Columbia University won’t participate in the next round of the U.S. News and World Report’s annual ranking of best colleges due to an ongoing internal investigation into allegations the university supplied inaccurate data for last year’s list.
Michael Thaddeus, a veteran math professor at the Morningside Heights institution, published a lengthy critique in February of the data behind Columbia’s second-place ranking on last year’s list, concluding that “several of the key figures” the university submitted to U.S. News were “inaccurate, dubious, or highly misleading.”
A Columbia spokesperson said at the time that the university stood by its data, but in a letter posted Thursday night, provost Mary Boyce revealed that the university “immediately embarked on a review of our data collection and submissions process” following Thaddeus’s article.
Boyce said that review is still underway, and won’t be done in time to meet U.S. News’s Friday deadline for colleges to submit data for next year’s rankings.
“The ongoing review is a matter of integrity,” Boyce said. “We will take no shortcuts in getting it right.”
As it happens
Get updates on the coronavirus pandemic and other news as it happens with our free breaking news email alerts.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether U.S. News will include Columbia in the upcoming list, despite not receiving new numbers from the university.
Thaddeus said in an email Columbia’s announcement Thursday was a sign that his February analysis was “onto something,” but added there are still big outstanding questions, including what the university’s review will ultimately find, and whether the school will go back to participating in the U.S. News rankings after next year.
U.S. News’s rankings are based on a complex formula that includes class sizes, financial resources, graduation rates, social mobility, a “peer assessment survey,” and other metrics.
Thaddeus alleged in his February analysis that the university significantly overstated its percentage of classes with under 20 students and the amount of money it spends on instruction — both of which bumped up its score on the U.S. News formula — among other misrepresentations.
The U.S. News list has faced controversy over the years, both over the specific data underlying university rankings, and the broader concept of trying to quantify a question as subjective as what makes a “good” institution of higher learning. Critics have alleged that the ranking list does little more than reinforce pre-existing ideas about higher education, rewarding the wealthiest and most prominent institutions.
Reed College in Oregon notably refuses to provide data to US News for ranking purposes, but still gets included in the annual list — with some critics contending that the college’s rankings have dropped precipitously as a result.
U.S. News said in March in response to Thaddeus’s analysis that the magazine is not responsible for verifying the accuracy of the data that institutions submit. A spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a question Friday about whether the university will still include Columbia in its upcoming list, despite not getting new data from the university.