Emorygate—They do too know why it happened

(Editorial disclosure: My son attends Oxford College of Emory University.)

News broke Friday about Emory’s admissions data scandal, and we’re seeing broader coverage of the issue in this morning’s news. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution looks at the effects on donations and admissions (who knows?), and Inside Higher Ed has an article on the scandal as well. First of all, here’s what Emory admissions officials did (as reported in the AJC):

The school’s internal investigation found that officials:

— Used SAT/ACT data for admitted students instead of enrolled students since at least 2000. Using admitted students’ information artificially inflated Emory’s test scores. For example, officials reported that the 25th- to 75th-percentile SAT scores for the 2010 cohort were 1310 to 1500, when they were actually 1270 to 1460.

— Overstated the percent of incoming students who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. Emory said that 87 percent came from the top 10 percent in 2010 cohort, when it was actually 75 percent.

— May have excluded the scores of the bottom 10 percent of students when reporting SAT/ACT scores, GPAs and those in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. Evidence suggests this did not happen after 2004.

Emory posted more information at: www.emory.edu/datareview.

And from Inside Higher Ed:

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.

Emory’s top officials know why this happened, but they can’t say because that will open up a can of worms—maybe two or three. The practice stopped because there was a new sheriff in town who read the school’s mission statement about being “ethicially engaged.” (And whatever happened to simply being ethical?) Anyway, they felt that they had to come clean, and they’re trying to do it as painlessly as possible, by merely confessing and weathering a news-cycle storm that they hope will go away.

Obviously, it was an attempt to make the school look more prestigious academically. The school is ranked 20th in the nation. And while U.S. News and World Report claims that this latest disclosure wouldn’t have affected Emory’s ranking, I wonder where Emory will be on the list next year. (And by the way, about 400 students from Oxford join Emory’s student body for their junior year, and Oxford’s admission stats are lower than Emory’s. The average Oxford student’s test scores are higher than the typical University of Georgia freshman and lower than a Georgia Tech enrollee.)

Prestige brings applications from top students and more prestige. It also brings money. The last time I checked, Emory had the 13th largest endowment among American universities, and while it has a generous financial aid program, the sticker price is steep—among the highest in the land, and more expensive than several Ivy League schools. It ranks 20th academically, but its expenses are 12th highest among that elite group.

Here’s the list of Top Twenty National Universities, accourding to U.S. News:

  1. Harvard
  2. Princeton
  3. Yale
  4. Columbia
  5. Californis Institute of Technology
  6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  7. Stanford University
  8. University of Chicago
  9. University of Pennsylvania
  10. Duke University
  11. Dartmouth College
  12. Northwestern
  13. Johns Hopkins
  14. Washington University of St. Louis
  15. Brown University
  16. Cornell University
  17. Rice University
  18. Vanderbilt University
  19. University of Notre Dame
  20. Emory University

Source: U.S. News and World Report

Here’s the sticker Price of the Top Twenty, from high to low:

  1. $61,882 – Darthmouth
  2. 61,639 – Washington University, St. Louis
  3. 61,549 – Columbia
  4. 61,132 – Northwestern
  5. 60,820 – Johns Hopkins
  6. 60,274 – Vanderbilt
  7. 60,034 – Brown
  8. 59,591 – Cornell
  9. 59,429 – Penn
  10. 58,536 – Stanford
  11. 58,180 – Emory
  12. 57,950 – Harvard
  13. 57,711 – U. Chicago
  14. 57,355 – Notre Dame
  15. 57,010 – MIT
  16. 56,382 – CalTech
  17. 55,465 – Princeton
  18. 56,300 – Yale
  19. 56,056 – Duke
  20. 52,242 – Rice

Source: College Board

Emory University officials claim they can’t say why this cheating occurred, and they might be right. I suspect they read the investigative report, found out why the cheating occurred, looked up in horror at each other, and said, “We can’t say that” because it might cause a political backlash. So they’re going to try to weather the storm, try to do right, and A) either their freshman stats fall, or B) they ride the insanity that is the elite-school admissions process and come out smelling like a rose bush that’s fertilized with manure.

Read more: Inside Higher Ed; Atlanta Journal-Constution.

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