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How much has SATgate hurt CMC's reputation?

A Claremont McKenna College Dean of Admission has reportedly stepped down after an internal audit revealed he had inflated the college’s freshman SAT scores for the past 6 years.

“As an institution of higher education with a deep and consistent commitment to the integrity of all our academic activities, and particularly our reporting of institutional data, we take this situation very seriously,” Ms. Gann stated in a letter to the CMC community. The individual has taken full responsibility and has resigned his position from the college effective immediately.”

Although not named in the press release, it has been reported that Richard Vos, who served as vice president and dean of admission and financial aid since 1987, admitted responsibility for changing the annual scores. The audit revealed that SAT scores of incoming freshman had been inflated since 2005 on average 10 to 20 points, according to Ms. Gann’s released statement.

CMC, founded in 1946, currently enrolls about 1261 students and boasts being ranked ninth on the 2012 list of Best National Liberal Arts Colleges, as published by U.S. News & World Report.

In Ms. Gann’s letter she states that CMC personnel had notified her earlier this month about inaccurate SAT scores reported for entering students in fall 2011. Because of this, the college decided to conduct an internal review. It was during this time that a CMC employee stepped forward.

“He disclosed that he had been solely responsible for falsely reporting SAT statistics,” Ms. Gann wrote.  “For the fall 2010 class, which is the most recent year that has been reported generally to the public, the individual reported a combined median of 1410 when the actual should have been 1400, and reported a 75th percentile score of 1510 when the actual should have been 1480.”

Students at Claremont Portside, an online political journal founded by a CMC?student in 2003, have worked diligently to provide up-to-date information by writers Russell Page and Jeremy Merrill, with students from all of The Colleges weighing in with comments. Late Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Merrill added a statistical analysis of how the scores were inflated. It can be viewed at www.claremontportside.com.

False scores from CMC have been repeatedly submitted to U.S. News & World Report since 2005, according to the news organization, which uses the scores to determine rankings in its annual “Best Colleges” list.

“These ranks have a weight of 7.5 percent,” reported Bob Morse of U.S. News & World Report.

Though a report states that false SAT data was also submitted to the Department of Education and Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), U.S. Department of Education spokesperson Jane Glickman denied receiving any information regarding SAT scores from CMC or any other college. WASC did not return phone calls for comment on what, if any, impact the development will have on CMC’s  accreditation.

Though associations like WASC may take into account the reporting of inaccurate data when evaluating a college or university’s accreditation, it is just one of many overall factors, according to Paul Thiboutot, vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid at Carleton College in Minnesota—a liberal arts college ranked sixth on U.S. News and World and Report’s Best Colleges list. Severity of the matter and the way the school handles the situation are among many different areas of review, he explained.  

“And a variation of 10 points...is not terribly horrendous,” said Mr. Thiboutot.

Mr. Thiboutot recognized the pressures placed on admissions administrators to move up in national ranking. He likened the pressure to finding a hundred dollar bill on the sidewalk and fighting between the ethical decision to turn it over or pocket the money.

“It’s a sad commentary on the pressures of our profession,” Mr. Thiboutot said.

Jack Stark, former long-time President of CMC, said while rankings and “best college” lists are valuable public relations tools, they are essentially artificial.

“A college does not marry itself to its ratings,” he said. “The college tried to be honest and up front so I think they deserve credit.”

Because there is an exorbitant amount of information and research that goes into the process of gathering and reporting admissions data, national rankings usually trust the word of the dean of admission, according to Mr. Thiboutot.

“Each department has a different system of checks and balances,” he said. “There are usually a lot of people involved.”

On behalf of U.S. News & World Report, Mr. Morse says they will not amend previous ranking reports.

“U.S. News will maintain its long-standing policy of not revising previously published rankings,” he wrote.

CMC remains firm that Mr. Vos was acting alone.

“At this time, we have no reason to believe that other individuals were involved,” Ms. Gann wrote. “If we learn otherwise, we will take prompt and appropriate action.”

In the meantime the college has turned to legal counsel from O’Melveny & Myers to review admission data and the way the process is conducted, according to Max Benavidez, CMC associate vice president of public affairs, communications and marketing.

“We will have better checks and balances in the future,” Mr. Benavidez said.

Mr. Benavidez will discuss these matters at the CMC Senate Meeting this coming Monday.

—Beth Hartnett

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