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We Faked Data, Admits Tulane B-School

Freeman Dean Ira Solomon

Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business said it inflated the average GMAT scores of its full-time-MBA students along with the number of applicants to its MBA program to U.S. News & World Report during the past two years.

The incorrect data was used by U.S. News to rank the Freeman School and likely resulted in a higher ranking than deserved. It is not the first time that a school deliberately inflated its reported numbers to achieve a better ranking. U.S. News ranked the school 43rd last year, up from 53rd a year earlier.

Among other things, the school’s position in U.S. News’ ranking was based on an average GMAT of its enrolled MBA class of 670 and that an acceptance rate of 56.7%. Tulane said it didn’t yet know what the correct numbers were or how significantly different they were from what was reported to the magazine for its ranking.

Freeman Dean Ira Solomon, an accounting professor who joined the school as dean in July of last year, said the problem was discovered when the school prepared to send information for its 2012 MBA program to U.S. News in December. “The data, including GMAT scores and the number of applications, skewed significantly lower than the previous two years,” Solomon said in a statement on Dec. 20. “Since the school’s standards and admissions criteria have not changed, this raised a concern that our data from previous years had been misreported.”

Solomon, who had specialized in external auditing as an accounting professor, added that the differences in the data were revealed because of new controls that the Freeman School leadership implemented this past academic year. “The university immediately engaged a third party firm to begin an audit of the data assembled for U.S. News,” Solomon added. “That audit is ongoing and should be completed by mid-January.”

Tulane told U.S. News that it had retained both Jones Day, a prominent law firm that has previously worked with at least one school that had misreported data, and Alvarez & Marsal, a professional services firm, to investigate what happened and to determine the accurate data. Tulane told U.S. News that the school intends to issue a detailed, public report in mid-January 2013.

U.S. News said it will study Tulane’s report with the correct data before any determination can accurately be made of what, if any, impact this will have on the Freeman School’s ranking.

“We deeply regret that this occurred,” added Solomon. “The checks and balances we have implemented will provide assurance that this will not happen again.”

Tulane also said that the average GMAT scores for full-time MBA students entering in fall 2012 and the total number of applicants—data recently submitted to U.S. News for the upcoming 2014 Best Business Schools rankings—had been independently verified by a third party prior to submission.

It is not the first time that a school was publicly admitted it submitted false information to U.S. News apparently to boost its MBA ranking. As Poets&Quants has frequently pointed out, school officials are often under pressure to report their numbers in the most favorable light.

U.S. News’ methodology puts significant weight on GMAT scores, some 16.25%, while a school’s acceptance weight has a much less significant 1.25% weight. But small changes in the data can loom large in a ranking because the underlying ranking scores are often closely clustered together.

Poets&Quants’ recently ranked the Freeman School 61st among the top full-time MBA programs in the U.S.