Cut down! U.S. News ‘de-ranks’ George Washington Univ. after cheating flap

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Founding father supreme George Washington could not tell a lie, the old chestnut goes, but the expensive private university that borrowed his good name seems to suffer no such moral qualms. And now it’s getting its comeuppance.

U.S. News & World Report has stripped The George Washington University of its ranking after the school confessed last week that it had been playing fast and loose with admissions data for a decade, and perhaps longer.

During that time, reports Inside Higher Ed, George Washington consistently exaggerated the academic credentials of its incoming students. For the current freshman crop, for example, GWU misreported to U.S. News that 78 percent graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. In truth, the percentage was a substantially more pedestrian 58 percent.

On Wednesday, U.S. News rankings guru Robert Morse explained that U.S. News has relegated George Washington University to the purgatory of unranked schools, where it will remain until at least next September. Morse added that he expects GWU to provide accurate data in the future, and otherwise stay on the straight and narrow.

George Washington is the third school this year to disclose that it had reported inflated numbers to U.S. News. Emory University in Atlanta and Claremont McKenna College in Southern California are the other two.

However, as University of Cincinnati College of Law professor Paul L. Caron notes on his blog, U.S. News has seen fit to demote only GWU.

For its part, U.S. News announced that it deals with all instances of data fraud “on a case-by-case basis.”

Throughout the last decade, the Washington, D.C. school has hovered just outside the top 50 national universities and no lower than 54th, reports The Washington Post. Just before the scandal broke, in the most recent 2013 U.S. News rankings, GWU was ranked #51.

Now, while Boston University and Tulane University currently share the 51st spot, George Washington finds itself at the very bottom of the list, among the dregs of the national universities category.

The handful of other schools in the national universities category that share the ranks of the unranked include for-profit, online outfits such as Capella University and the University of Phoenix Online. However, George Washington is unique in that it has a big, red asterisk — practically a scarlet letter — beside its name.

GWU’s newfound rankings exile represents a marketing debacle, notes The Washington Post. The school had spent years slowly cultivating an elite, even world-class reputation partly in order to justify the exorbitant cost of attendance — about $57,000 per year for students who live in the dorms and eat meals on campus.

Not surprisingly, current George Washington students were outraged about the situation. Twitter has teemed with howls of indignation and demands for an explanation (hashtag #GWU).

“Every single person I’ve seen is furious,” said senior Hugo Scheckter, 21, according to The Post. “A lot of people pay a lot of money to come here, thinking they’ll get a degree from a top 50 university.”

On Wednesday, George Washington’s president, Steven Knapp, said in a statement that the school reported the decade-long error in good faith, and that he did not expect U.S. News to excommunicate the school for a year.

“As I have said,” The Post reports Knapp as saying, “we regret the error and have put safeguards in place to prevent such errors from occurring in the future.”

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Eric Owens