Stanford rival UC Berkeley gets kicked off top college rankings lists for misreporting data

Aug. 1, 2019, 9:01 p.m.

Stanford’s longtime archrival, the University of California, Berkeley, has been eliminated from the 2019 U.S. News World & Report Best Colleges list after misreporting its alumni-giving data. U.S. News announced on July 25 that Berkeley had “greatly overstated” the numbers. Previously listed by U.S. News as the second-best public school in the United States, Berkeley is now missing from the list, and the No. 2 spot is missing with it. Though the University of Virginia in Charlottesville is still listed at No. 3, it now appears as the second-best public college, after No. 1 UCLA.

“The University of California—Berkeley originally reported that its two-year average alumni giving rate for fiscal years 2017 and 2016 was 11.6%,” wrote U.S. News in a press release. “Recently the school said that its correct average alumni giving rate for just fiscal year 2016 was 7.9%.” 

Berkeley’s boot off the list comes after the school called itself out on the misreporting, telling U.S. News not only that there had been errors in its alumni-giving numbers but also that it had incorrectly included multi-year pledges in its calculations. U.S. News began excluding multi-year pledges from statistics used in the ranking process in 2014. 

Now, Berkeley joins five others that have been removed from U.S. News lists due to similar errors, including the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Scripps College, Mars Hill College, and Johnson & Wales College.

“The misreporting by each school resulted in their numerical ranks being higher than they otherwise would have been,” U.S. News wrote. “Because of the discrepancies, U.S. News has moved the schools to the ‘Unranked’ category, meaning they do not receive numerical ranks.”

In order to be ranked in future U.S. News rankings, Berkeley must provide a signed letter from its Chancellor and the University of California system President certifying the validity of data sent to U.S. News each year for the next three years. If its 2018-19 data is certified by Aug. 5, Berkeley can be ranked again as soon as this September, when the 2020 lists are released.

However, a number of prominent sources have questioned the validity of the U.S. News Rankings, including a Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE) report that identified flaws in the ranking system.

“Many students and families rely on college rankings published by well-known organizations to define quality,” the report reads. “The higher the ranking, the logic goes, the better the college must be and vice versa. We find that many of the metrics used in these rankings are weighted arbitrarily and are not accurate indicators of a college’s quality or positive outcomes for students.”

The Atlantic reports that “The rankings don’t take into account measures of the quality of education at each institution, nor is there any consideration of ‘outcomes’ (for example, what do students at College X actually learn, and do its students get jobs upon graduation?).”

U.S. News uses a variety of measures to rank schools, including “reputational value” and college presidents’ “opinion” of the schools. Alumni-giving data accounts for just 5% of a given college’s U.S. News “score.” While Berkeley is unranked by U.S. News for now, any school’s status on U.S. News lists isn’t indicative of that school’s overall value.

“Traditional college rankings measure a set of factors that are weighted arbitrarily, drawn from data that are most easily quantifiable and comparable, sometimes poorly documented, and not always relevant to undergraduate education. In short, rankings are problematic, and high school students would do well to broaden their gaze,” The Stanford GSE report concluded. 

Uma was a high school intern for The Daily in summer 2019.

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