national universities and colleges, U.S. News looks at how many enrolled freshman students were in the top 10% of their class; for regional institutions, they look at how many were in the top 25%.
- Alumni Giving, 5%: This is the average percentage of alumni with bachelor’s degrees who gave to their school, and this metric is used to measure student satisfaction and post-graduate engagement. This is the category where UO misreported data.
How to Create a Good School List
If looking into the nuts and bolts of how U.S. News creates a school ranking has you wondering how fair or accurate these are, then you are not alone. U.S. News has received criticism from education policy makers and school administrators at both the high school and college level, but it remains an extremely influential factor in students’ decision making.
In some ways, rankings like U.S. News Best Colleges encourage schools to do better by their students when it comes to important metrics, like student outcomes. But it also promotes dishonesty, as schools try to outdo each other instead of doing what is best for their students, leading schools to ultimately inflate data to boost their ranking.
All in all, you should take school rankings with a grain of salt. While many of the schools that top these lists are wonderful institutions, there are fantastic schools at every rank on the list. Here are some other factors to consider when crafting your school list:
Location. Some schools may be great, but you would find yourself bored or homesick if you had to stay in a small college town for years. Or maybe the opposite is true, and you want to stay out of the city bustle so you can focus on your classes. Wherever you go to school, you want to make sure that you can imagine yourself living there, and that the campus environment and surrounding area suit your personality and needs.
Size. Public research universities tend to be several times larger than private liberal arts colleges, but only you can decide which you’d prefer. Large universities tend to have more diverse student populations and opportunities for socializing, such as major sporting events, while small colleges have coveted small classes and make it easy for you to connect and network with faculty and alumni.
Your gut feeling. As silly as it sounds, you may have a strong feeling for or against certain schools, and you shouldn’t ignore those feelings because of something like a school’s rank or which schools your friends are considering. It is important that you feel comfortable with the thought of attending any school on your list. After all, you’ll be spending a significant time of your life there, so if the thought of attending a school makes you cringe, you may want to leave it off the list.
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