Rankings: It's OK to Cheat, Just Not Too Much

Before you all let out a collective groan at the sight of yet another article mentioning SAT scores or U.S. News & World Report college rankings, let me tell you this: We aren’t the bad guys this time. In fact, CMC didn’t even cheat "that much," according to U.S. News & World Report. Apparently, we didn’t cheat enough to be placed on the "unranked" list for the next edition of Best College Rankings. But George Washington University did.

In the last year, CMC, Emory University, and George Washington University have all publicly acknowledged that they misreported data to U.S. News for use in its Best Colleges rankings. However, the rankings of CMC and Emory University, which were both brought into question before the 2012 U.S. News release, were not changed after the false data was discovered, while George Washington was moved to the “unranked” list after falsely reporting data for the 2013 rankings.

This inconsistency in how U.S. News deals with data falsification has led to outrage from disgruntled George Washington students, who have posted angry comments on U.S. News’s online article “FAQ’s on George Washington University’s Data Misreporting.”

The different treatment toward the three schools does lead one to ask why some schools are allowed to keep their rankings (CMC stayed at #9 among Liberal Arts colleges), while others are stripped of their rankings on the publication’s website.

According to U.S. News’s website, it is their “policy that if a school’s numerical Best Colleges rank would have been lower by even one or two spots than its originally published rank, it will result in the school being 'unranked' until the next Best Colleges rankings are published.”

This means that, after U.S. News learns of false data reporting, it recalculates the school’s numerical ranking, and, if the correct data does not change the original ranking, as in the cases of CMC and Emory, the school’s ranking will stay the same. But if that ranking is different, the school is “unranked,” as in George Washington’s case.

So, basically, as long as you don’t cheat enough to change your ranking in relation to the rest of the schools in the nation, cheating is allowed.

What? U.S. News should promote the idea that cheating or falsifying any data is wrong. I understand that altering one school’s ranking would affect all other schools and complicate the reporting of rankings, affecting many people, but by allowing CMC and Emory to keep their rankings because they only cheated a little bit doesn’t send the right message to the primary audience: students.

High school and college students alike rely on these rankings for a multitude of reasons, and, by only punishing George Washington for falsifying data and not CMC or Emory, U.S. News is sending students the wrong message. Any variation or degree of cheating is wrong, and those who partake in it should be punished. If that means that CMC goes unranked for one year, so be it. As a CMC student, I would have been saddened by this public shaming of my school, but at least we could have dealt with the consequences for our actions as an institution.

U.S. News missed an opportunity for a teachable moment here. Had U.S. News placed CMC and Emory on the unranked list, like it did GWU, it would have offered students something much more important than trivial college rankings; it would have established that cheating is wrong, in every form and to every extent.