Columbia University Apologizes For Submitting Inaccurate Data To College Ranking Publication
"We find discrepancies, sometimes quite large, and always in Columbia's favor," math professor Michael Thaddeus proclaimed.
by Nick Fenley
September 13, 2022 at 7:48 pm
New York City’s Columbia University may be a well-known Ivy League institution. Still, it appears as though it may have inadvertently boosted its prestige by recently submitting less-than-accurate data.
Suspicion surrounding Columbia’s college ranking came about way back in February after a math professor named Michael Thaddeus posted a statement in which he noted that, from 1988 to 2021, the institution jumped from 18th to 2nd place on U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking of universities in America.
“A few other top-tier universities have also improved their standings, but none has matched Columbia’s extraordinary rise,” he noted in his statement.
However, while Columbia’s rise on the well-known ranking list is indeed commendable, Thaddeus also pointed out that something is a bit fishy about the data used to determine its spot.
“Can we be sure that the data accurately reflect the reality of life within the university? Regrettably, the answer is no,” Thaddeus noted. “As we will see, several of the key figures supporting Columbia’s high ranking are inaccurate, dubious, or highly misleading.”
He proceeded to then home in on the subjects of “undergraduate class size, percentage of faculty with terminal degrees, percentage of faculty who are full-time, and student-faculty ratio,” as well as instructional spending and graduation rates.
“We find discrepancies, sometimes quite large, and always in Columbia’s favor,” the professor said of his findings.
“Columbia is a great university and, based on its legitimate merits, should attract students comparable to the best anywhere. By obsessively pursuing a ranking, however, it demeans itself,” Thaddeus powerfully noted in his conclusion.
It’s also worth noting that he threw shade at the entire ranking process, as he wrote, “The ranking is a failure because the supposed facts on which it is based cannot be trusted.”
In response to the matter, Mary Boyce, the institution’s provost, announced that Columbia would “refrain from submitting data to U.S. News and World Report for this year’s undergraduate college rankings” while it conducted an assessment of its data-reporting methods.
Boyce also said that Columbia would begin participating in the Common Data Set (CDS) Initiative this year, “a collaborative effort among data providers in the higher education community” that works to ensure “the quality and accuracy of information provided,” according to the CDS Initiative website.
Columbia acknowledges it provided incorrect numbers on class size, faculty degrees — which led to its #2 ranking in the US News survey for undergrad schools https://t.co/deJtHb6YQE
— Bill Grueskin (@BGrueskin) September 10, 2022
“On two of the metrics questioned by our faculty member, class size and faculty with terminal degrees, we determined we had previously relied on outdated and/or incorrect methodologies. We have changed those methodologies for current and future data submissions, as reflected in the newly posted Common Data Sets,” Boyce noted.
“The Columbia undergraduate experience is and always has been centered around small classes taught by highly accomplished faculty. That fact is unchanged. But anything less than complete accuracy in the data that we report — regardless of the size or the reason — is inconsistent with the standards of excellence to which Columbia holds itself,” she continued. “We deeply regret the deficiencies in our prior reporting and are committed to doing better.”
While Columbia is taking accountability and rectifying the issue, the situation really gets one thinking about whether other institutions’ data reporting method are wholly accurate.