CMC’s Future Rankings Left Uncertain After SAT Score Inflation Scandal

Claremont McKenna College (CMC) made national headlines Monday when President Pamela B. Gann announced that the college has reported false SAT statistics since 2005 to a variety of organizations, including U.S. News and World Report, the credit rating agency Moody’s, and the U.S. Department of Education.

In an e-mail sent to CMC students Monday, Gann did not identify the senior admissions official who was “solely responsible” for the inaccurate reporting, though former Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Richard Vos resigned this week. Georgette DeVeres, Associate Vice President for Admissions and Financial Aid, is now the acting dean.  

Students and faculty reactions have ranged from frustration to disbelief to sympathy about the allegation. Some students expressed worry about how those unfamiliar with the school will perceive the institution.

“I think that this is adding to CMC’s reputation as an unscrupulous student body,” Sridhar Poddar CM ’15 said. “It is not only the students that shape the ethos of the school.” 

“The critical reading and/or math SAT scores were generally inflated by an average of 10-20 points each,” Gann wrote in the e-mail. The corrected scores released from the CMC Office of Institutional Research, however, show a discrepancy of up to 23 points between the actual and reported scores, according to The Claremont Portside.

Although the President’s office declined to speak with TSL, Gann held a closed meeting Thursday with reporters from two CMC publications. She maintained the misreporting occurred because “a sole person had too much authority over reporting,” Gann told the Portside.

“Unlike corporate controls over financial matters, we didn’t have internal checks and balances in place,” Gann said.

In addition to instituting a system in which two vice presidents independent of the admissions office will verify statistics from now on, Gann told the Portside that the law firm O’Melveny and Meyers will conduct a formal investigation under the direction of the Board of Trustees, although it is unclear whether the resulting information will be released to the public.  In the Portside, Gann responded to claims that she places too much emphasis on the SAT scores of applicants.

“We have no explicit goals for SAT scores,” she said. “Our aspiration is to have a talented student body; SAT scores are a part of that.”

In the past year U.S. News and World Report ranked CMC ninth among selective liberal arts institutions, a jump from eleventh in 2010.  This spike has led many to question whether the inflated SAT scores alone would have been enough to boost the college’s ranking and reputation.

While the U.S. News and World Report will not revise previously published ranking lists, the publication’s Director of Data Research Robert Morse said that once the updated average scores from CMC are received, the Report will recalculate and publish updated rankings on its blog.

“But until we get the actual data—and we haven’t yet, we cannot say whether they would have moved out of the top ten,” Morse said. “Ten to 20 points is not that much, but yes it is possible that it could be enough to drop up or down a ranking.”

The SAT scores are weighted by 7.5 percent in calculating the U.S News “Best Colleges” rankings. However, high test scores can also factor into the reputation of a school, and students’ reputational surveys hold a weight of 22.5 percent in the rankings calculations.

Other publications like the Princeton Review publish both rankings and ratings. The rating lists are based on institutionally reported factors, including SAT scores, but the ranking lists, which include categories like “Best Classroom Experience” or “School Runs like Butter,” are based “100 percent on student opinion that come directly from student surveys,” said Princeton Review Senior Vice President and Publisher Rob Franek.

“We surveyed 120,000 college students last year,” Franek said. “Of course we are going to continue to collect the data from Claremont McKenna, and I believe that we have a good partnership. From a public relations publishing perspective, it seems like the president of Claremont McKenna is dealing with it directly, which we applaud.” 

Morse said that these events will not make U.S. News and World Report change the way it gets data.

“It is of course possible that other schools have been misreporting, but I don’t think so,” Morse said. “I think that this is the exception, and I think that the idea of a reputation being tarnished would act as a deterrent for future schools.”

“This does bring to light the frenzy around SAT and ACT scores,” Franek said.

When asked if he thought the tests were overvalued in the admissions process, Franek said, “I don’t know—but they are certainly coachable.” He added that just the Princeton Review itself employs over 7,000 SAT tutors. 

“Over the years the qualifications of the students have risen,” CMC International Relations Professor Edward Haley said. “But a constant emphasis on testing doesn’t necessarily mean they are brighter. The numbers are a bit silly. Those numbers are so unrelated to the wonderful class discussion that we have, or to success later in life.” 

Greg Zahner CM ’12 blamed the national emphasis on test scores for the admission officer’s actions.

“It is a sad thing that higher education has become so obsessed with scores that Dean Vos was placed in a position of trying to increase scores while maintaining CMC’s character,” he said.

Vice President of Public Affairs Max Benavidez will attend the Monday CMC Senate meeting at 9:30 p.m. to address students’ concerns.

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