Until a few days ago, it was easy to complain that Claremont McKenna College didn’t get the attention it deserved. After last week, most students are probably wishing for some of that former anonymity. CMC’s name has been splashed across the New York TimesBusiness Week, and everything in between after the revelation of SAT data manipulation by a member of the administration was revealed on Monday. Cameras from local news crews dotted the campus last Tuesday, and students’ names have been popping up in national news articles.

The misconduct of the senior administration official is both upsetting and novel in its character, but it is not entirely unprecedented. CMC isn’t the first school to try to cheat the system. The recent transgressions on the part of the administration fit in to a wider trend of schools bending to a tremendous pressure to rise in the rankings.

In a New York Times article, Richard Perez-Peña pointed to a number of other schools involved in similar scandals. Last year, Iona College of New Rochelle, New York admitted to lying about “graduation rates, freshman retention, student-faculty ratio, acceptance rates and alumni giving.”  Similar incidences were reported at both Villanova University and the University of Illinois. Even the United States Naval Academy has been accused of playing with their admissions figures. CMC may be the current focus of collegiate dishonesty charges, but there exists a clear problem in the industry.

Other schools hope to improve their rankings through more legitimate, yet decidedly underhanded tactics.  The Los Angeles Times discussed a few of these common tactics in a Wednesday editorial. Some schools, it explained, allow students to opt-out of releasing their SAT scores. One school, Baylor University, offered monetary incentives to retake the SAT after their acceptance in hopes that they might score better. We’ve seen CMC shape its policies around rank performance before: just ask any student who has been unable to join a class capped at nineteen students. In its evaluation, U.S News and World Report uses the number of classes with 1-19 students as a measurement of “Faculty Resources” at different colleges and universities.

Rankings and statistics are often the standard by which prospective students compare colleges and the metric by which colleges judge their performance. It can be easy to get caught up in the numbers but, as the LA Times emphasized in their article, “Colleges and public schools are under pressure to look good, which means they must also ramp up efforts to ensure that’s done ethically.” We are talking about two big problems here.  First, it is essential that the higher education industry recognizes and addresses the existence of an unhealthy pressure for schools to try to game the rankings.  More importantly, CMC, and other schools like it, must put in place mechanisms to ensure that wrongful manipulation of data cannot happen again.

If there was any question that these shadowy strategies to boost one’s rankings simply aren’t worth it, CMC’s misconduct has already led to its removal from Kiplinger’s Best Values in Private Colleges list from the 2011-2012 year.  CMC had been ranked 18th on the list, a fantastic selling point for the school, but now its removal serves as a ringing condemnation rather than a sign of merit.

Let’s not forget, rankings matter, and in many ways the school has benefited from its increasing renown, including its impressive admission statistics. But it is clear that the higher education industry, including CMC’s administration, has developed an unhealthy fixation, and it is starting to hurt the students who should be its actual focus.


  1. Well, if you’re single minded enough to take major (and only) stock in what Kiplinger has to say, you’re probably not bright enough to be at CMC.

    *Sarcasm* Good job, Kiplinger. Keep up every other institution that is as dishonorable and shady as they come. You think UCLA, Berkeley, and others, don’t fudge the scores of their athletes? Or don’t report them? Guarantee they do. They have tutors that essentially do their homework for them in some cases. So whoever takes stock in Kiplinger is missing a lightbulb. 

    • Four thoughts:
      1) It is embarrassing to be caught. If you are going to cheat like the big leagues, don’t get caught. 2) If you do get caught, clean house so that nobody can say there is a cover up.3) So the rankings matter one day and then don’t matter the next because we are caught cheating them? 4) Kiplinger was generous for not retroactively kicking us out of their rankings.  

  2. this is dumb. just because others do it doesn’t make it better.  grow up and learn to move on. 

  3. Just because others do it does not make it alright for Claremont McKenna College. We are supposed to be a college that embodies ethical leadership. I think it is embarrassing that a student publication that should be trying to hold the administration accountable for its actions and be pressing for answers is using the line elementary schoolers tell their parents: “Everyone else is doing it.”

    I seriously hope the Forum isn’t trying to just brush this scandal under the rug.

  4. Class piece. So CMC gets their hand caught in the cookie jar and their lame excuse is “everybody else is doing it….” Drag a service academy into this pile of crap? How dare you! You tell me, who’s degree carries more weight in private sociey, one from the Naval Academy or one from CMC? Enough said. Suck it up, take your punishment (PR, big deal) and stop making excuses. It would be a amazing if society would just accept the blame for the things they do instead of “it’s not my fault.” WAHHHHH

  5. I am not associated with Claremont McKenna.  Here is my 2 cents.  Within a year this will be completely forgotten and most high school applicants won’t even know about it.  I predict the number of applicants actually goes up next year.  As long as the problem is solved and it sounds like it will be, there will be no lingering results.

  6. The notion that what will prevent this from happening again is a “mechanism” is precisely what has a number of alums so angry.

    If someone has a reason to cheat and is not adequately bound by ethics or values, “mechanisms” will keep falling short.

    The world post-graduation is a different place. People don’t succeed or fail based on the corporate equivalent of a graded exam. People have to work with other people, get along, and lead through influence. And people who others think they cannot trust and who are lacking in values tend not to have good lives. (Although it certainly is possible to be another financial psychopath and build wealth via the absence of ethics.)

    Alumni are angry because they can see the difference between the CMC of today and what it had been. The obvious error of commission is Vos. The hidden error of omission is the failure to build a stronger community, one that places how you get there alongside what you get. Vow is the product of an environment that strayed too far from its roots

    An engaged discussion here would both benefit students and hopefully get to the heart of whether rankings, money and fame should be the measures of what the College should be.

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