Saturday, September 14, 2013

USNWR and the Pressure to Cheat (even just a little)

As the annual US News and World Report hype returns, as it does every year at this time, it's interesting to look at the spillover effects of it can be.

Colleges, many of whom are like hamsters on a treadmill when it comes to chasing the elusive "prestige" believe students are as obsessed with it as much as they are. And they have been known to fudge numbers to make themselves look better. Frequently one person takes the fall for this, but even if only one person is responsible, and I think that's highly unlikely, the pressure to move up is palatable at many institutions.

The case of Claremont McKenna was interesting because it was the highest-ranked institution to be exposed, and because actual data was available for analysis. I did so, and found the results almost laughable: Not because cheating is right, not because these inaccuracies didn't have some effect on the rankings (it's believed CMC was clinging to its number 10 spot and felt some heat not to lose it), not that the number 10 only seems meaningful because we use base-10 to count, but rather because the differences are so slight as to be essentially insignificant to anyone except people who don't know better. See if you agree.