USC will pull its Rossier School of Education from U.S. News & World Report’s next annual ranking of best graduate schools after discovering “a history of inaccuracies” in data reported by the school going back at least five years.
Charles Zukoski, USC’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, addressed the decision in a letter sent Wednesday to the graduate school community, noting that officials “asked U.S. News not to include the Rossier School in its graduate school rankings for 2023 while we seek to understand the situation further.”
USC officials have informed the U.S. Department of Education and accreditors of the situation, he wrote.
“Please know that this decision has no bearing on the quality or value of a Rossier education,” Zukoski wrote. “Rather, it reflects our responsibility, which we take very seriously, to adhere to the specific reporting requirements of the ranking organization when we submit our data.”
Kyle Henley, a USC spokesperson, said he was not able to provide further details about the data inaccuracies.
The Rossier School was No. 11 in the most recent ranking of best education schools, which is based on opinions from administrators and top faculty members at peer institutions as well as statistical surveys about the schools’ students, faculty and research, according to the methodology published by U.S. News & World Report. Data for the 2022 report were collected in fall 2020 and in early 2021. Of the 438 schools that were surveyed, 277 responded.
USC touts its universitywide rankings online — as other universities often do — for various programs and a “ranking” page with media releases about top spots it has earned. No information about U.S. News & Report rankings for the Rossier School was found and appears to have been removed from the USC website.
U.S. News & World Report’s ranking system is a competitive independent analysis of a school’s academic achievement and quality. It offers data on enrollment, job placement and faculty. Historical data for Rossier School rankings prior to the most recent were not immediately available.
“Our mission is to provide students with accurate, in-depth data to help them in their school search. We rely on schools to accurately report their data and ask academic officials to verify that data,” Robert Morse, chief data strategist at U.S. News, said in a statement.
The university asked the developer and trustee to guide it through its lowest point in history. Now running for mayor, Rick Caruso is inviting voters to look at how he “cleaned up the messes at USC” and will do the same for the city of L.A.
The rankings process is based largely on the honor system, said David Hawkins, chief education and policy advisor for the National Assn. for College Admission Counseling. Data submitted are expected to be accurate.
“The submission of data to the rankings tends to be a pretty high-stakes endeavor and one that is subject to a whole range of influences,” Hawkins said.
But accidental mistakes, as well as intentional wrongdoing, does occur.
Earlier in March, the former dean of Temple University’s business school was sentenced to more than one year in prison after he was convicted of fraud in connection with data he falsified to help boost the private school’s rankings. In a statement, the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania described it as a “scheme to deceive applicants and donors into believing that the school offered top-ranked business degree programs.”
The former dean, Moshe Porat, boasted about the rankings in marketing materials, the statement said. Enrollment in the university’s programs “grew dramatically in a few short years, which led to millions of dollars a year in increased tuition revenues.”
Claremont McKenna was previously found to have exaggerated the SAT exam scores of incoming freshman classes, which helped boost its U.S. News & World Report rankings. A senior official in the admissions office resigned over the inflated numbers, which may have contributed to the college’s bump from a previously tied position.
Rankings systems are often viewed as arbitrary analyses that cement existing hierarchies within higher education, Hawkins said. But withdrawing from any rankings can cause reputational harm.
“When you have a publication that has gained as much prominence as U.S. News, you’re stuck between a rock and hard place — you take away your data at your own peril,” he said. “It’s a complex issue and institutions do wrestle significantly with the implications, and with the benefits.”
College Scorecard or College Navigator, which provide resources from the Department of Education, can offer alternative insights.
USC has hired Jones Day, an independent law firm, to investigate the Rossier School’s past submissions to U.S. News & World Report, Zukoski said.
“The investigation is well underway,” he wrote. “We will share their findings when they are complete sometime within the next two weeks.”
Former Dean Karen Symms Gallagher oversaw the Rossier School from 2000 to 2020. Rossier Dean Pedro Noguera, who started in July 2020, addressed the university’s decision in an email sent to members of the graduate school’s community Wednesday.
“I support the university’s decision to conduct an independent investigation and appreciate that everyone who has been asked has participated fully,” Noguera wrote. “We are working to develop processes at Rossier so this does not happen again.”
The school remains strong, he wrote, highlighting the work of faculty, staff and students to “further the Rossier mission through excellent teaching, research and service.”
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Gregory Yee is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Before joining the newsroom in 2021, he spent five years covering criminal justice and breaking news for the Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C. He is a native Southern Californian and graduated from UC Irvine in 2012 with a degree in journalism and Spanish literature.
Colleen Shalby is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. She previously worked at PBS NewsHour in Washington, D.C. She’s a graduate of George Washington University and a native of Southern California.
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