Last week, Claremont-McKenna President Pamela Gann announced that her school had been, for the past six years, reporting false SAT scores to publications like U.S. News and World Report. The New York Times has reported that during this period, over three-quarters of CMC’s reported SAT results were inflated, on average between 10 and 20 points.
As students at a fellow liberal arts school, we should take a moment to consider how the misconduct of CMC’s admissions team affects us.
First, and perhaps most simply, the debacle reveals the corrosive effects the ranking game has on college admissions. Rankings were always an inadequate, incomplete method of capturing school quality or answering the question, “What’s that school like?” Now, we have seen how these rankings can be just plain false, even based on their own debatable criteria.
Fudging the stats isn’t all that rare either. The New York Times reported last week that employees at Iona College altered not only test scores, but graduation numbers, freshman retention, the student-faculty ratio and acceptance rates. In 2008, Baylor offered to pay accepted students to retake the SAT to try to increase the incoming class’ average score. Villanova and University of Illinois have also admitted to misrepresenting some key statistics. Even the U.S. Naval Academy has undergone scrutiny for inflating its reported number of applicants.
But, more importantly, the recent incident should check the many Carleton students, who, at times seem to carry a chip on their shoulder for picking “that school in small-town Minnesota.” We’ve overheard many Carls lovingly complain about our school’s relative anonymity amongst those who are outside of the loop. Some people hint that they don’t get credit from their friends or future employers for going to a good school.
All these frustrations aside, the Claremont-McKenna debacle should prompt us all to stop apologizing for Carleton’s refreshing dose of institutional humility and start appreciating the way our school de-emphasizes its ranking.
Look at where the competitive, commoditized nature of the college admissions game takes us: adults gambling the reputation of a respected institution just to climb a couple of spots on a list, only to be embarrassed when they got found out.
As an institution, Carleton does a pretty good job of downplaying our place on these outside rankings. We as students should follow suit.