Report: School Gave U.S. News Inaccurate MBA Ranking Data

Posted by: Louis Lavelle on June 8, 2011

Less than four months after learning that Villanova law school tried to game its rankings, U.S. News & World Report is confronting another ranking scandal, this one involving its b-school list. The Gainesville Sun last night reported that the University of Florida Warrington College of Business supplied the magazine with inaccurate job-placement data, resulting in a higher ranking.

An anonymous complaint made through the university’s ethics hotline in August alleged that 37 percent of UF’s 2009 MBA graduating class had jobs at graduation, while 53 percent had jobs three months later. The figures supplied to USNWR indicated 53 percent placement at graduation and 79 percent three months later. UF was ranked 39th in 2009, falling two spots from the year before; in 2010 it fell to 47th.

A report of an internal investigation [investigation report.pdf] obtained by Bloomberg Businessweek found no evidence of collusion or deliberate intent to distort the data. But the report, authored by Angel Kwolek-Folland, associate provost for academic affairs, found that several graduates were listed as employed based on questionable documentation, and several more were listed as “not seeking employment” when in fact they were.

“In this case, the principals appear to have used a looser interpretation of the data than would a reasonable person using the same standards,” Kwolek-Folland wrote, referring to the standards for placement statistics created by the MBA Career Services Council. “Whether this was the result of poor judgment or inexperience, the end result is an inaccurate portrait of the employment profile of 2009 WCBA MBA graduates.”

In a memo by Warrington Dean John Kraft [Dean's response.pdf], the school maintains that it adhered to the MBA-CSC Standards. "The College also disagrees with the reviewer's opinion that the 2009 Placement Report 'is an inaccurate portrait of the employment profile,'" Kraft wrote. "The 2009 Placement Report is an accurate portrayal of the employment profile as defined by the MBA-CSC standards."

Citing the conflicting opinions about what happened, Robert Morse, director of data research for USNWR, said he has no intention of re-ranking UF or banning the school from future rankings. "If they gave us 37 and 53 instead of 53 and 79, they would have been lower," Morse said. "Is U.S. News going to give you an if/then? No, we're not going to do that."

I should point out that UF reported the same data to Bloomberg Businessweek that it reported to USNWR. The data, which was included in the school's full-time MBA profile for a year, is no longer available online. Placement data is not used in the Bloomberg Businessweek ranking of full-time MBA programs.

I asked Morse if he thought cases like this one, and Villanova, suggest a more widespread problem, one that demands a more robust solution than merely identifying culprits on a case-by-case basis. He said he thought data accuracy was not a widespread problem, but it's one that should be addressed by organizations such as the American Bar Association and the MBA-CSC in their capacity as standard-setting bodies, not by the media outlets that conduct rankings.

"Does the debate about this case raise questions about the data?" he said. "Of course. But it doesn't mean all the data is inaccurate."

Reader Comments

Squeezebox

June 8, 2011 5:51 PM

College is a racket. Colleges (esp. for-profit schools) lie about their placement rates all the time to attract students.

Simplicius1958

June 8, 2011 8:52 PM

Agreed! "Colleges (esp. for-profit schools) lie about their placement rates all the time to attract students."
The next big financial shakeout will be in EDUCATION!
What other industry has grown unchecked and consistently since the 60's! First let's review the value of these institutions, revoke their tax exempt status, student loan eligibility, and let the market thin out the ranks!

Truth

June 8, 2011 10:16 PM

After the top 3, college rankings really don't mean anything anymore. And if you think about it, everyone knows what the top 3 will always be, Harvard-Yale-Princeton, in some sort of order, so top 3 really doesn't mean anything anymore either. So, what's the whole point of these rankings again?

grad

June 8, 2011 10:34 PM

My school didn't even bother asking us grads if we had jobs after graduation. They probably don't care. They do, however, frequently call and mail me seeking donation money. It's clear where the priorities of American universities are.

Alex Candee

June 11, 2011 5:48 PM

A great benefit of the rankings is it furthers the development a competitive educational environment so that schools strive to continuously improve. Without rankings, you have nothing to benchmark. They are never going to be spot on or perfect, but it gives an idea. School's ask recent graduates for donations immediately following graduation because they are measured in these rankings by the quantity of recent alumni who gave back to their alma mater rather than the total amount recent alumni contributed.

It is ironic that schools work the ranking system the same way that student spend months studying to work the "standardized" test system through SAT,LSAT,GMAT prep classes, texts, etc. The whole preparation process skews a candidate's true "aptitude" vs. a valid working applicant who cannot afford 40 hours a week during the summer to study.

The system will always be distorted, but hopefully society will continue to develop better systems for checks and balances down the road.

Penn Stater

June 13, 2011 12:44 PM

Almost every school at least manipulates the data (so it looks favorable before submission). My son (Smeal class of 2010) still does not have a job and he informed me most of his friends didn't have a job within a year of graduation (most of his friends now work at places like Bed Bath and Beyond, Staples, Home Depot, Lowes, and CVS Pharmacy as minimum wage employees). Luckily I own a few businesses so my son gets a contract here and there to give him some pocket change. He's now turned to poker as a profession (what did I pay 80,000 for). Absolutely ridiculous. Smeal clearly has not delivered and I'm sure most educated people feel that undergraduate business school is a ripoff (unless of course the school is Wharton).

Wanda

October 10, 2011 9:16 PM

. What ?

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