As questions continue to remain unanswered about the accuracy of data that Columbia University submitted to U.S. News & World Report for the 2022 edition of its Best Colleges rankings (first published September 2021), U.S. News reported today that it was “unranking” Columbia in those rankings.
The magazine said it took the action after Columbia “failed to respond to multiple U.S. News requests that the university substantiate certain data it previously submitted to U.S. News.”
Columbia’s troubles began, when in February of this year, Michael Thaddeus, a professor of mathematics at the university, posted a lengthy critique of many of the data that Columbia had submitted for the rankings, which placed it second (tied with Harvard) among the nation’s best universities for 2022.
Thaddeus compared institutional data to the numbers Columbia had submitted for the rankings and questioned the accuracy of several of the self-reported figures, including the number of classes of various sizes, the percentage of faculty with terminal degrees, the percentage of classes taught by full-time faculty, the student:faculty ratio, and the amount Columbia spent on instruction.
Columbia defended its data at first. But on Thursday of last week, just before the July 1 deadline for submitting new data to U.S. News, Columbia changed its tune and, in a statement by Provost Mary Boyce, said it would not submit data this year, adding that the university had “embarked on a review of our data collection and submissions process.”
The statement continued, “Columbia has long conducted what we believed to be a thorough process for gathering and reporting institutional data, but we are now closely reviewing our processes in light of the questions raised. The ongoing review is a matter of integrity. We will take no shortcuts in getting it right.”
According to today’s announcement, U.S. News said that after learning about questions relating to Columbia’s submission, Robert Morse, its Chief Data Strategist, contacted Columbia in March 2022 requesting that it substantiate the data reported in its 2021 U.S. News statistical surveys for several variables, including those that Thaddeus had questioned.
U.S. News said that because Columbia has been unable to provide satisfactory responses to its request, it was moving the university to being “Unranked” in National Universities. The action means Columbia no longer has a numerical rank in the 2022 National Universities, 2022 Best Value Schools, and 2022 Top Performers on Social Mobility because those rankings used data from the university’s submission.
The action did not affect all of Columbia’s rankings. It will remain ranked in the 2022 Undergraduate Teaching, 2022 Most Innovative Schools, 2022 Writing in the Disciplines, 2022 First-Year Experience, 2022 Undergraduate Engineering and 2022 Undergraduate Computer Science rankings because those rankings were based entirely on ratings from officials at other universities and departments and did not rely on data reported by Columbia. Likewise, Columbia’s graduate-level schools and programs remain ranked because the institution reported data on them through separate processes.
U.S. News maintained that it “is committed to providing quality information on institutions across the country and relies on schools to accurately report their data so prospective students and their families can make informed decisions throughout their college search. When schools do not accurately report their data, U.S. News will review the matter on a case-by-case basis to determine appropriate remedial actions.”
U.S. News has also deleted the data in question from the Columbia’s profile pages and in the U.S. News College Compass tool.
Shortly after the U.S. News decision, Columbia spokesperson Ben Chang responded with the following statement:
“As announced on June 30 by Provost Mary C. Boyce, Columbia is conducting a review of our data collection and submissions process for the undergraduate survey. We have been clear with U.S. News and World Report that, while that review is underway, we will refrain from submitting undergraduate-related information.
Columbia takes seriously the questions raised about our data submission. A thorough review cannot be rushed. While we are disappointed in U.S. News and World Report’s decision, we consider this a matter of integrity and will take no shortcuts in getting it right.”