Okay. This is just fascinating.
Each year, U.S. News & World Report releases its college rankings issue, a top seller that plays at least some role in helping high school students assess universities.
Getting a high ranking is a big deal. Keeping it is a big deal as well. Around here, our local institutions generally do well - Duke is a top national institution, UNC Chapel Hill is one of the nation's top public universities, and Wake Forest, N.C. State and others are well-regarded as well.
Now, consider the case of Clemson University, just several hours south of here. Over the past few years, Clemson has increased from 38 to 22 in the public university rankings, a nice jump that has folks in South Carolina smiling.
Well, this week down in Atlanta, a group called the Association for Institutional Research is meeting. These are folks who keep the numbers for universities - statisitics on everything from enrollment to faculty salaries.
And a presentation from a representative from Clemson brought the house down. Catherine Watt, whose job at Clemson has been to prepare the data submitted to U.S. News for its rankings issue, offered a peek behind the curtain, suggesting at several points that she and the university essentially game the numbers to show Clemson in the best possible light.
As reported in Inside Higher Ed, Watt said Clemson submitted questionable data on faculty salaries that included the value of benefits, thus making faculty appear compensated at a higher level; encouraged donors to give the university as little as $5 so it could increase the overall "giving" rate, and increased the number of classes with fewer than 20 students - something U.S. News looks for - by pushing classes of 50 to as high as 70.
But the coup de grace was Watt's admission that, in filling out a reputation survey for university presidents, Clemson gave all other institutions a "below average" ranking to make Clemson look better.
That admission brought "actual gasps" from the audience, Inside Higher Ed reported.
"And I'm confident my president is not the only one who does that," Watt concluded.
Read Inside Higher Ed's coverage of the issue here.