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."