Claremont McKenna retains top-10 U.S. News ranking after probe

Claremont McKenna College’s exaggeration of its freshmen’s SAT scores and high school rankings turned out to be so small that it had no effect on the school’s position in U.S. News & World Report rankings this year, magazine officials said Thursday.

As a result, the Southern California school will keep its position as the ninth-best liberal arts college in the country in this year’s “Best Colleges” listings. The magazine reviewed that ranking using more accurate and reliable statistics uncovered recently by a law firm hired by the college to investigate the scandal. Claremont McKenna’s top admissions administrator had submitted hyped numbers since 2004, the law firm’s report said.

“Our calculation shows that based on the data now being reported by Claremont McKenna as correct, Claremont McKenna College’s ranking will not change,” U.S. News Editor Brian Kelly said in a statement.

Robert J. Morse, the magazine’s director of data research, said in an interview Thursday that the differences between the true measurements and the inflated measurements used to figure the rankings were not large enough to push Claremont McKenna lower and that the newly submitted data appeared to be accurate.

Last week, the 1,320-student college released an investigative report by the O’Melveny & Myers law firm that found that the campus’ former vice president for admission and financial aid, Richard Vos, acted alone in exaggerating aggregate freshmen SAT scores and other statistics. Vos’ actions triggered much soul-searching at the school and debate nationwide about the reliability of rankings.

Vos told investigators that he was not aiming to affect the college’s ranking in U.S. News and other listings, an assertion that contradicted much national speculation. Vos, who resigned in January after the school announced the data manipulation, reportedly said he was trying to please the college’s president, Pamela Gann, who had been pressuring him for a freshman class with higher scores. The law firm’s report said Gann had not exerted unreasonable pressure.

On Thursday, Claremont spokesman Max Benavidez said in a statement, “While we are pleased that U.S. News will not change our ranking, Claremont McKenna College continues to focus on our academic mission and on fulfilling our obligation to integrity and responsible leadership.”

Morse said in a blog post that Claremont McKenna’s revised average Critical Reading and Math SAT score for the fall 2010 entering class was 1,385, compared with the originally reported score of 1,410, and the correct percentage of students who graduated in the top 10% of their high school class was 72%, compared with the originally reported figure of 85%.

Kiplinger, the finance magazine, earlier this year dropped the school from its list of best values in liberal arts colleges.